A handful of car rental companies say “located at the Orlando airport,” meaning they have a rental booth within the terminal. Some, but not all, also have rental cars within walking distance. In general, it doesn’t matter too much, and all offsite rental companies offer a free transfer from Orlando International or the nearby Sanford airport.
The key to renting a car is 1) a drivers’ license, 2) a major credit card with about $1,000 free that you don’t plan to use while on vacation, 3) insurance, and 4) an understanding of which “extras” you’re willing to consider at the rental counter.
Find a car
Costs vary wildly for a car rental. A number of affiliations offer discounts – AAA, AARP, your insurer, bookstores, etc. – and car quotes fly like a shootout in the Wild West. Daily/weekly charges from the same company sometimes seem absurd when you compare different sources. If seeking the absolute best deal, consider the following:
- Check the major search engines, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc. Priceline allows you to make an offer.
- Be realistic about the size car you want and compare different vendors. (Note also: An intermediate car from Hertz could be different than an intermediate car from Alamo.) You can upgrade to a larger car at the car rental counter, but it will probably be cheaper to do so when you make your reservation.
- Daily/weekly car rental rates are lower if business is slow. A car rental made a week before arrival could be a lot cheaper than one made three months earlier. Since most car rentals allow cancellation without penalty within two days (check though), consider booking a car well ahead of time (for peace of mind) and booking again, through different companies or websites, one week out. If you nab a great deal at the last minute, cancel your first reservation. If all cars are sold out, you still have your original reservation number.
The car rental process
Car rental agents get paid to sell you extra stuff, and they have a smorgasbord of “extras” to push – car insurance, different gas plans, upgrade to a convertible, extra daily charge if your spouse wants to drive, etc. The rental could end up costing you $200 more than planned. Consider the following before arrival:
- Extras: Know what you want before you get to the counter and don’t let an aggressive car rental agent push you. They can spot newbie renters a mile away. If you only plan to use the car four times, don’t opt for the convertible.
- Insurance: Check your auto insurance policy and credit card for coverage. Most (not all) personal auto policies cover rentals, and some (not all) credit cards will pick up the deductible for damage. However, if you’re going to worry about the car every time you leave it overnight in the hotel parking lot, even with your personal coverage, consider the insurance anyway. It’s worth $50 for peace of mind while on vacation.
- Credit card: Generally, car rental companies will block perhaps $1,000 on your credit card, meaning you don’t get charged for that money, but you also don’t have access to it. If you need access to that $1,000 for, say, hotel charges, you’re out of luck.
- No credit card: If you don’t have a major credit card, the rules are a bit different. It’s important to call the rental company beforehand, explain the situation, and write down what they say, noting the name of the person who gave you advice. They’ll probably require a sizable deposit before they hand over the keys, either in cash or pulled from your debit card.
- Taxes: With airport access fees, taxes, etc., expect to pay 10 to 15 percent more than the base price of the car. If the agent pushes the agreement toward you and it’s significantly more than 10 or 15 percent higher, don’t sign it. Ask questions first and see if the answers make sense. The car rental agent may have slipped one of the extras into your contract when you weren’t looking. (Orlando agents aren’t generally slimy like that, but it pays to keep an eye on them anyway.)
- Check the car: Look for dents and dings before pulling out, and if you find one, make sure it’s noted – in writing on the rental paperwork – and signed by a rental car employee. If a particular mark bothers you, consider a digital photo with the rental agency building in the background to prove it existed prior to your rental.
Returning the car
It’s much easier to return a car than to rent it. In most cases, you follow well-marked signs to a drop-off point. An employee greets you outdoors, checks the car for gas and dents, and prints out a receipt on the spot. If you agreed to bring the car back with a full tank of gas, have a full tank of gas. And if you did manage to get a new dent or scratch, hope they don’t notice. They generally (but not always) let minor blemishes slide.
Also see: Driving and lost in Orlando