Fun with Car Rentals in Europe

Le sigh. I’ve been hard at work figuring out how we’re going to get around Europe this summer, and each time I go through this, I find I’ve forgotten how tricky traveling abroad can be at times. Case in point: rental cars.

It seems like it should be pretty straightforward: I need a car for two weeks. I’m flying into Vienna. I’ll be going to Slovakia and the Czech Republic, both of which are very close to Vienna. All I should have to do is waltz off my plane, grab a rental car from a counter, and be off and running, right?


First up, I needed to figure out which place would be the best deal. And to do that, I needed to figure out what size of car would fit my family. Since they’re all European models, I needed to do some research to make sure I knew what it was I’d be getting. “Compact vs. Economy” isn’t exactly easy to understand, after all. So I look for things like trunk space (“boot size”) and passenger space, then compare the figures to American cars I’m familiar with. (Though I sometimes have to convert from liters to cubic feet, because yay math.)

This was easier when there was just four of us traveling. I knew I could get a car that seated 5 and then have some extra wiggle room. Now that there’s five of us, that assurance of wiggle room is gone, and I really don’t want to arrive in Vienna only to discover the car I reserved is too small. Nightmares like that can and should be avoided if at all possible.

So. The car model is generally set. Next up was to figure out which rental company had the best price. After no small amount of work, research, and comparison, I settled on Budget. They were a known quantity, and I could get a car for $530 through them. A fair bit more than some of the cheaper options, but the cheaper options looked like they typically tried to squeeze you for every little ding on your car after the fact, judging from some of the reviews on TripAdvisor. I made my reservation and thought I was done.

But then came the fine print.

After inspecting said fine print (having learned from rental mishaps in the past), I discovered that Budget wants to charge 10 Euros/day for people who take the car into Slovakia. They also require the renter to get Loss Damage Waiver insurance, something they don’t provide an actual quote for on their site. It looks like it’s anywhere from 10-35 dollars/day.

Ruh roh.

My “reasonably priced” car just went from $530 to $830 (bare minimum) to $1,180 (maximum). It’s true they say I can call and ask for details ahead of time, but my experience with these companies leads me to believe that what I’m told on the phone might be very different from what I’m told when I arrive in person, with the in-person experience trumping whatever some guy said on the phone.


The debate then shifted to whether I wanted to try a different car company in Vienna (risking one of the less reputable, but more Slovakia-trip lenient companies) or get on a bus in Vienna, take it to Bratislava, and rent the car in Slovakia. (It’s an hour drive, though traveling by bus complicates things . . .)

Which is where I am now. And the problem I’m having with the companies in Vienna is that, if I really don’t trust Budget not to price gouge me, how can I trust the companies that are known for gouging not to do it? But at the same time, catching a bus at the Vienna airport with three tired kids, riding it an hour to a different airport, and then hoping I’m not delayed significantly (because the car company at Bratislava’s airport isn’t exactly going to watching the flight arrival times of planes in Vienna) doesn’t sound ideal. But if I rent the car in Slovakia, then I can be sure it won’t be charging me double to drive it around the country.

This was all much easier back when I picked up my car in Germany. They didn’t care where I was driving, or it didn’t come up at least.

At the moment, I think I’ll be doing the road trip to Bratislava, and just allow myself some padding time to make sure I’m on time to pick it up. (It helps that Denisa is Slovak, since (in my experience) Slovaks tend to go much easier on each other than they do on Americans when it comes to doing business. Having a native be there to negotiate in the native language helps enormously.) It looks like I can get a pretty decent car for $331 at Bratislava airport (plus $50-$80 to get there by bus, round trip).

But wait! Thrifty’s at Vienna’s airport, and it looks like they (probably) don’t charge extra to go into Slovakia, and I could get a car there for $508. Except they’re serviced by Hertz at the airport, and Hertz is draconian with their rental policies. (Stare too long into the abyss, and the abyss stares back . . .)

Ain’t travel fun?

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