How to Make Airport Car Rentals Work Better

Joe Brancatelli has a great idea to really improve the airport rental car experience.

I want to drop my rental car at my departure terminal

The car-rental firms have nine million reasons why they shunt us to distant airport “rental return” lots. And there’s only one reason to allow us to drive right up to the departure terminal and drop off our vehicles: We’ll pay for the convenience and the time savings. No matter what the rental firms say, implementing such as scheme is no more complicated than valet parking at a restaurant. You have a podium in front of each departure terminal. The renter drives up and drops the keys and the valet generates a receipt from a handheld device. We pay perhaps $10 for the valet service and everyone wins. The service need not even be proprietary to each car-rental company. A consolidated third-party firm could handle all rental companies and all return transactions, thus reducing the potential curbside clutter.

I’d quibble with Joe on the idea that this could be effectively pulled off with a single firm handling this for all rental agencies, in part because I’ve seen the travesty that is most ‘shared’ services in travel (whether it’s parking lot attendants, off-airport rental facility buses, whatnot) and in part because that concept wouldn’t be implemented seamlessly and there would be extra finger pointing between rental agency and customers over who dinged a vehicle after it was dropped off, or whether it was really returned on time.

But the basic concept seems like a no-brainer, although it would take creative thinking on the part of airport authorities not generally given to creative thinking (I could imagine this being pulled off at maybe DFW and a couple of other facilities, but not many).

Combine that with gas fill-up at a reasonable rate and rental car companies that pulled this off would win tremendous amounts of business, as well as additional ancillary revenue.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This won’t happen. The reason that rental car facilities have consolidated and moved out of the terminal is that it reduces congestion and pollution. Inviting rental cars to drive back into the terminal area defeats the purpose.

    At some airports that are under air quality directives from EPA, such a move probably is illegal. Lax for one.

  2. the mess at the departure terminals would be horrific. You’re not going to attract high calibre employees to those roles, and you’ll see that come through in the execution. Plus the tsa may have a field day with policing dozens of idling cars at peak times. Great idea though.

  3. Hmm… The F & HON pax in MUC and FRA get their cars valet parked or rentals returned by valets, they make u sign a damage record and off u go! Surely this could be an option for some premium service in certain terminals (even in the land of the free)?

  4. FWIW YYZ has valet parking. Heck Amex Plat get a discount.

    In Europe, I have seen many airports with common service for rental return.

  5. Yes yes yes yes yes. The car rental issue is the #1 worst part of traveling by yourself with a young kid. This would certainly help and I would happily pay a premium for it.

  6. It’s doable but not for $10. if it takes one employee to do a roudtrip drive from the airport to the lot and back, then that employee could generate $20 an hour in ancillary revenue. that barely covers his fully loaded cost, plus you need other receiving personnel, and excess labor to account for when surges of 6-7 people arrive and drop off at the same time. you won’t get 100 utilization of those folks. you also need to lease some parking or receiving place at the airport, which is premium real estate, plus insurance. the car rental co also needs to make a profit for it to be worthwhile.

    perhaps $50 per person would make it economical. at those rates I doubt many would use it.

  7. I dislike consolidated facilities because of the extra charges and the extra time it takes. At times, it is easier to take a cab to a nearby Hertz Local Edition and save quite alot of $$ for long rentals. I do mainly leisure travel so that will at times work for me.

    On business rentals, it is easiest to just rent @ the airport and pay the extra fees, etc. The car rentals are expensed and time is more valuable than some $ saved by going off airport.

  8. The last few times I’ve returned a Hertz vehicle at DCA, they’ve offered to drive me to my terminal — I just move over to the passenger side and a Hertz employee hops in and drives me to the best door for my airline. It’s a great service but, admittedly, it’s a very short drive!

  9. Some parking garages at LAX will drive you to the terminal in your own car — you stop at the garage on Century Blvd to pick up an employee, drive to the terminal, and then the employee drives the car back and parks it. Saves you the trouble of moving all your kids and luggage to the shuttle bus. Of course, you need a free seat in your car 🙂 Anyway, a car rental place could offer something similar; it’s not as convenient as meeting you at the terminal (especially not at LAX where rental agencies are scattered all over the place), but somewhat better than the shuttle van.

  10. @chemist661 +1 – if you are cost conscious and have a little extra time, renting off-airport can same significant $$$ because you don’t have the airport taxes added on – 13% plus? Depends on the airport).

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