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Travel tips from Condé Nast Traveler magazine's Wendy Perrin.
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October 30, 2008

The Perrin Post Saves A Reader $2,100

by Wendy Perrin

Remember last week's post Don't Book a Cruise Until You Read This? Reader Deannadv wrote in to say that my tip saved her $600 on a stateroom on Cunard's Queen Victoria. Then she wrote again last night to say that my tip about Cheap Rental Cars in Europe has saved her another $1,500:

"You did it again. Traveling to Tuscany with family for Xmas at farmhouse/villa. Was able to book the same 9-passenger van with car seat for more than $1,500 less. Avis had quoted $2,300 for our 10-day rental, and Nova Car Hire is charging just $770. It's a miracle. Add this savings to the $600 Cunard cruise reduction and we almost have enough saved for another trip somewhere. Thank you so much for the solid travel advice you provide."

No problem. I'm here to help.

July 29, 2008

Cheap Rental Cars in Europe

Header_nova_left_2by Wendy Perrin

Itching for a European road trip but scared off by car rental costsConde Nast Traveler's executive editor Ted Moncreiff just returned from a trip to France and Italy raving about NovaCarHire, a reservation service based in the town of Killorglin in southern Ireland that claims to offer "the lowest rates with top car rental companies" while also providing "the highest levels of service." 

Ted booked two rentals through Nova--one in Paris, one outside Rome--and came back bowled over by how friendly, competent, and totally reliable the service was. As for the costs . . .  a four-day rental of a brand new Fiat mini-van (with built-in GPS) from National Car Rental, picked up and dropped off at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, was $368. And a five-day rental of a brand new Fiat station wagon with automatic transmission (and portable GPS), picked up and dropped off from Auto Europa at Rome's Fiumicino Airport, cost $466. Those were the total prices -- including insurance, tax, everything.

Ted was particularly thrilled that both cars got fabulous gas mileage. Even though he (and his four travel companions) drove the Paris car all the way to the Loire Valley and back, and the Rome car all the way to Tuscany and back, he filled each car's tank only once (shortly before returning the vehicle to the rental agency).

Continue reading "Cheap Rental Cars in Europe" »

April 08, 2008

Before You Rent a Car With GPS . . .

Rental_car_in_spain_5
I put 1,300 miles on this car in Spain in February.

by Wendy Perrin

My last post shared a taxi tip gleaned from the front desk at the Madrid hotel where I stayed a few weeks ago. I've been meaning to share another tip I picked up during that trip -- at the Avis car-rental counter: If you own a portable GPS for your car back home, consider carrying it with you instead of renting one.

Say you're planning to rent a car in Europe this summer: Consider downloading a map of Europe into your portable GPS. At the Avis office in Madrid, the cost of renting a GPS was $18 per day. Rent for nine days and the cost is $162. By contrast, the cost of downloading data for ALL of Europe into my Garmin GPS was about $160 -- and I can use the Europe maps during future trips.

Okay, so that was smart enough, but wait till you hear the dumb thing I did next: I rented snow chains from Avis for $98, only to discover -- at a roadside supermarket later that day -- that I could have bought them for $31.

The moral of the story: Before opting for car-rental extras, compare the cost of borrowing them from the rental company with the cost of buying them from another source.

March 26, 2007

Rental Car Collision-Damage Coverage

Mercedes rental car
The rental car I booked through AutoEurope for a trip to Tuscany in
Oct. 2005 was a brand new Mercedes sedan.

by Wendy Perrin

Question from reader J. Budrow:

"One of my biggest fears when traveling is that I will total a rental car and get charged for the loss on my credit card because the card's collision damage waiver (CDW) policy denies the claim.  My first question for you: What do you do for insurance coverage when you rent a car abroad?  Second question: Are there additional insurance options you can purchase, other than those offered by the car rental company?"

Your fear is legit. I've seen credit card issuers weasel out of a number of collision-damage claims, as there is fine print about types of damage not covered (e.g., damage to the undercarriage, tires, windshield).

Renting overseas: Personally, I purchase the CDW -- even though it's expensive and avoidable in most countries if you pay with an American Express card, thanks to AmEx's rental-car benefits -- because, if I do get into an accident, it will be a time-consuming headache to take all the steps required to ensure that AmEx pays the claim.  I know from past experience that you need to stop your trip for at least half a day, if not a full day or more; get an informed AmEx rep on the phone (often several times); follow all of the rep's instructions; get a police report; go with the car to the repair garage; wait for a damage estimate; ask all the right questions; leave with the proper paperwork, etc.  As with all insurance claims, you must dot every i and cross every t if you want the claim to get paid.  Overseas, when I'm dealing with unfamiliar phone systems, foreign languages, and a tight itinerary, I simply don't have that kind of time. I prefer to have the peace of mind of knowing that, should there be any damage, I can walk away free and clear. Pricey?  Yes.  For me personally, though, it's worth it.

Saving money on European rentals: I do this by booking through a consolidator such as AutoEurope or Europe By Car that includes the CDW and any mandatory insurance in one relatively low price that you pay in advance. Anyone who plans to book through a consolidator should read my posts warning about potential snags when renting through AutoEurope, especially when the car AutoEurope books for you belongs to Europcar. Don't miss the comments posted by readers!  Another good source of advice re: the ins and outs of insurance for European car rentals is Rick Steves' Europe.

Continue reading "Rental Car Collision-Damage Coverage" »

January 31, 2007

New MapQuest Gas Price Finder

070131_mapquest_1
How Mapquest's gas price finder works.

By Wendy Perrin

As soon as I read the news on TravelPost's Insider this morning about Mapquest's new gas price portal, I excitedly phoned my husband Tim. He's the one who plans our family's weekend car trips. Now, whenever he maps out our route in advance, he can plan our gas stops too, by inputting any given intersection and learning the gas prices there.  How great is that?!  The only downside:  Saving on gas will cut into the double miles I get at gas stations by paying with my Delta SkyMiles AmEx card.


November 17, 2006

Savvy Price-Shopping Online

By Wendy Perrin

Conde Nast Traveler readers are a clever lot.  Yesterday I received an e-mail from one of them with a nifty tip.  When the reader books travel online, he often books it not through the travel company's U.S. Web site but through its site in the country he plans to visit, since the prices are lower:

"Before a recent trip, I was amazed at how expensive a 4-day car rental in Ireland was going to be.  At Budget.com, an economy car picked up and dropped off at the Dublin airport was 181 euros (including the mandatory CDW, or collision-damage waiver).  At Budget.ie, however, the cost was 65 euros (including the CDW).  Another example: When I went to South Africa, I found hotel rates were much lower on Web sites ending in .za than on those ending in .com.  A room at the Sheraton in Cape Town, for instance, cost $50 less through the local Web site."

Continue reading "Savvy Price-Shopping Online" »

September 06, 2006

Renting From Europcar

By Wendy Perrin

A few days ago I wrote about renting from Auto Europe, the wholesaler with low rates that rents cars from other companies' fleets.  One reader posted this enlightening feedback:

"I've been using Auto Europe for years. The problem is not with Auto Europe. If they give you an Avis car, all is well. If they give you a Europcar car, WATCH OUT!  On two occasions Europcar has sent me insurance forms, months later, claiming falsely that I had damaged a car. Always get a signature that the car is returned in good condition and the tank is full. And save that form for at least 6 months."

More evidence that part of the problem lies with Europcar: A coworker of mine, Conde Nast Traveler news editor Kevin Doyle, booked an Auto Europe rental in Ireland this summer.  Auto Europe gave him a car from Europcar. When Kevin returned the vehicle, the Europcar agent pointed out a teensy scratch on the rear bumper.  He asked Kevin to sign a form acknowledging the damage. Kevin refused to sign any such admission of guilt. He had heard too many stories about unfair and exorbitant rental-car repair bills in Europe.  Also, even though he had purchased the collision-damage waiver (CDW), he had not purchased the "excess waiver" (a daily fee that protects you from having to pay a deductible if the car gets damaged). This meant that, if he returned a damaged car, he would be liable for the CDW deductible, which was a whopping $1,645! (This little detail was in the fine print of his Auto Europe contract.)  Since he would have to pay the first $1,645 of damage, Kevin was worried that Europcar might assess an extortionate charge. So he took photos of the car and the scratch and instructed the supervisor in the Europcar office to fax him a repair bill.  Fortunately, the bill ended up being only $130.  Had it been outrageous, Kevin would have fought it.

The moral of the story: While U.S. rental car agencies rarely charge for minor scratches that could be considered normal wear and tear, Europcar certainly does, which is why renters should thoroughly examine--and photograph--the condition of their car before driving it off the lot.


September 01, 2006

Renting from Auto Europe

By Wendy Perrin

Of all the items in the Wendy's InBox section of The Perrin Report, my column in Conde Nast Traveler, the one that has sparked the most reader feedback is the one about Auto Europe that ran in the February 2006 issue:

"I plan to rent a car in Italy. Which agency would you recommend, and what hidden charges should I watch out for?
        — Kimberly Kros, Scottsdale, Arizona

Wendy's reply: I often use Auto Europe, a wholesaler that rents vehicles from other companies' fleets, because its rates for cars with automatic transmission can be hundreds of dollars cheaper. In Europe, however, no matter which agency I use, I almost always encounter unexpected charges. I reserved a car through Auto Europe in Florence last fall, paying $710 in advance for an eight-day rental of a four-door Mercedes E280 compact from Europcar. When I returned the car to the lot at the Florence airport, there was no one on hand to provide a final receipt. About a month after I got home, I was billed a refueling fee of $43 for 3.2 gallons of gas--yet I had filled the tank myself just before dropping the car off. (My mother, who rented through Auto Europe at the Pisa airport last fall, had the same problem: Although she'd filled up just before returning the vehicle, she was hit with a $51 refueling charge.) When I called Auto Europe to dispute the charge, its agent said that she would remove it if I could provide my final gas receipt. Alas, I couldn't find it. She acknowledged that other travelers have suffered mystery gas charges, which is why the company's voucher advises keeping copies of gas receipts. 

Postscript: I heard from Kros after her trip and learned that she did indeed rent through Auto Europe. Although she was not billed for gas, she still incurred unexpected fees, which she disputed with American Express. It investigated and refunded the charges. The moral? Keep your final gas receipt, and pay with your AmEx."

After this anecdote was published, several readers wrote to me that the same thing had happened to them. One, however, shared some good news:

"We just came back from a three-week driving trip through Central and Eastern Europe. I booked the rental car through a service that I've used twice now and would recommend to anyone renting in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland: gemut.com. Andy Bestor there promises the best price and the best service. I comparison-shopped among Web sites, and, sure enough, his price was the lowest. We even got a free upgrade. Bestor uses the big-name rental agencies, charges no cancellation or change fees, and will handle any unexpected post-trip charges."
        — Linda Libertucci, Redondo Beach, California

Yesterday I received another interesting e-mail:

"I use Auto Europe 15 to 20 times per year. Since the refueling thing seems to be a regular issue, I always charge the gas and attach the gas receipt to my copy of the rental contract. If an erroneous gas charge shows up on my credit-card statement, I have easy access to the gas receipt that always has the date and time on it, proving that I refilled just before returning the car. To get the gas charge refunded, it also helps to have the rental agent to whom you return the car write "FULL" on the contract.

My biggest recent problem was a tiny 1/4-inch scratch on my rental-car hubcap. I thoroughly check every inch of a car when picking it up but, honestly, I had never checked the hubcaps. Now I do! That unscrupulous agency said I had to replace the whole tire for $700! Fortunately, I took photos of the scratch and contacted AmEx, which removed the $700 charge. So be sure to check your hubcaps when you pick up an Auto Europe car."
— Liz Duffy, St. Thomas

Anyone else have Auto Europe advice to share? Please click on "Comments" and post it here.


August 31, 2006

GPS for Use Overseas

By Wendy Perrin

My GPS for Driving Abroad post yielded this comment:

"GPS for a foreign country is expensive. We own a Garmin Nuvi 350 and LOVE it. I checked garmin.com and the upgrade will cost $349 if we want to get one for use in Venice, Italy.  We decided we'll try to get by with the map the B&B gives us."

Better yet, use no map at all!  In my experience, the best way to explore Venice is to get lost.

In any case, does anyone out there know of a good, affordable GPS for use in foreign countries?  If so, please tell us by posting a comment here.


August 25, 2006

GPS for Driving Abroad

By Wendy Perrin

Condé Nast Traveler subscriber Loretta Moses emailed me this question:

"Several friends and I will be traveling in the south of France in October and will have a car that is not equipped with GPS. Was wondering if you could advise me how or where to obtain a GPS for use abroad. "

Garmin Quest, the Magellan RoadMate, and the TomTom GO 700 are all good portable GPS systems for cars and are widely available (from Amazon, Circuit City, et al).  For more information about driving with a GPS, see Condé Nast Traveler's TripTech: Road Show.

060825_quest_2
The Garmin Quest