Holiday car hire tips - don't get ripped off
Don’t let a massive car hire bill spoil your holiday by following our money-saving tips...
Not everywhere has such stringent car hire regulations as the UK, so there is room for rental companies to implement extra charges and fees. One potentially pricey add-on that's often only mentioned when you're collecting a holiday hire car is excess insurance.
According to research by the RAC, 70% of drivers who have hired cars abroad describe the excess insurance cover that rental companies offer are either expensive or very expensive. The insurance covers the amount customers are obliged to pre-authorise on their credit card for damage caused during the hire period - this is usually more than £500 and can be up to £2000.
Half of those surveyed by the RAC for the launch of its new Car Hire Excess Insurance stated that they took out the insurance offered by the rental company, and only 24% bought specialist excess damage cover in the UK prior to hiring the car to save money.
There are lots of other things to watch out for - and money-saving tips - to bear in mind when you hire a car abroad. Our guide explains which insurance cover is worthwhile and what you should check on the car and paperwork before you head off in it to your holiday villa.
1. Book early
As with many other purchases, you’re likely to be able to secure the best deal by booking at least a few weeks in advance.
2. Full to empty
Watch out for car hire policies that make you pay in advance for a full tank of fuel and return the car with as little fuel in as possible because you could be charged far more than the average pump price for the fuel, and you’re giving money away if you can’t use a whole tank’s worth during your holiday. We’d recommend sticking with an agreement that gives you a full tank on collection and asks you to top it up before returning the car.
3. Bypass the middle man
The majority of problems with car hire bookings concern reservations made by car rental brokers who offer ultra-low prices on comparison websites. Often the rental company isn’t able to provide the vehicle you’ve booked and you won’t find out until you try to collect the car at your destination. Avoid this by booking direct with a car hire company or through established brokers, such as Holiday Autos.
4. Check the insurance cover
If the excess fees for collision damage waiver and theft protection are high, consider taking out zero-excess cover. However, don’t simply buy it from the rental company; shop around for an independent policy in advance, which should cost less than £50 for a year’s European cover - that's far less than the £15 per day some rental companies charge.
5. Child seats
If you have a child who needs a car seat, shop around for hire rates – some hire companies charge a lot for such extras and it may be cheaper to take your child’s own seat as extra luggage on your flight.
6. Check the paperwork
When you’re collecting the car, read all the paperwork before signing it. Ask about any charges you don’t understand and check that the hire charge is the same as the amount as you were quoted when you made the booking. It will be far harder to claim back any extra fees later than to query them up front.
7. Car check
Give the car a thorough visual inspection before driving away. Make sure every scratch or dent is marked on the rental agreement, no matter how small. It’s also a good idea to take photos of the car from each side so that you can prove its condition if it’s questioned later.
8. Check the equipment
As well as the car’s bodywork, wheels, tyres and door mirrors, it’s a good idea to check that all the legally required kit is onboard. There should be a spare wheel or tyre inflation kit, a high visibility jacket and spare light bulbs at the very least.
9. Car return tips
Ideally, you’ll be able to get a hire company representative to sign the car back in; if not take photos from all four sides to show the condition and also photograph the fuel gauge to show that it's full.
10. If you need help
If you encounter a problem and can’t resolve it with the hire company, you can seek help from a conciliation service. For cars hired in the UK, contact the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association’s conciliation service at www.bvrla.co.uk, or if you hired a car elsewhere in Europe, contact the European Car Rental Conciliation Service at www.ecrcs.eu.
How to save money on airport parking
If you’re jetting off on holiday this summer you won’t want to waste money on airport parking. Our tips should help keep the cost of parking down so you have more money to spend while you’re away
1. Sign up to newsletters
You can do this long before you’re ready to book your parking. It’s a great, easy way of finding out about the latest deals and offers without having to trawl the internet.
2. Book in advance
Even if you’re able to book only 24 or 48 hours ahead of your trip, it’s still worth doing this - the difference in cost of booking advance instead of simply turning up at a long stay car park could be more than £100.
We checked prices at London Gatwick’s Long Stay car park – book in advance for a week’s parking and you’ll pay £89 instead of the standard rate of £125. The saving you’ll make at London Heathrow is even bigger – book in advance and it’s £95 for a week, don’t book and you’ll pay £178 – that’s £83 more.
3. Book early to get the best deals
Car parks are keen to get you to book early, so often offer the cheapest deals for those who book more than a month in advance. So, book your parking as soon as you’ve booked your flights.
4. Check official parking and price comparison sites
The best price may not appear on a company’s own website, so it’s worth cross-checking on one or two comparison sites so you don’t pay over the odds.
It’s also well worth looking further afield than the main airport car parking websites – online agents such as holidayextras.co.uk and parkbcp.co.uk have a wider range choices, and comparison sites such as gosimply.com, parking4less.com and travelsupermarket.com have even more off-airport companies offering cheap deals.
5. Choose a reputable company with good customer reviews
Don’t just go for the cheapest deal you can find. Check that the car park operator belongs to the British Parking Association and that the car park has been awarded a Park Mark so you’ll know it’s been vetted by the police and has measures in place to create a safe environment.
Also read online reviews from previous customers to ensure you’re picking a parking operator who has a good reputation to uphold so will look after you and your car properly.
6. Do you want “meet and greet” parking?
This option lets you drive up to the Departures building or short stay car park and hand your keys to a waiting driver who will drive your car to a car park; your car will be brought back to the drop-off point when you return to the airport.
It used to be a far more expensive option than off-airport parking, but as more companies have begun to offer it prices have fallen, and if you can find a good deal it may cost little more than off-airport alternatives.
Again the same caveat applies – check the credentials of the company and read online reviews to ensure they are reputable.
It’s also important to ensure that your car will be kept in a locked compound with security so you can be sure it will be there when you come back.
7. Save by booking a hotel and parking deal
You can add a night in a hotel to your car parking deal for less than £50, which is far cheaper than booking both things separately. Check if there’s a fee for using the hotel’s airport minibus – they’re usually less than £5 each way.
8. Look for price guarantees and booking incentives
Some online agents, such as holidayextras.com, operate a price match guarantee, so if you find the same parking deal cheaper elsewhere it will match that price. Others will send you discount vouchers if you register for email newsletters with them.
9. Does the deal let you get a refund if your trip is cancelled?
It’s bad enough if circumstances force you to cancel your holiday, so you won’t want added expense of having to pay for car parking you can no longer use. So check the terms and conditions to see if you can cancel and get a full refund if you have to cancel, and note if there is a cut-off date after which you can’t cancel.
10. Don’t pay to drop off
If you’re just dropping a friend or relative off at an airport check the cost of parking in the long stay car park for a short time. At Gatwick you can park in its long stay car park for up to two hours for free – park in the short stay car park for the same time and you’ll pay £12. Some airports even charge you simply to drive into the drop-off/pick-up area.