Advice | You asked: How do I get rental car companies to actually hold my car? (2024)

Traveling has always come with complications. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the unexpected. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

“I haven’t done much car renting, and for a vacation I need a rental agency that is reliable in terms of definitely having the car there when I arrive so I’m not stuck waiting. Are certain agencies more dependable than others?” — Elliot S., Washington, D.C.

Our team clashed over your question, but a few themes emerged:

1. Sign up for a rental car company’s rewards program.

2. Check-in online. (Who wants to wait in line?)

3. Brace yourself for disappointment anyway.

I also took your question to a few travel experts who echoed the same suggestions, plus added a few other thoughts.

Let’s start with tip one. Even if you just signed up, being a rewards program member often lets you earn loyalty benefits over time — like free upgrades and discounts — and skip the line to go straight to your car. That’s if all goes according to the rental car company’s plan. But those plans are based on a loose sense of fleet availability.

The standard rental car business model is not as straightforward as locking in a reservation and having a car set aside for you. It’s a fluctuating game of give and take, with customers ditching reservations last-minute, not bringing cars back on schedule, vehicles needing repairs and unexpected changes in demand.

To offset the chance of getting stuck with nothing, Peter Vlitas, the executive vice president of partner relations at Internova Travel Group, recommends booking a car with one of the big companies such as Hertz, Enterprise or Avis. “Their fleets are very large, and on the off chance a chosen vehicle isn’t available, they can quickly swap another car so you’re not waiting at the airport,” he wrote in an email.

My colleague, travel reporter Hannah Sampson, likes booking the most basic rental car options available because if they do run out of what you chose, you’ll get bumped up to something better. You can also just ask for an upgrade at the desk if you don’t mind swinging by the rental office, said Laura Doyle, president of travel agency the Travel Mechanic. “Kindness goes a long way in today’s world,” she added.

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You can further improve your odds by paying in advance; it’s a more firm agreement because there’s a financial obligation attached to it, making you a higher priority over customers who haven’t paid.

It doesn’t hurt to give the rental location a call ahead of your pickup date to see if there have been any spikes in demand that could derail your reservation.

By The Way editor Gabe Hiatt has been burned too many times to feel completely confident in any of these fail-safes. He’s seen people do everything right and still get bounced around to several locations before they could get a car.

That’s why Vlitas also suggests using a company like his to find a travel agent to deal with the car rental for you, arguing that because travel advisers book a large volume of rental cars on a regular basis, they “hold a lot of sway with the rental car companies,” he said. Plus if something does go wrong, you’ll have a professional ready to advocate on your behalf.

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“These businesses want to make sure the advisor continues to work with them and treats their clients as VIPs,” he continued. “With a travel advisor, you have the best chance of your rental car of choice waiting for you so you can get your vacation going. If your destination is very popular or you’re renting a car in the high season, a travel advisor can also do the legwork and call ahead to make sure the car is there.”

Alternatively, you could try booking direct from another car owner through peer-to-peer services like Getaround or Turo. They’re not working with a fleet of cars and flighty customers; they list a specific car you can rent, so you should drive away with the car you actually booked.

A third option is booking a rental that gets delivered to you. New companies such as Kyte allow customers to book a car online and choose a delivery site most convenient for them. Turo hosts may offer the same for a fee. Uber has also gotten into the rental car delivery market with its Valet service. Laura Lindsay, global travel trends expert at Skyscanner, said you can use search filters on the site to find “Meet and Greet” options where available.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Send it to us here.

Advice | You asked: How do I get rental car companies to actually hold my car? (2024)
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