THE FINE PRINT

There's No Need to Fight Over the Car Keys

Paying extra so that two people can drive a rental car is not only annoying. It's unnecessary

Car-rental agencies say the odds of an accident increase when more than one driver is allowed to take the wheel. We're skeptical: After all, isn't it safer to have two drivers, especially on long trips? In any event, you'd think that since it's a question of risk, extra drivers would be an issue handled by insurance companies. But that's not how things work. Agencies often tack on fees of $3-$10 per day for each additional driver, while rental insurance rates stay the same no matter how many drivers are on the contract.

Perhaps even more confusing is the inconsistency. Payless, for example, charges $8 per day in Phoenix, $3 in Newark, and $5 in Miami. Sometimes fees are regulated by the state: Iowa rental agencies can't charge if the additional driver is a spouse or business associate, while Nevada law says that adding a second driver must be free, and drivers beyond that can cost no more than $5 a day. But trying to make sense of extra-driver fees is a waste of time; what's most important is knowing how to avoid paying them.

The most common loophole is when the additional driver is a spouse (or sometimes, a domestic partner). Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and E-Z never charge for a second driver who you're married to. Hertz and National, meanwhile, don't charge for spouses or domestic partners as long as the primary renter is a member of their frequent-renter club; Hertz's basic membership is free, while National's club costs $50 annually. Many Fox and Payless affiliates also allow spouses to drive for free, but the policy varies by location. Most agencies say they require domestic partners and spouses to share the same address for fees to be waived, but they don't always ask for proof.

Sometimes the extra driver doesn't have to be a spouse. At Hertz, there's no charge for two drivers as long as both are AAA or AARP members. National and Alamo have similar policies for members of a wide range of organizations--so ask.

Special promotions may also allow more than one driver for free. Costco recently advertised a 25 percent discount for Alamo that included an additional driver at no cost. Other wholesale stores, including BJ's and Sam's Club, regularly post similar offers. If you're reserving through the rental agency directly, it's worth mentioning any discount-club affiliations, as additional-driver fees may be waived.

Finally, playing up your business connections can save a few bucks. Avis, Advantage, Alamo, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, National, and Thrifty regularly drop fees for drivers who are "business associates."

Agencies may stipulate that your company have a corporate account with them; other times a couple of business cards will do--and in many instances, an agent will simply take your word. To eliminate hassles, clarify the agency's policy when reserving, get it in print, and have it handy when you arrive at the pickup counter.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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