Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Car Rental

Should you purchase roadside assistance protection when renting a car?

A couple weeks ago my wife and I took our kids to the beach in Costa Rica. We have been in the country a few weeks now as we are adopting three beautiful siblings. Given that we’d finished our first round of appointments, we figured it was time to take our first excursion out of San José.

Our first morning was spent at Playa Mantas. We all had a wonderful time laughing and playing in the surf. It was a perfect day.

Then disaster stuck. I realized I’d lost our rental car key. Stupidly, I had completely forgotten to take it out of my pocket and stick it in our bag before jumping into the waves! We concluded that it must have fallen out of the cargo pocket of my swimsuit.

After futilely scouring the sand for a while, I made the dreaded call to the rental car office. Considering that we were almost 2 hours from San José, I knew this mistake was going to cost us a pretty penny.

That is, until I realized that I had purchased roadside assistance protection for our 2-week SUV rental. All said and done, I only had to pay for the cost of the key, which turned out to be $50.

In our case, this extra service turned out to pay off. But in general should you purchase roadside assistance protection when renting a car?

roadside assistance protection worth it

What is Roadside Assistance Protection?

This service is something many rental companies offer as an add-on service to the base rental rate. It typically costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 per day, which may not seem like much. Roadside assistance typically: covers the following:

  • Lockouts
  • Lost keys
  • Jumpstarts
  • Fuel delivery (if you run out)
  • Roadside assistance with other problems, such as a flat tire.

Roadside assistance does not cover any accidents. It typically only offers help for the services above and anything else that might be included in the terms of the coverage.

The coverage also doesn’t cover breakdowns. If the customer does something to the car that causes it to break down, they are still on the hook. If the issue wasn’t the customers fault, the rental company is on the hook even if you don’t purchase the extra coverage.

Should you purchase roadside assistance when renting a car?

In general, I would say no, especially if you are renting domestically. You will likely be paying for coverage you already have. Check with your own car insurance provider to see what is covered. If you have a service such as AAA, you should be covered when you rent as well.

Since many rentals are domestic where people’s own insurance already covers them, roadside assistance protection is pure profit for a car rental company. Therefore agents at the counter will often try to sell you on it.

In some cases, roadside assistance may make sense. If you are going to be driving through rural areas where there are no services and/or you are not covered by your own insurance, consider whether a few extra bucks might offer some extra piece of mind. Just be sure you know what you are buying!

Before purchasing the service, I also made sure that I did not already have complimentary roadside assistance through my Business Platinum Card from American Express. Turns out this is restricted to the U.S. and Canada. Bummer.

Roadside assistance protection paid off in our case

Since this was my first time renting a car internationally (besides in Canada), I was a bit leery of getting into an accident and/or getting stuck somewhere on the side of the road with my wife and 3 kids in a foreign country. I knew I had collision damage waiver coverage when using my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to pay for the rental, but I ended up opting for both the supplemental liability insurance and the roadside assistance protection. My own car insurance unfortunately doesn’t apply outside of the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

In our case, the roadside assistance protection cost us $3.99 per day. Over 14 days, this came to $55.86. While I don’t know how much Budget would have charged us for the key delivery service, I know that it would have been substantially more than this. Sure, I could have prevented the situation entirely with a little more forethought, but it really saved our bacon this time.

It took a couple phone calls and cost us maybe 45 minutes dealing with the situation. And then $50 back at the rental counter. I’m glad I bought the protection, all things said and done.

I’d also like to mention again that the service covers jumpstarts, which we might have needed as well.  Turns out a hill works just fine when your car is a standard. No coverage needed here.

Conclusion

To recap, I don’t generally consider roadside assistance protection to be worth purchasing, especially not domestically. Like many types of protections and insurances, weigh the risk versus the cost before you agree to it. We came out ahead this time. But most people typically don’t. Hence the rental companies’ tendency to heavily sell this protection.

Featured image courtesy of Erico Junior Wouters under CC 2.0 license

Should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Much of renting a car is a headache. I’ve stood in line for hours. Or not gotten the car I reserved. And then they try to up-sell you. And then they ask if you want to prepay the fuel. I’ve often said no, but should you prepay gas for a rental car?

There are a few factors that go into this decision:

  1. Will you be driving enough to empty or mostly empty the tank?
  2. What is the cost per gallon compared to local prices?
  3. Is it a matter of convenience?

Let’s look at each of these and then ask again, should you prepay gas for a rental car.

Figuring out if you will empty the tank

If the answer isn’t an obvious yes or no, this will take a bit of quick math. You might want to do a bit of estimating before your trip. I’d use the average miles per gallon for the class of car you reserved, plus the typical size of the tank to figure out roughly how many miles you can drive on one tank of gas.

Or just look up the general range of the car, if that is something that is easy enough to find with Google.

Figure out the local cost of gas

Also compare the local price of gas when considering whether you should prepay gas for a rental car. Typically, the prepay option for fuel will be at a price per gallon that is cheaper than local gas prices. This is because you are unlikely to return the car with a completely empty tank. It is a game (at least for me) to figure out how little I can leave in the tank when returning the car, it I’ve prepaid the fuel.

If you will very likely empty the tank at least once completely and the price per gallon of the prepay option is reasonable, consider pre-paying the fuel.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Sometimes it is simply convenient to pre-pay

At the end of the day, you’re probably on vacation, so why worry about having to fill the tank? Or maybe you’re traveling for work and don’t want to have to remember to top off before returning your car.

If it is a matter of convenience, such as an early return to the airport, I’d probably go with pre-paying the fuel. I’d definitely balance this with how much you’re driving and figure out roughly how much you’re paying for this convenience.

Case Study #1

Back in May I traveled to Orlando for Family Travel for Real Life 6. During the trip, I rented a car for the day to explore the atrociously flat state of Florida. I opted not to pre-pay the fuel since I would only be depleting half a tank at most.

Fast-forward to the rental return where I returned the car without filling up (SEE: The ONE rental car mistake I often make). Major mishap here. I was charged over $50 for fuel, for a tank that would have cost me around $25 to pre-purchase!! In this case, pre-paying would have saved me a ton of money. Admittedly, I was a total space cadet and forgot to fill it before I drove back to MCO.

Pre-paying the fuel in this case would have given me major peace of mind. Although it *would* have been best to still decline the option and fill the tank myself.

Case Study #2

Fast forward to July where I took a trip to Montana with my brother-in-law to visit friends (SEE: Hiking the Highline Trail Glacier National Park and Of Course I HAD to Visit Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park). When we picked up our car, the prepay option had a fuel price of $1.75 per gallon!!! This is insanely cheap when you’re coming from California.

I knew that we would be driving to Missoula and back, not to mention up to Glacier a few times. My gut told me yes, purchase the fuel. I ended up using about a tank and a half over the trip, so it worked out great. We returned the car at less than 1/8 of a tank.

So…should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Answer: it depends. But if you are doing any serious amount of driving, I certainly would. I used to shy away from this option, but I’ve found it to work out for the best in more and more instances.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car, just remember NOT to fill the tank before you return the car.

Image courtesy of Erico Junior Wouters under CC 2.0 license

Finding the best rental car deals: 3 reasons to use Autoslash

With the abundance of co-branded credit cards for both airline and hotel loyalty programs, “hacking” these parts of travel can be fairly easy. Earn points/miles, then burn (SEE: 3 great Starter Travel Credit Cards). However, rental car companies don’t have the same sort of arrangement with credit cards, making them a bit more difficult to come by cheaply. This is why you need to know where to look for the best rental car deals.

Some rental car deals are seasonal. If a market is seasonal (e.g. Arizona or Florida), you can often score one-way rental deals for as low as $8 per day. No one wants to be in Phoenix in summer, so after spring training is over and everyone has packed up and left, rental cars just sit idle. Thus, companies move them to more lucrative markets, like Los Angeles or the Bay Area. Rather than pay to truck them all, they’ll offer a super cheap rate to induce people to take a one-way road trip.

However, what happens if you are trying to find a deal on a car in a market during peak season? Do you just suck it up and pay $60, $80, or $100 per day? Enter Autoslash.

Where Autoslash fits into the picture

Autoslash is hands down my favorite tool for finding the best rental car deals. I used to shop through Expedia, Priceline, or directly with various rental car companies. But this requires time and effort, and often you can’t really know if you’re getting the best deal or not.

Best rental car deals

Autoslash takes all this pain away. You key in your information, hit submit, and wait for the great quotes to roll in. If your plans are flexible, you may need to submit a few different options. I’ve had such great success with them that I’d venture to say that 95% of the time you’ll be presented with the best rental car deals using their service. Here are 3 great ways Autoslash can really come through for you:

Autoslash aggregates deals from multiple sources

Unlike airfares, which are often the same across booking platform (not always, but regularly so), rental car prices can vary wildly. I’ve seen times where I can book a car through the United portal for $85 one-way, versus $145 one-way directly through Hertz. That’s a huge difference!

What Autoslash does is let you key in your information one time, and then the service searches multiple platforms for you. The results are then aggregated, showing only the best rental car deals. They are returned by email, typically only taking an hour or two at most to hit my inbox.

As an example, Autoslash saved me a ton of time and money on a recent trip to Montana. I was struggling to find a good deal on a rental car, realizing that anything I rented was probably going to cost $300 or more. Most options didn’t even offer unlimited mileage! However, once I keyed my info into Autoslash, I was presented with a deal on an intermediate sized car for $176 that included unlimited mileage! The deal was with National and booked through Priceline. Had I been searching manually, I may have never found it!

Price drop? You’re automatically re-booked

One of the best features of Autoslash is that the service searches your itinerary multiple times per day in case of a price drop. This doesn’t apply if the booking details are different (e.g. if you book through Hertz, and now there is a better deal through National). But if your exact itinerary changes price, Autoslash will lock in the savings for you!

Autoslash will also continue to send you emails with updated deals for each search. I find that I’ll get a new update roughly once a week until the time of rental. Sometimes the email has offered a better deal, but more often than not, the original deal discovered by Autoslash is still the best one.

Assurance that you’re getting the best deal

I’m not saying Autoslash is 100% foolproof. But it is the closest thing to a silver bullet for rental cars. The service has definitely saved me money over the last few times I’ve rented a car. Rather than wonder if I could be getting a better deal searching elsewhere, I trust Autoslash to come through for me. It has taken all the pain out of trying to find the best rental car deals.

The only site I routinely check any more is the United site. If Autoslash pulls a Hertz deal, I’ll check and see if United is offering the same price. This is because I would typically rather earn United miles than Hertz points for my rentals. Sometimes United even offers killer promotions. So far, however, Autoslash has always won out.

Bottom line: Use Autoslash to find the best rental car deals

For a long time I never really investigated Autoslash. Lots of travelers raved about it, but I figured I could find decent deals myself. Now I’m 100% converted. I’ll never go back to searching manually again.

Ultimately, Autoslash can save you a ton of money on a rental car. From offering the best array of deals, to automatically re-booking your rental should their be a price drop, the service is amazing. And it’s free. You can cut your rental cost even more by using a flexible points currency (such as Barclaycard Arrival miles) to offset the remaining cost of the vehicle. Even without credit cards, there are ways to hack rental cars. You just need to know what tools to use.

Header image courtesy of Erico Junior Wouters under CC 2.0 license