Local Rental Car Companies vs. The Big Guys
Their names—Advantage, ACE, E–Z, Fox, Payless, Triangle—don't exactly ring a bell. In fact, you might not realize they're in the rental car business. Yet in recent years, as the rental industry has boomed, regional and off–brand rental companies have been making more of an impact, thanks to Kayak, Priceline, and other websites that include lesser–known (and less advertised) companies in their searches. Are they worth taking for a spin?
In general, the answer is yes. Regional companies typically offer the same cars as their bigger competitors and at a better price, says Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting Group, which tracks car rental trends. Prices vary widely depending on company and location, but you can save up to $20 per day by going off–brand, says Abrams. For example, Advantage Rent a Car, a subsidiary of Hertz with more than 100 facilities worldwide, will book you a Chevy Aveo or Cobalt for under $130 a week at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in mid–September; an economy car from Enterprise at the same location will run you more than $250.
Some of these smaller companies also have loyalty programs just like the big boys. Members of Payless Perks Club, for example, can save up to 5 percent on rentals. E-Z Rent-a-Car, which has 36 locations worldwide, gives its program members up to 2 percent off all rentals, and its Facebook fans get 3 percent off on top of that. On the other hand, these smaller companies sometimes aren't partnered with airlines to offer frequent–flier miles.
The booking process—reserving online or on the phone—will be the same as you're used to, and insurance rates will be comparable to the major agencies, too. But ask if there's a fee for returning the car to a different location—or if you can even make a one–way rental at all. Some indie companies don't have storefronts nationwide, which could limit potential drop–off choices.
Overall, inconvenience is the price you'll pay for a better deal. There could be longer lines at check–in and longer wait times on the phone. But not all indie customer service is under–whelming: ACE Rent a Car ranked highest in customer satisfaction in a recent J.D. Power and Associates survey, beating out Avis, Hertz, and the rest. One recent renter told us that he experienced long lines at the LAX counter of Payless Car Rental, which has 80 locations worldwide, but he saved $100 over four days compared with a major agency. "For the price, I'd put up with that slight pain again," he says.
You may also have to let go of easy airport access. Triangle Rent a Car, a family–owned company in the Southeast, picks renters up at four airports and shuttles them to offices that are up to 20 minutes away. Research your company's location before you fly: Fox Rent a Car, for instance, has 20 U.S. offices, but some are not located with the other agencies and others are off–airport entirely. Think of it as the new rules of the road: Trade a little time for a decent chunk of change.
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3 New Services Make It Easier to Travel With Pets—or Leave Them Home
According to a recent survey by the American Automobile Association and Best Western International, 51% of Americans choose to take their pets on vacation with them whenever they can. Whether you fall into that category, or the category that believes that Fluffy would be happier at home, a host of new services have cropped up in the last two years to help you out. If you want to leave Fluffy home: Two new websites, DogVacay.com and Rover.com, have taken the AirBnB model and are applying it to dog-sitting. Banking on the concept that it is more affordable than a kennel AND more comfortable for the dogs, these companies aim to match dog-owners with pet hosts. Both screen hosts and then list them by profile. Pet owners can than browse the profiles and search based on criteria such as whether you want 24/7 supervision or a home with other dogs. DogVacay launched in March 2012 and has over 150 cities in its roster, including New York City and Los Angeles. Rover.com launched in November 2011 and currently operates in 52 cities including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Boston. Prices range depending on what hosts want to charge, but a quick search in New York City suggests that the prices on both sites are comparable—you're looking at from $30 to 50 per night on average. If you can't envision a vacation without Fluffy: Traveling with Fluffy? Check out Pet Hotels of America. The site, which launched in March 2011, is one of the first companies to let you search—and book—pet-friendly hotels directly from their website. They currently operate out of 17 cities and represent 25,000 pet-friendly hotels (in some cases they've worked with the hotels to secure special discounts for pet owners). The site is also a great resource for pet-owners, with pages that list airline policies for pet travel as well as location-specific info such as pet-friendly gardens, pet hospitals, and on-and-off-leash beaches. Have you tried any of these services? If so, tell us what you think below. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Priceline Puts a Fresh Spin on Booking Hotels Blindly Cancelon Lets Travelers Resell Hotel Reservations They Can't Cancel Will Baggage Claim Soon Be a Thing of the Past?
Max Out AAA and Senior Discounts on Hotels With Room 77
Jacki Penn and her mother, Marcy, know all too well that booking a hotel room can be a drawn-out affair. Marcy, 66, qualifies for senior discounts and member rates from AAA, the American Automobile Association. On her recent search, Expedia fetched a short list of deals for an overnight from their Worthington, Ohio, home, but then Marcy then had to check with each hotel see if any might have a better deal for seniors and AAA members. Jacki intervened when she heard about Room 77, a hotel-booking engine. A month ago, Room 77 added a tool that lets users compare the going online rates for hotels with AAA-member rates and senior rates. She found Expedia offering a night in early June at the Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport for $159, while AAA listed the same room for the same night for $129—18 percent less. Room 77 is the first site to clearly and thoroughly list AAA rates and senior discounted rates alongside prices available to the public. The site covers tens of thousands of hotels without annoying pop-up ads or other gimmicks. The discounts it quotes are provided by other organizations, not itself. For instance, many senior discounts are available to members of AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons. Other senior discounts are provided by hotel chains directly. Don't assume that AAA-member rates and senior discounts will always give you the best deal. In a dozen trial searches, Travelocity recently delivered better rates for the same room on the same day than the AAA-discount rates as seen on AAA's own website. Interestingly, AAA members may qualify for money back from the auto club in such situations. AAA touts a 110 Percent Best Rate Guarantee on selected "Save Rate" hotels are the lowest available. AAA says: "If you find a lower rate on another website for the same room, at the same hotel, on the same dates, within 24 hours of making your booking with us, we guarantee you that we'll match it plus pay you 10 percent of the difference in price." To make a claim for money back, fill out AAA's online request form. What about Room 77? Yes, you may want to add it to the list of sites you check for deals. That said, it's not perfect. Case in point: Expedia, the country's biggest travel site, has a much broader selection of properties in the US and abroad than Room 77, among other differences. As always, you need to check out than one travel site to boost your chance of nabbing the best deal. Clarification, added May 15: Room 77 is both an online travel agency (meaning it will book a hotel room on your behalf) and a metasearch site (it will refer you to other companies for booking the room). About 150,000 hotels are bookable through both Room 77 directly and referrals to other sites. In comparison, Expedia offers more than 200,000 hotels directly through itself. But Room 77 also offers an additional 50,000 hotels only through referrals to partner companies, giving what it says is a comparable breadth of listings to Expedia. The bottom line: "tens of thousands" on Room 77 offer AAA and Senior rates, according to the site. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 8 Cool New Tools for Finding the Perfect Hotel How to Get a Free Upgrade World's Weirdest Hotels 2011
MySeatFinder Fetches You a Better Seat Automatically
Reserving a seat assignment on for a flight will never rate as one of life's most memorable moments. But with MySeatFinder, it's no longer one of the most boring. This polished site asks for your confirmation number for a flight on one of the major domestic airlines—namely, American, Delta, Southwest, United, or US Airways. Then it monitors any seat changes on your flight prior to departure. If it finds a seat that more closely matches your preferences (such as window or aisle), it promises to book it for you on your behalf. As frequent fliers know, seat availability changes up until the last-minute of the typical flight. Your first four round-trips seat assignments via MySeatFinder are free. Use the service more than that and you'll have to cough up a $29 fee each year. Whether the service is worth using depends on how much you dread being assigned the middle seat—or how much you covet an exit row, with its roomy legroom. If you've used MySeatFinder, or the similar service ExpertFlyer that we've mentioned before, please share your experience by posting a comment. Thanks! SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Airlines Suspected of Fibbing About Seat Availability for Families (18 comments) Would You Fly More Frequently If Airplane Seats Were More Comfortable? (50+ comments) 4 Tools for Finding the Perfect Airplane Seat
Viator's New Website Offers Cheaper Shore Excursions Than Cruise Lines Offer
Cruise lovers who hate being stuck with the expensive shore excursions offered by their cruise line can now find better value alternatives, thanks to a website launching today: Viator Shore Excursions. The site, run by activity booking engine Viator, pledges discounts of up to 60 percent off the price of more than 500 comparable ship-arranged excursions. Until now, cruise lines have had a near monopoly on the sale of shore excursions, which make up about 25 percent of a typical cruise line's profits. Viator's service amps up the price competition. There are other sources for deals out there worth trying, too, especially ShoreTrips.com and ShoreExcursionsGroup.com. Searching for a shore excursion is straightforward. Enter your cruise ship name and sailing dates, and check the types of activities you prefer, such as jungle safari, privately led shopping tour, or a photography masterclass. The site then shows you tours that sync up with your ship's itinerary. It works at more than 80 ports for all of the major cruise lines, such as Carnival, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), Princess, and Royal Caribbean. For instance, the site is touting a Hilo, Hawaii, shore excursion to Volcanoes National Park to see active volcanoes Mauna Loa and Kilauea as well as the gorgeous Rainbow Falls, from $59 a person. The comparable tour on (NCL) is currently $89 a person. Viator's new site guarantees an on-time return to your ship or else it will pay the full costs of transporting you to the next port in time to catch up with your ship. In another perk, the company pledges that if you find a lower price for the tour elsewhere, it will refund the difference. Tours are typically available to book up to a day in advance of arrival in port. In many cases there are no penalties if an excursion is cancelled days ahead, though travelers should read the fine print on any offer before booking. In comparison, most cruise-arranged excursions can be canceled for a refund up to 36 hours in advance. Through April 30, 2012, bookings on Viator Shore Excursions that use the code SHOREX10 receive a 10 percent discount. We hope the launch of the new site leads to a price war on shore excursions, which would be good news for anyone who likes to cruise affordably. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Secrets to the 10 Most Popular Cruise Ports 12 Top Tips from the World's Best Cruisers Some Cruise Lines Take the "All" Out of "All-inclusive"