The Truth About High Rental Car Fees and How to Avoid Them

rental car fees
m01229 under Creative Commons

The next time you rent a car from an airport and see all those fees and surcharges at the bottom of your bill, you might want to refrain from taking it out on the poor rental car attendee. Not only does he himself have nothing to do with it, but it turns out the rental car companies aren’t to blame.

Who is?

Those sneaky fees aren’t charges from car rental companies — they’re straight from the U.S. government, as WIRED recently reported.

It turns out things like “convention center surcharges” and “customer facility surcharges” are ways for politicians to get out-of-town consumers to foot the bills for public projects without having to go the unpopular route of taxing their local constituents.

A new group called Curb Automobile Rental Taxes aims to put an end to this sly, fine-print taxation, but until that happens (which, knowing the pace of the federal government and its affinity for change, will not be any time soon), car renters are left to either fork over extra cash or find alternative modes of transportation when they land in a new city.

We’re all in favor of not forking over unnecessary cash, and we know you are too, so here are some ways to get around during your travels while also getting around those pesky fees and surcharges.

1. Rent a Car Away From the Airport

Book a car from a rental outlet located further away from the airport, and you won’t have to pay the parking surcharge, customer facility charge or concession recovery fee that all apply to rental companies connected to airports (which are expensive places to maintain). Even if you have to take a cab to get to a distant outlet, the fare might cost you less than you’d incur in extra surcharges.

2. Rent Someone Else’s Car

Don’t want to find a faraway rental outlet? Try FlightCar, a car-sharing site that allows travelers to leave their cars at parking lots close to the airport and rent them out to other people while they’re away. They even provide pickup service to take you from the airport to the parking lot to get your rental car.

If you want to earn extra money while you travel, you can also sign up to rent your own car through FlightCar, and they’ll throw in free parking and a free car wash.

If FlightCar doesn’t operate in the city you’re planning to visit, be sure to check out similar car-sharing services like RelayRides and All of these companies are expanding to new cities, so it’s worth checking back as you get closer to your trip dates.

3. Consider Public Transit

I know it’s not the sexiest of options, but savvy spenders rarely care about the sexiness factor. Check to see if your hotel offers a free shuttle from the airport — many do.

When you’re out and about as a tourist, use buses and subway systems to get around. You’re there to see the sights, and public transit offers its own entertainment. Hello, New York City subways!

4. Hire Your Own Driver

It may not be as fancy as having a limousine driver waiting at baggage claim with your name on a placard, but Uber or Lyft are also good options for getting around when you’re in an unfamiliar city. If your destination isn’t within walking distance or you don’t want to rely on the occasionally iffy timing of public transit, it’s certainly cheaper than taking cabs everywhere.

Your Turn: What do you do to save money on transportation charges while traveling?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.