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.