Spring break: a word on car rentals

April 2nd, 2014
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This next experience is just so stupid I have to share it in the hopes that someone will benefit from my misstep.

So, we'd finished with the Anaheim portion of the trip and decided to use the rest of the spring break with a visit north. I've never really been super comfortable in LA, and while I know there are children's attractions in the greater Los Angeles area, it just didn't seem like the child-friendliest town for visitors.

I lived in the Bay Area for ten years and think of it like a second home, so visiting friends, family, and familiar places appealed to me. I suggested to Claus that we book a hotel in Santa Cruz, where I lived for a year as a freshperson at University of California at Santa Cruz.

Previous trips to the Bay Area centered around San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Napa, so this was the first time I or we have spent any recent time in the Santa Cruz/ Monterey Peninsula region. I thought Santa Cruz would offer a mellow, family-friendly experience.

Now to the stupid part. I didn't book the car rental until the day before we left Hawaii. I got unexpectedly busy with domestic obligations and by the time I got around to it, the average daily price was $125!

Yes, I checked Kayak.com and went directly to several major websites (Budget, Advantage, Avis.) I had Claus double check my work. Then, my brilliant cousin Val suggested CostcoTravel.com, which was fairly awesome because I booked an Avis rental for $139 for the entire four days, taxes and fees included.

The only catch was that we had to pick it up in an offsite location. Our commuter flight from Santa Ana to the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport landed at 4:30, and my calabash cousin Marty picked us up promptly and started to drive us the four miles to the Avis location in downtown San Jose.

We were all excited to see each other again so he decided to give us a scenic tour of downtown San Jose, while we chatted happily, catching up. Finally, it was about 4:55 when he got us to the location of the San Jose Hilton, which housed the Avis kiosk.

This is not so straightforward. The Hilton is connected to the San Jose Convention Center, so one had to read the signs carefully while looking for the Avis counter on the second floor. By the time we arrived at the desk it was 5:07 pm and the counter had JUST CLOSED.

It hadn't even occurred to me about closing time. I usually always use an airport kiosk, so I just didn't think about it. That would prove a costly mistake.

I called Costco Travel and a tired, apathetic man who has probably heard all manner of annoying customer problems told me that there are absolutely no car rentals available in the Santa Clara County for the next two days, except for at the San Jose airport, and the fee would return to rack rates of $125/ day. He quoted me $700 something for our four day stay.

For seven minutes tardiness, my car rental just went up nearly $600. That was the most expensive scenic tour of San Jose, ever.

I wasn't sure if I should just take it, because we had a full agenda that involved driving around from city to city. We couldn't not have a car.

Claus, thankfully, had overheard the conversation and started using his smartphone to research and call car companies himself. He found us something for a much more reasonable price ($50/ day) at the Enterprise down the street.

I do not know why this price did not come up on my searches from home in Hawaii, but if someone reading this knows, I'd be interested to hear the explanation, if there is one.

Enterprise closed at 6 p.m. and it was 5:30 at that point. It was just a mile or so away, but with all the one-way streets, and people being tired, sick, or frazzled, we actually got lost a time or two more on our way there! That is even using Google Maps. Please, don't ask me how we could get so lost with three college degrees, a lifelong San Jose resident, and two iPhones in the car.

My dear cousin Marty. He spent so much more time with us than he probably expected to. He waited with us until we got our rental, and then he left. In all, it took us 90 minutes to get the car.

Having been a hotel worker, I decided to call our hotel to let them know we were en route and not to release our reservation as a no-show. I could simply not handle another blunder today!

Lesson for you: find out when the car rental company closes!

Posted in family | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Spring break: a word on car rentals”

  1. Makiki:

    The Enterprise rate was probably not available when you 1st looked. Car rental rates fluctuate based on availability just like airfares and hotel rates. I often book far in advance and check occasionally and find lower rates as the date gets closer.


  2. Diane Ako:

    Oh, thanks for that!!


  3. makaha wahine:

    I delayed for our trip too. But, I was able to get a pretty good rate. About a week and a half before leaving I called them to confirm our reservation and she told me the daily rate had changed. Woo hoo! I had saved earlier by doing a prepay and now since the rate was modified I would get a refund to my card at the end of our contract. All good. Just make sure to keep everything related to the rental until it clears on your card in case you need to dispute something. Our van was a dream to drive. Made me feel like getting one brand new!
    I also check on the hours of operation before putting in a reservation.


  4. rayboyjr:

    Hey Diane ... yeah, I'd have a hard time paying that much ...

    ... if I didn't get an advance reservation, I'd try to check the rental companies directly for the lowest rates ... hey with cancellations or maybe even early returns, there may be cars available ... doesn't hurt to check ...


  5. rayboyjr:

    ... on an unrelated note ... you're a Banana Slug!!! ... haha ... have always been amused with the nickname ...

    ... did you graduate from there??? ...


  6. Diane Ako:

    rayboyjr - Well, just my fresh person year. It was too liberal and I transferred out after that. Maybe in retrospect I shoulda stayed, or within the UC system, but it is what it is.


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