The Scammiest Fees In Travel That The Biden Administration Is Ignoring: Rental Cars

This was fees week for the Biden administration, whether seat fees, resort fees, or bank charges. They seem to have forgotten one of the more egregious rip offs, though: rental car extra fees.

Here are some of the fees I’ve seen rental car companies charge:

  • Tourism Commission Recovery Fee: Why does a tourist need to pay a tax, perhaps 3.5%, to… encourage tourism? They are already tourists, and taxing tourism literally does the opposite!

  • Concession Recovery Fee: Your rental car company has to pay the airport to operate there, and you pay an extra charge for their right to sell to you (isn’t that what the price of the car is for?).

  • Customer Transportation Fee: the free rental car shuttle bus isn’t actually free, and you pay for it whether you use the shuttle or not.

  • Parking Recovery Fee: when you’re not renting the car and they’re not renting it to someone else, it has to be parked and parking is expensive. This is literally a fee that covers time when you aren’t renting from them.

  • Premium Location Charge: This covers the rental car company’s rent. Usually that comes out of a company’s general revenue. But since the airport rental facility is convenient (although if it’s an off-airport rental center it isn’t that convenient) they call it a ‘premium location’ and add a charge for that. But it’s really a fee for rent.

  • Energy Surcharge: this may cover utilities (on top of rent at the facility, there might be a power bill, though that’s probably included in their rent), fueling rental cars (but you either have to return it full or pay for gas!), or fuel for the shuttle bus (but you already pay a fee for that). Some hotels have tried to add energy surcharges but the chains have found those too scammy and crack down on the practice when it creeps up. There’s nothing too scammy for a rental car company, though.

  • Vehicle License Recovery Fee: If you’re renting the car, doesn’t it need to be licensed? Why are you paying this as a separate service? “Yes, I’d like to rent the car but it doesn’t need to be licensed. Ok, thanks.” If it is mandated by law, then it goes in the price. It’s not an upcharge.

  • Air Conditioning Recovery Fee: A car manufacturer pays an excise tax on air conditioners. In theory the car company charges the rental company more for the vehicle as a result. And the rental company charges you an add on fee because the price of the car is higher. Of course more expensive cars tend to mean higher rental rates, also. Double dip!

  • Seasonal Tires Fee: this one seems unique to Quebec, where snow tires are required in winter and rental companies charge for it year round (because tires have to be both installed and removed as well as stored).

Junk fees often add 50% – 100% to the cost of a car rental. The good news is that many of them are specific to airport car rentals, and in particular to rentals you pick up at the airport.

You can avoid most of them by taking an Uber or cab (or have someone pick you up and drive you) to a car rental location away from the airport, and you can still return the car to the airport if you wish. For a one day rental this often doesn’t make sense, but for a longer rental it certainly can.

With an airline the rule is simple: an add-on fee must be optional. There has to be a way for a customer to buy the product without paying the fee. That’s how airlines like Spirit and Frontier can charge ‘online booking fees’, there’s no booking fee if you ticket at the airport.

Hotels at least pretend that resort fees benefit the customer. They don’t, of course, but there’s this facade that the value the customer gets out of a resort fee’s list of benefits is greater than the fee itself. Marriott’s rule is that the retail value of services and amenities included must be four times greater than the amount of the fee. In contrast, with rental car companies there is literally zero consumer benefit to mandatory add-on fees.

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. Phoenix charges about 30% more for “airport” rentals. But since the car rental center at PHX is outside of the terminal and needs a shuttle anyway, it’s particularly ridiculous to do it like this. But depressingly, I’ve seen most people just get off the plane and line up for their cars. A little research could save them a lot of money.

  2. Gary.

    I enjoy your insights.

    I don’t mean to criticize, rather help. Kindly read the following.

    A or an?

    Read this, taken from the internet.

    Definite and Indefinite Articles
    The first thing to know when deciding to use ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the difference between a definite articles and indefinite article. ‘The’ is a definite article, used to refer to a specific person place, or thing:

    The house on the right is mine.
    That is the guy who robbed me.
    ‘A’ and ‘an,’ on the other hand, are indefinite articles. They are both used to describe one of many people, places, or things:

    I went to a great party last night.
    My dog is an Irish setter.
    I bought a cheeseburger at In N Out.
    Dr. Jones is an esteemed scientist at Yale University.
    In all of these sentences, ‘a’ or ‘an’ is used to refer to one of many possible parties, Irish setters, cheeseburgers, and scientists. So, this is the first thing to decide. Are you referring to a specific noun or one of many nouns. If it is one of many, you need to use ‘a’ or ‘an.’ But which one? Let’s find out.

    First Letter
    The difference between ‘a’ and ‘an’ is determined entirely by the first letter of the word that immediately follows it. If the word immediately following starts with a vowel (the letters a, e, i, o, u), use ‘an.’ If it starts with a consonant, use ‘a.’

    The word immediately following it is usually either the noun or an adjective (describing word) that is describing the noun. Let’s take a closer look at our examples from the previous section that used ‘a:’

    I bought a cheeseburger at In N Out.
    In this sentence, the word right after the article is the noun ‘cheeseburger.’ ‘C’ is a consonant, so we used ‘a.’

    I went to a great party last night.
    In this example, the word after the article is an adjective, ‘great.’ But it also starts with a consonant, so we still use ‘a.’

    Now let’s look at the sentences that use ‘an.’

    My dog is an Irish setter.
    ‘Irish setter’ is the name for a breed of dog, so it’s a noun. And it starts with a vowel, ‘I,’ so we use ‘an’ before it.

    Dr. Jones is an esteemed scientist at Yale University.
    In this case, the adjective ‘esteemed’ comes after the article, but it starts with an ‘e,’ so we still use ‘an.’

    The ‘H’ Exception
    One thing that often trips people up on using ‘a’ and ‘an’ is words that start with ‘h.’ In several words that start with ‘h,’ such as ‘honest,’ ‘herb,’ and ‘honor,’ the ‘h’ is not pronounced, so the first sound you hear when saying the word is the vowel. For these words, it is generally accepted to use ‘an’ instead of ‘a,’ even though the first letter is technically a consonant:”

    Respectfully submitted.


  3. License Recovery fee- if the car was not purchased by me, if it is not registered to me, why am I required to pay for the license? There may be a legal precedent here.

  4. @robert Gary thinks he’s exempt from spell, grammar, and hubris check. Hey, he’s the self-proclaimed thought leader in travel….not English composition.

  5. Restaurants in MN are now imposing a mandatory “health&wellness” fee of 4% to help to pay for benefits to their employees. On top of that a 20% tip is expected. Add that to the worst inflation in 40 years and the US became one of the most expensive countries to eat out. Absolutely disgusting. Charge me whatever you want for the dish and let me decide if I want to pay that but stop with these BS fees that people add to the final bill.

  6. @Santastico – it appears this began in 2018 or before. So MN restaurants have been imposing this “mandatory” fee for quite some time and not just “now.”

    -for clarification only

  7. @Esteban: No, they never charged this before the pandemic. It could have been authorized for them to charge but I never had seen it in any bill. Now it is everywhere and you have no way of getting out of it. I mean, I do. I don’t go eat out anymore in MN. Let them rot.

  8. If this keeps up, only wealthy WHITE people will be able to rent cars….and THAT’S RACIST!!!!

  9. I’m with you on junk rental car fees.

    But let’s talk less about taxes and more about junk fees, such as additional driver fees, toll pass fees, and underage fees. IMO that’s where the real rental car fee scam is at.

  10. Car rental companies always charge what they quote. It’s not anti-competitive for them to break down the bill the way they see fit make-up (they have the freedom to do whatever they want) as long as they charge what they said they would when consumers make the reservation, and that’s exactly what rental car companies do.

    Hotels routinely quote one price to consumers then spring a mandatory fee at check out, which is an anti competitive practice that violates the principles of free markets.

    Advocating for regulating the line items on a rental car bill is one of the silliest proposals I have heard of; I can’t believe this post.

  11. You missed “a” fee or is it “an” fee, I’m confused now 🙂 The award partner fee (by various names) that rental car companies charge to give you airline miles instead of car rental company credits.

    My main comment however is that I don’t expect Biden to fix any of this. In fact, some of these fees could be attributed to liberal thought. Like adding taxes to rental car companies to provide services at the airport which causes them to tack on fees to recover this while appearing to be the same or cheaper than competitors. It would actually scare me if Biden or his buddies like Durban descended to “fix” anything like this since they seem to love taxes and fees.

    @Robert wanted me to leave you another coded message: “John has “A” long Mustache”

  12. How timely – just today I was going to reserve a car at BOS and return it there. The fee was about $400 and the grand total around $600. Nope.

    Thank you for calling out this travesty.

  13. So I rent cars bi-weekly. What I find is many of the “fees” are just recovering costs which should be part of the cost of doing business. Like yes, you are in the car rental business your vehicles must be registered and licensed. Or your location is at the airport, and the airport charges you a pretty penny for being on airport property but in return you get lots of business.

    Having said that, here’s the reality. Generally outside of specific special events like the Super Bowl and Mari Gras, you can rent a car and you don’t have to prepay and you can cancel. So I usually make several reservations and cancel the one’s I don’t intend to use (unless I know it’s a location reported to have a shortage of cars). When you make a reservation your all in price is quoted and I find at least with Hertz and Avis they very very accurate. Unlike airline tickets which are generally not refundable after 24 hours (or not closer in) and hotels (which often provide a substantial discount for prepaying your rental) rental cars are easy to cancel, so I reserve and then cancel when I find a cheaper rate. Yes, the fees are annoying but really I care about the all in price which is well disclosed.

  14. Biden didn’t ignore these fees in fact they are supported by local governments as a way to fleece visitors with taxes that benefits local projects or the airport or local politics. It’s stealth taxation not “private greed” the our President seems to confuse with market forces of paying for services that directly benefit you personally (e.g. legroom or extra weight luggage etc). 50 pounds is the typical weight for a single person lift if you want to stuff it with 60 pounds it takes 2 people to lift, etc. Rental car fees are obscene government overreach and yes, Uber out is the best recourse but now the Democrats want to kill that one by making them all be employees and join a Union.

  15. I agree that car rental fees are excessively high: for a decade or more. Blaming the current POTUS, whomever that may be, shows a bias that is not even relevant to your topic, IMO. The three major car rental companies in the U.S. mostly have a monopoly. Are you suggesting that government needs to regulate the car rental business more–bigger government? Interfere with supply and demand? Are they giving their top executives exorbitant bonuses now? Yep. Are those top executives enjoying a tax break? Yeah, more politics . . . .

    The semiconductor chip shortage has created a shortage of new vehicles in the U.S., which has impacted car rental companies, too. We have had a customized vehicle (Chevrolet) ordered since 10/6/2021; we don’t know when it will be made; we keep getting updates of accessories that we ordered no longer can be offered; and the price is definitely going up (supply and demand).

    IMO, your headline is just complaining without offering a solution; I personally get weary of your political partisanship in travel writing and would take you more seriously if you omitted it.

  16. @CHRIS—really? A discussion of car rental fees and *you* want to inject race into this discussion. SMFH. GFY douche.

  17. @chris what your saying then is non whites are less financially able to support themselves then white s. That is racism and false. Also the rental application does not have a box to check for white only. So give it a rest and do not bring up race issues where they do not exist. Because when there are race issues you marginalize them when you call wolf on this

  18. I agree !! I use Avis. I go to their online site to reserve a car. Up comes a wonderful rate. But then I click on “continue” and sometimes $40 is added to a $35 rate initially shown for airport taxes, steering wheel, 4 tires, local tax, tourist tax, “recovery fee” and so on and so on. The rate needs to show everything when initially presented. Hopefully Biden will crack down on this as well.

  19. “Jake the Fake” must be a freeloader, courtesy of his company’s expense account. His company must be passing his car rental costs with all the extra fees to their customers. No wonder inflation is running rampant. Take a hike Jake

  20. I recently rented off airport because it was $200 cheaper to do so. It is a small town, and the person doing the rental also managed the place. I asked him why he didn’t rent at the airport. Thrifty and Hertz are the only two places on the airport. It turns out, they all had to bid for the place, the other two put in bids for $175,000 per year. They have to pay for that rent, with not a lot of passengers. He said they didn’t even bother to put in a bid after the original lease period for the others. When the airport manager asked them why, he said no guaranteed revenue, and aske the airport manager if they would guarantee anything? The airport manager said no. The rental car manager replied…well there is your answer.

    Look, we all hate fees. We want one price covers it all. No surprises. But fees are always to going to exist. We can just go to the other guy that doesn’t charge them like I did with T-Mobile.

  21. Travelling around the US, I find that the average “tax” I have to pay on airport car rentals is about 60%. The taxes are usually less than half that renting outside the airport. If I need the car for more than a week, I always rent off airport. Sometimes I pick up the car for a day at the airport and switch contracts at a local office to save the taxes/fees. I typically save about $100/week doing this. And i personally enjoy avoiding the usurious airport fees.

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