Monday, April 06, 2009

Traveler Perk - Rental Cars

I spend each and every week traveling up to Washington DC. Occasionally, I travel out to St. Louis, but the norm is the Airbus trip from Orlando to DC.

It's no wonder then that I rack up a considerable amount of frequent flyer points, rental car gold star points and hotel points.

Well, I got rid of the hotel in January when I transitioned into a room rental in a nice area of Reston, Virginia. It's all inclusive and it saves the company about $1000.00 per month. I don't get hotel points, but I do get my own bathroom and kitchen priviledges. It is run by a corporation and I can charge it to my corporate Amex card. The owners live somewhere in Asia and I have not seen them since I rented it in January.

I made it to Marriott's Platinum Elite Status, which apparently has paid off handsomely for the few times I've had to stay in DC or in St. Louis. Marriott has provided me the keys to the presidential suite during every stay I've made in St. Louis. Unfortunately, this will end as I will not have the opportunity to stay at least 175 days in the Marriott chain this year.

I try to fly US Air because they provide nice non-stop flights and since I fly so often, I almost always get a free upgrade to first class. It's not about the drinks so much as the leg room and the ocassional company. I've sat next to the Director of Kennedy Space Center, the CIO for Lockheed Martin, Senator Mel Martinez, and a plethora of other very well known or exceptionally connected people.

I also fly next to my travel buddies. I don't want to put out names here, but I will say that I travel with the same band of people every single week. It's nice being on first name basis with these power brokers. They work for Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, CSC, KPMG, and many many smaller firms (but, hey they are still well connected and it could equate to work sometime in the future.) Who knows where this economy will blow us up to?

But what seems to be the least important has turned out to be the most important for me: the rental car.

Ever since I came onboard with BearingPoint, I have rented from Hertz. This is mainly due to the free "GOLD" membership that BearingPoint employees receive. This gets you a bus ride to your car and you don't have to scleper inside to sign papers for the rental. It's a great time saver.

Along the way, Hertz upgraded me to their Five Star Service. Unbeknowst to me however, I should have been in the President's circle. Well, it's not that hard to get into the president's circle. All you have to do is make sure they credit you all of your points. Apparently, I have not received any points in the last six months and my point tally went from about 3,000 to over 10,000 after my call to customer service.

Then, I officially became one of the President's circle. Of course, the level of service did not go up, it went down. I'm a stickler about a few things regarding my cars: They little key fob things need to work and it has to have cruise control because I drive a long way.

I have continually received garbage cars from Hertz. I have repeatedly made requests for foreign cars because all of the American cars seem to have problems. Hertz makes no guarantees, but you would think that as a "President's Circle" guy I would have some clout.

Well, after listening to my whining, I will give you something good to read. I will now provide you with a list of cars that I would buy today if I needed to based on my rental experience. At the same time, I will provide a list of cars that you NEVER want to buy.

I would buy:

1. Avalon: Outstanding car, quiet, great mileage, comfortable, same as a Lexus ES350, much cheaper.
2. Toyota Camry. Utilitarian, quiet, great mileage.
3. Toyota Corolla. Great mileage; hums along at highway speeds.
4. Mazda 6. Peppy, awesome mileage, neat features inside.
5. Toyota Matrix (same as Corolla but nice fold down seats)
6. Toyota Rav4. This was quiet, commanding on the road, plenty of power, AWESOME mileage.
7. Chevy Aveo (built by Daewoo). Small, long list of extras, great mileage. (this is the four door)
8. Honda Accord - This car is simply one of the nicest rental cars I have ever driven along with the Avalon. With the four cylinder, it gets excellent mileage. It's roomy, tracks well on the highway and has excellent design and functionality.

Cars I would buy if I couldn't afford the list above:
1. Hyundai Sonata
2. Mazda 3. Like the Mazda 6 but real noisy inside and a bit small.

Cars I would NEVER buy and neither should you:

Anything from GM. I have rented just about every GM car they offer and almost all had some type of cosmetic and physical problem.

1. Pontiac G6 cars. They are hard to see out of and burn too much gas. I have had several. The key fob did not work during the week we had really bad weather. It sucks to fight to get into the car. I received another G6 and not only did the key fob not work, but the internal door lock/unlock button did not work, so to secure the car, I had to walk around the car and manually set all the buttons to lock. Why you ask? Because the stupid car unlocks all the doors when you put it in park.

2. PT Cruiser. Nice looking but absolute garbage. It's based on a Dodge Neon. Enough said.

3. Chevrolet Malibu. This is a poorly engineered and badly designed car. Noisy and non-functional interior. This design explains why GM is where they are at today.

4. Chevrolet Impala. I've had very good luck with these cars, but I would not buy one for the price. This is much better than the Impala. Too many better built foreign cars though. For the record, Hertz gave me a Chevy Impala SS by accident. That car hauled a$$ but it also took two fillups that week.

5. Ford Mustang. Throaty roar, thirsty engine, noisy interior. Lots of fun, but still a Ford. If I thought it would last, I would consider buying one, but it seems flimsy.

6. Chevy Cobalt/HHR. The HHR is built on a Cobalt, which was the replacement for the Cavalier. The HHR is fun to drive and the Cobalt seemed reliable, but something just felt really cheap about the car and not solid.

7. I've rented a few Mercury Marquis. They are very large and hard to park in the city. If you are going to travel on the highway and carry either big people or lots of luggage, this is an ideal choice. It did not get real good mileage, but then again, I drove it like I stole it.

8. Ford Focus. Strangely enough, the last Focus I rented was superb. But this week, I got an absolute piece of work. It looked like a city car that hit every single pot hole. On top of that, the wheels singed like an 18-wheeler. It was so loud, I couldn't make phone calls and hear any of the conversation. I turned this in for another.

And that's how I'll leave it for now. At least with Rental Cars, if you are unhappy, I know that Hertz will allow you to return the car and swap it for another without any charges.


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