As travellers face paying more than double pre-pandemic prices for car hire in some destinations this summer, Which? reveals the companies to use and which to avoid.
Which? analysed data from Which? Recommended Provider Zest Car Rental, a leading broker, and found that a week’s car hire in August will cost 77 per cent more on average this year compared with 2019. While prices are marginally lower than last year, continuing high demand and depleted stocks mean prices have settled at levels above those seen before Covid.
The consumer champion looked at figures for over 8,000 rentals in nine popular holiday destinations including Italy, Greece and Spain. Three of the nine destinations have seen prices double, or more than double, with prices up 100 per cent in Cyprus, 106 percent in the UK, and increases of a massive 126 per cent in Italy, where a week’s rental in August has increased from an average of £209 to £473.
The most expensive country for car hire is the USA, where a week’s rental is likely to set sightseers back by a staggering £546 on average, up 92 per cent since 2019.
Separately, the consumer champion carried out a survey of almost 2,700 Which? members, asking them to assess car hire firms and brokers based on a range of criteria, including clarity of extra charges, age, mileage and condition of the car, customer service and value for money.
With almost half of respondents (47%) reporting that they worry about being exploited by their rental company, it’s essential that consumers are able to book with confidence this summer.
Travellers to the Canary Islands are particularly well served, with the islands home to the only two car hire firms to be awarded Which? Recommended Provider status this year; Auto Reisen and Cicar. Both achieved exceptional customer scores of 91 per cent and were awarded five stars in categories including the clarity of extra charges, how easy it is to opt out of those extra charges, the clarity of the final hire cost, customer service, and how well description matched reality.
Household names Alamo (72%), Enterprise (72%) and Hertz (71%) came in joint third and fifth places respectively.
Sister companies Alamo and Enterprise both received largely favourable reviews from respondents. Enterprise was awarded five stars by travellers for both the record customers received of existing damage to their cars, and for age, condition and mileage of their vehicles, and achieved no fewer than three stars in any of the remaining categories. Similarly, Alamo also received a clutch of three and four star scores, but beat its sister firm on price, with customers paying almost £100 less a week on average.
Goldcar has been one of the survey’s worst performers for years, and again found itself at the bottom of the table this year with a dismal customer score of 54 per cent. Despite having some of the lowest prices of any of the companies in the survey, with an average price per week of £245, the company scored just two stars for value for money. It also received two stars for the ease of opting out of optional extras, and for customer service, with multiple respondents commenting on pressure selling techniques used to encourage customers to purchase extra insurance at the rental desk, an issue Which? has previously investigated.
This issue cropped up repeatedly in responses from Goldcar customers, with one saying there was a “hard sell on the insurance”, which was “excruciating”. Another said they felt the firm was “obsessed with selling extra cover”, while a fellow respondent complained of having to “suffer the hard sell, which sometimes became close to threatening”. They even remarked that they saw fellow customers “in tears at the desk when asked to pay hundreds of Euros for insurance”.
Goldcar were not alone in this, however. Overall, one in seven people who took out an extra insurance policy at a car hire desk told Which? they felt under a lot of pressure to do so.
For those that prefer to use a third party to find the best possible deals, Which? also surveyed travellers’ experiences of using brokers. Unlike comparison sites, which simply scrape prices to find the cheapest options, good brokers negotiate their own deals, and often use smaller or local suppliers that travellers might not find elsewhere. They also offer tourists an added layer of protection, as they’re able to assist in the event of any issues with the supplier.
Zest Car Rental was the only broker to receive the coveted Which? Recommended Provider badge. It achieved an impressive score of 87 per cent, and received full marks in four out of seven categories, including the clarity of extra charges, and customer service. One customer remarked it was a “very easy process” with “accurate information”, while another happy traveller recommended their customer service representatives as “very helpful”.
While missing out on Which? Recommended Provider status, Auto Europe was also rated highly, with a customer score of 82 per cent. At the bottom of the survey was DoYouSpain.com, with a score of just 55 per cent.
Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel, said:
“Travellers this summer can expect to pay much higher prices for car hire than before the pandemic, with strong demand and a continuing shortage of vehicles pushing up costs. While there are deals out there, people should avoid the firms with the cheapest headline prices, because too often they will later be stung by hidden charges.
“Only use a reputable broker or hire firm, so you can ensure you’re getting the best possible service for your money. Paying in advance, if you can, often works out cheaper overall and helps secure your booking. We also recommend taking out third-party insurance before you travel, as in the past we’ve found hire companies selling inferior policies at the desk at vastly marked up prices.”
Notes to editors:
– Which? surveyed 2,657 members of its online panel in January 2023 about their car hire experiences between January 2021 and January 2023. Customer score combines overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend.
– Car rental prices for a week’s rental in August 2023 were provided by Zest Car Rental. 2019 data includes 7349 bookings made for August 2019. 2023 data includes 1323 bookings made up until 10th Feb 2023, for August 2023.
Full table of results:
Rights of reply:
Goldcar statement: “Pressure selling is not acceptable. With regard to insurance cover, we offer our premium cover to provide a seamless process should damage occur during a customer’s rental. A customer, of course, has the right to choose to buy their cover separately, however, if this is the case they will be charged for any damages that occur during the rental and will then need to claim the costs back from the chosen provider. This is explained to all customers at time of rental.”
– Tips to save money on car hire:
-Wherever possible, book your car hire as early as you can – ideally at the same time you book your holiday. This is especially true if you plan to travel during peak periods or in a high-demand country.
-When you book online, opting to pay upfront will generally prove cheaper overall, with average savings of between £20 and £50 for a week. Paying in advance also helps guard against unscrupulous companies cancelling your booking in order to take a more valuable one as rates rise.
-If a rate looks too good to be true it usually is, so be wary of anything that doesn’t look quite right. Less reputable companies will sometimes offer a low rate which is then ‘topped up’ with sneaky hidden charges.
-Which? has previously found that insurance policies offered by car hire companies are often overpriced and poor quality when compared with the policies offered by third parties, so purchase cover in advance to avoid being ripped off at the rental desk. Be aware that if you purchase standalone insurance, your hire company will insist that you leave a hefty (refundable) deposit, and you’ll have to pay an excess if you have an accident. But you can claim it back from your insurance later.
– Avoid paying for extras like satnavs and car seats. Instead, download a free navigation app like Navmii to your mobile, which can access maps offline without eating into your data allowance. Some airlines will let you bring a car seat free or charge; alternatively, you can sometimes rent them from airports for a fraction of the price quoted by car hire firms.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation, we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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