I put myself in the category of the classic business trip mid level exec grinder. Having not (yet) achieved superstar CEO status where access to private jets and town cars are at a moments notice and working for a start up, I pack my bags for each trip, kiss the wife and kids goodbye and prepare to go to battle. Flight delays, tight connecting flights that require full sweat maximizing sprints between terminals and surly flight attendants don’t phase me anymore. Bring on the excessive drinking repugnant customer who orders his 3rd last round on my tab at 1am the night before a 5:30am wake up call for an early morning flight home. No problem because I play hurt. Yet rental car companies cut me down at the knees. They are my kryptonite. While the world continues to evolve, the rental car industry embraces 40 year old practices with their proudest achievement in the last 5 years being the introduction of the flexible fueling option/wallet vaporizer, and super sized rental car lots that are outfitted with every imaginable type of car ever made except the one I actually reserved. A random sampling of their practices I find the most annoying
1. Forcing me to deal with actual humans
The airlines have taught me the less human interaction the better. I embrace a kiosk driven interactive business lifestyle. With exception of the frequently pleasant and borderline hygenic rental car shuttle drivers who pick me up to take me to the rental car lot located as far as possible from the airport, everything about a rental car experience can and should be automated so no one has to deal with an actual rental car company employee. That world does not yet exist and regretfully there are a few occasions when I actually have to walk in and talk to a customer service reservation agent. That usually instigates the official start of a shitty business trip day. Not that I have anything against the employees personally. They work exceptionally hard for minimal pay. Its the process they are forced to follow. The encounter typically starts with me queuing up at the end of a what resembles a depression era bread line with fellow customers at various stages of frustration. Your estimated wait time is 20 min (+1 day). When my turn finally arrives I present my drivers license and credit card used to secure my reservation to the service agent who proceeds to type uninterrupted into a computer screen I can’t see for a minimum of 20 minutes, supposedly processing my reservation. Its the most inefficient process I’ve ever encountered. I truly wonder at some point if the agent is Facebooking, or perhaps instant messaging with a friend to bet how long I will stand there blankly waiting before I loose my mind. My alternative theory is they are talking directly to the insurance arm of the rental car company to plot their strategy to see how much they can fleece me before I can leave the lot in the compact Ford Fiesta that oozes my “playa” status. Which leads me to my next gripe…
2. Enough of the hard sell on insurance
Suckers and grandmothers buy rental car insurance. Yet the world must be filled with the former because the rental car companies remain relentless in this practice. First it was the peace-of-mind tactic. “Sir why would you not consider protecting your company and person financial liability for a mere $15 a day.” Then the direct threat tactic. “Sir you will be charged a minimum of $1000 for any damage to the vehicle.” Now it’s a scare tactic. These words actually left the lips of a service rep recently. “Sir it’s 1000 times more likely you will get into a car accident than an airline crash so you should really consider liability coverage.” Well thank you for reminding me that my imminent death is mere moments away, knowing that you will be there to cover the cost of the burned out car that my unrecognizable charred remains will be scraped from after I’m t-boned by a gas tanker leaving the rental car lot.
3. Phantom daily rental rates
There is basic arithmetic. There is Calculus. And then there is rental car math. I have a PhD in rental car math yet even I’ve not completely figured out how my 2 day compact car rental comes to $232.34. The typical rule of thumb on calculating the real cost to rent a car is double any advertised daily rate and pre-anticipate some additional hidden fees such as the $5 “We bought too many Chrysler Sebrings and now we can’t unload them” fee, the $12 “Buying 150K shares in Facebook stock seemed like a good idea at the time” fee and the $15 “Reservation agent carpal tunnel syndrome epidemic from excessive typing producing unanticipated medical costs” fee.
4. Practicing IVU – (Inept Vehicle Up-selling)
it’s 8am. I’m in a business suit. I’m in Minneapolis. It’s February. Hmmm..do I want the Mustang Convertible upgrade? Fuck you.
5. Optional Safety Accessories
This one comes directly from Mrs. Donut Monday and falls more in the vacation rental scenario. Renting a baby car seat. This was when we still had some faith in rental car companies. Silly new sleep deprived parents. The first time we rented a seat and arrived to pick up our car the agent said they no longer had any available. Oh ok it’s 10pm and we’re an hour drive from our hotel but we’ll just put our 3 month old on my wife’s lap in the front seat and pretend it’s 1962 again. Can I also get a 6 pack of beer and a Jack Daniel’s chaser for the long ride since drunk driving is optional in this time warp universe you think we’re in? And come to think of it, yes I’ll take the fiery crash insurance option. The 2nd time (yes we did this twice) the rental car seat was covered with an inch of baby vomit and a belt restraint system that only worked with their higher end car models. Crafty
Logical conclusion – Rental car companies enjoy making babies cry
My only hope is a Virgin America equivalent of the airline industry breaks into the rental car market and shakes things up to reinvent the whole rental car experience. Already we’re seeing that with Zipcar and other similar start ups. Or I get that upgrade to CEO. Stay tuned….