Car Rental:

 

When renting cars, we booked them from Australia using the British arms of companies such as Budget, National or Alamo.

 

The reason is that the US rates you can get from the rental companies on the internet or through sites such as Expedia, Travelocity etc look very cheap but do not include 'CDW' (Collision Damage Waiver - in case you damage the car or it gets stolen) or 'SLI' (Supplementary Liability Insurance - in case you cause damage or personal injury to someone else or their property).   To add these insurances, the rental companies charge up to $10 or $15 per day extra, for each one.  Often these extra insurances can add up to as much as the basic rental rate quoted by the companies.

 

The US firms work this way because American renters don't generally need the extra insurances,  as their own auto insurance usually covers them when driving rental cars.  Ours does not, so we need the insurance.  You generally get some rental car insurance with your travel insurance, but nowhere near enough. Our coverage was only $2000 or $3000 AUD.  Some ’Gold’ credit cards also include rental car insurance. You will see Americans talking about this on the travel discussion groups.  I researched this before we went, and again the amounts offered to Australian cardholders are not enough, and in fact generally only apply to rentals within Australia. 

 

Because the British system works like ours, they offer 'all inclusive' rates that make it cheaper than adding CDW and SLI to the base rate on the US websites. It worked out much, much cheaper for us to book the cars through the British.  

 

The websites for the British branches of Alamo and National (sister companies) do not necessarily offer the 'all inclusive' rates, so I booked them by phone – this means a long-distance call to England, but using a calling card it is not that much in the scheme of things.  Another option is to use the British site for Expedia (www.expedia.co.uk).  We did this for one of our rentals and again the quoted price included all the insurances, although generally Expedia UK tends not to be as cheap as booking direct through National/Alamo UK or Budget UK.

 

Since we got back, I have found that the UK website for Budget (http://www.budget.co.uk/)  does now offer good, competitive ‘all inclusive’ rates.

 

Why did we not use Budget Australia?  Their website kicks you straight to the US

website for Budget, once you specify that the country of rental is USA. Of course, this

means there is no way to get an ‘all inclusive’ rate.  That said, another option might

be to approach Budget Australia by phone.  I tried this and did not get a very good rate quote, but this situation may have changed over time.  There is also Europcar (which I think is the name National/Alamo operate under in Australia).  We did not try them, and their website appears to offer no assistance in booking US rentals through National/Alamo. 

 

As for the majors like Hertz and Avis, they operate practically everywhere, so it may be

worth asking them to quote an ‘all inclusive rate’ for a US rental.  In our experience,

their prices are always well above the average, for any particular rental.  

 

Of course, many will find it far simpler just to get your travel agent to do the booking for you.  They can provide very competitive rates, using outfits such as 'Holiday Autos' and others.  It's probably possible to do slightly better than the travel agent's rates if you don't mind doing the work.  In our case, I knew the American car models pretty well, having lived in Nth America before, and wanted particular vehicles.  So it suited us to do this ourselves.

 

Once you make the reservation, you can access your booking via the rental company's website. This is handy in case you want to change it, and you can print the details so you'll have a booking reference number to quote if you have any problems.

 

Other possible advantages were that the travel agents will want to be paid up-front

for the car rental, whereas if booking directly you use a credit card to hold the reservation, and the charge is made to the card when you return the vehicle. Our travel agent (Flight Centre) also charged extra to pay by credit card, which the rental companies do not.

 

Many Aussies seem to think you need an International Driver's Licence to rent cars.

I do not know if this is true in Europe or elsewhere, but it is definitely not the case in

the USA.  We rented five cars from three different companies and only ever needed

to produce our Australian driver's licences.  The rental company websites explain that

they do require an International Drivers Licence if your licence from your home country is not written in English. I'm not certain whether they only apply this rule if the licence is written in a foreign alphabet such as Arabic, Cyrillic etc or whether they would also apply it for German or French licences and so on.  Anyway, definitely no hassle for us Aussies!

 

Our rentals were as follows:

 

·        LAX return LAX - Jeep Grand Cherokee - March 26 to April 16 2004 - 21 days.

Total price USD $1032.  National Car Rental. Booked through UK branch.

 

·        Orlando International Florida return to Orlando - Ford Explorer

April 16 to May 10 2004 - 24 days.  Total price USD $1308.  Booked through UK branch of Budget.

 

·        Orlando International return Orlando International - Chevy Cavalier (Economy 2 door) May 10 to May 14 2004 - 4 days. Alamo.  Booked online through  Expedia UK. Total price £80 British Pounds - $200AUD at the time.

 

·        New York City return NYC - May 23 to June 3, 2004 - 11 days.

Buick LeSabre (premium).  Total price USD $633. National Car Rental. Booked through UK branch.

 

·        LAX return LAX - June 5 to June 10, 2004 - 6 days.  Ford Mustang convertible (V6 only, not V8, alas!).  Total price USD $397.  Booked through UK branch of Budget.

 

The Ford Explorer we had in Florida and the south was originally booked under the ’Premium’ category and was supposed to be a Mercury Grand Marquis (large American rear-drive V8 sedan - the closest thing around these days to the traditional ‘land yacht’). They didn’t have any at Orlando airport, so we got the Explorer (mid-size SUV) instead.  I think they are in the same pricing category.  Probably just as well, as with the kids and our baggage we needed a fairly big car for a three week road-trip.  The Explorer certainly had more luggage capacity than the Mercury. 

 

Of the two SUVs we had, we much preferred the Ford Explorer to the Jeep Grand Cherokee we had earlier in the trip, for the West Coast leg.  Similar size but much nicer to drive.  Budget has the Fords, Alamo and National have the Jeep, other Chryslers and also some of the GM vehicles.