Avis is my go-to car hire company as they have a tie-up with British Airways, and they often come out cheapest compared to the other big names. I did once try going for a smaller company called EasiRent but they were so awful I just walked away and hired from Avis at the airport.
This time, however, Avis were really expensive for a 6 day hire from San Francisco. I wanted a Ford Mustang convertible for the trip because who wouldn’t want one driving round California?!
I shopped around online and found Auto Europe. They are a broker giving options of all the main car hire companies. What I really like about it is the ability to sort by company or by car type. As I was on the looking for a convertible, I chose that option and was able to see all the offers.
There were loads, and they all offer different things. Even from the same company, there were ones with additional drivers, free tanks of fuels, reduced liabilities and combinations of all the above.
The one I went for was with Budget (who are partnered with Avis) so I knew it wasn’t going to be some two-bit operation. The price was just under £200 and this included zero excess and a second driver. This was about 40% of the price that Avis wanted so I was happy.
As with any car hire, you can’t guaranteed the car type until you arrive unless you pay extra if the option is available. I knew that I would get a convertible, just not sure what time.
The car hire set up at San Francisco airport is in a separate area which is accessible by the air train. We had a lift to the terminal in the free hotel shuttle bus, and then jumped on the free a train round to the hire place. The doors open on the level with the check-in desks and all of the main companies are represented.
It took a little while for us to get served at the budget counter but thankfully we had arrived 10 minutes before another train full of people. At the time we felt that the lady at the counter was trying to push a number of additional extras on us that we did not want. These included preparing for petrol, additional liability reductions, and changing the location of the drop-off to and in time and location. In the end we took the option of returning it to the garage in San Francisco which the lady said would be very close to our hotel, we were a little bit unsure but I wanted to get going. We took the stairs down one level and walked out to the car.
To my delight it was indeed a convertible Mustang. There was plenty of room for our two suitcases and two small cabin bags in the boot but little else. On the plus side none of the space in the boot is taken up by the roof so you can fill up the boot and fell down the roof without worrying.
One odd thing with American car hire is that you spend less time in the pre-preparation stages. There was no discussion of the condition of the car, and if you are a higher tier member, you will find your name on a scree and keys in the car. All you do is load up the car, and then give your license and car hire details to the person on the gate as you leave for validation.
The car was wonderful. It was a great choice, with air conditioning as well as a soft top. It was easy to drive, and very powerful. It averaged 29mpg, but the price of petrol is so low, at about $2.70 a gallon (45p per litre!) that our 750 mile trip cost us less than $70 in fuel. It had a trip computer which told me that we spent 17h28 with the engine running over 6 days – which is a lot longer than I would have guessed, so I certainly feel that it is worth while spending a little more to have a decent car when on a road trip.
The return place had been the airport, but the lady at the rental centre persuaded us that we should return it to the city centre at no extra charge. As I said, we were a little sceptical, but took her up on the offer which was a great one. We saved $18 on the train from the airport to the centre, as well as a walk up a really steep hill with bags. I drove to the front door of the hotel, unloaded the luggage, then drove 2 minutes to the deport where I dropped off the car and then walked back to the hotel.
I will definitely use Auto Europe again when searching for car hire to see what my option are, as opposed to just looking at Avis.