Travel

Avoid the upsell at the car rental counter

Before you travel, check with your credit card company and also check with your personal car insurance company to see what kind of coverage you have.
Before you travel, check with your credit card company and also check with your personal car insurance company to see what kind of coverage you have. AP

If you’ve ever rented a car, you have no doubt experienced the upsell.

Do you want to upgrade your vehicle, prepay for gas, buy insurance coverage and more? Before you know it, your bargain rental has gotten quite expensive.

One thing that always seems to happen at the counter is pressure to buy insurance. It’s expensive, and you probably are already covered through your own auto insurance and credit card.

The collision damage waiver coverage, also known as CDW or loss damage waiver, will keep the company from charging for damage to the car during your rental period, but it comes at a steep price. The daily add-on fee just for CDW coverage can cost $20 per day, which could be more than your daily rental rate.

Many credit cards offer secondary coverage, so damage fees would go through your car insurance policy first and then the credit card company would take care of what’s not covered by your personal insurance, including the deductible. Some credit cards offer primary coverage, so you do not have to go through your personal car insurance, but most credit card coverage is secondary.

In order to get the credit card coverage, you must pay for your rental with that credit card and you need to turn down the car rental company’s CDW coverage. Before you travel, check with your credit card company and also check with your personal car insurance company to see what kind of coverage you have and if there are limitations. If you are satisfied with the coverage you already have, you can confidently turn down the hard sell at the counter.

Some American Express cards offer primary coverage, but if you have an AmEx card that offers the more common secondary coverage, you can pay a flat fee of $15.95 to $24.95 per rental period, not per day, for car rental damage insurance.

In addition to the CDW, car rental companies will try to sell you three other types of insurance that you likely don’t need. There is liability insurance, which is typically covered under your own auto insurance, but if you have low coverage you may want to purchase the car rental insurance. There is personal accident insurance, which is usually covered by your medical insurance to cover injuries.

There is also personal effects coverage for personal items that you leave in the car, and this is usually covered by your own auto insurance or homeowners or renters insurance. Each of these cost an additional daily fee that varies by rental.

Agents will try to get you to pay for an upgrade at the counter, but you may get one for free. The cheapest rentals usually sell out first, so if you rent a compact car and the company runs out of them, you may get a bigger car for no additional cost. The agent won’t volunteer this information until after you’ve declined to pay for an upgrade, so say no to the paid upgrade and hope for a freebie.

Another common upsell is prepaying for a tank of gas. You may want to take this offer if you will be doing a lot of driving and don’t want to mess with filling your tank on your way to the airport. But if you don’t use a full tank, you won’t get any money back, so you'll be overpaying.

If you don’t prepay, make sure you fill up near the airport, or you could end up paying notoriously high rates for gas, like $9 per gallon, or even higher. Airport gas stations are often more expensive than local gas stations, but still much cheaper than what the car rental company will charge. If you do fill up the tank yourself, be sure to keep your receipt because you may be asked to show it as proof.

Make note of nearby gas stations on your way out of the airport and you can also find gas stations online through sites like gasbuddy.com.

Tom Parsons is CEO of www.bestfares.com. Email him at media@bestfares.com.

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