The car rental promotion that actually costs you double

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Would you rather get this promotional rate?

Quiz time: When is a $20 daily car rental rate promotion a rip-off?

Answer: When you could just as easily be paying $10 a day.Long ago, I signed up to receive promotional "Hot Deals" e-mails from Alamo Rent A Car. Recently, I received a message alerting me to "Weekend Rentals from $10 a Day."

Hmm…

Curious about how truly "hot" this deal was, I opened a new window on my computer to check out Alamo's website, where I found a similar-looking weekend promotion. Only this one had the headline "Weekend Rentals from $20 a Day."

I clicked on the $20 promotion and saw a blond model with a gray tank top, standing and smiling in front of a Chevy. Around her were the details to the promotion: compact cars from $20 a day, mid-size cars from $24 a day, full-size cars from $28 a day, premium cars from $30 a day, with restrictions including a four-day maximum rental and validity dates of August 20 to September 21.

Next, I went back to the e-mail that heralded the $10 weekend promotion. I clicked through the link provided, and saw the exact same blond model, same Chevy, same restrictions, same validity dates. The only differences were the words "EMAIL EXCLUSIVE" on the top of the web page, and the prices listed for cars: $10 for compacts, $14 for mid-sizes, and $18 a day for full-sizes, and $20 a day for premium cars.

The lesson? If you've ever thought that all promotional e-mails do is clog your in-box, here's a case for signing up for them. The bigger point is that you should never assume that a "deal" is actually a deal. Sometimes, you can do much better than a "special" promotional rate.

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