Can Someone Please Disrupt Airport Car Rental?

It’s time to shake this business up. We have the technology and there’s no excuse to continue with the current state of maddening inefficiency.

For those of you who have never rented a car at an airport the process goes something like this:

  1. A reservation for a certain date, time, and type of car is made online. No payment information is exchanged at this time.
  2. After arrival at the airport, customers find their way to the car rental area. If they’re lucky, there is no line and there are plenty of reps staffing the counter. A customer usually takes around 15-20 minutes to complete a rental so lines can get lengthy.
  3. The car they reserved may or may not be waiting for them. If they’re in the boundary of their reservation, the company will find them a car or upgrade their car at no cost. This takes more time.
  4. The upsell begins, a lengthy recitation by the agent, in legalese, of different add-on options, mostly uttered in acronyms with the terms and conditions as vague as can be. On our recent trip these offers included three different types of insurance (all with generic, mildly threatening, names), roadside assistance (wait, I thought I was renting a new and reliable car?) some sort of gas fill up option at a so-called reduced price (which we had no idea how it compared as we had just arrived in the country) and I believe something about broken windows and extra drivers. I wasn’t really listening at that point. It took us around 20 minutes to finish the transaction with the agent, and we started with a reservation we had made ahead of time.
  5. The customer gets the keys to the car.

Perhaps, from the way I have worded the above summary, you can see some of my frustration as a customer with this process. It could be so easy to streamline the process by integrating the entire upsell into the online reservation process. It would allow for faster processing time at the airport and for customers to understand the different offers and be able to make a more educated decision.

My assumption is that the process works this way because it’s more profitable for the car rental companies. For them, it makes more sense to keep customers waiting in line because they’ve already made a reservation and won’t go to a competitor. They probably upsell in person (as opposed to online) because they get better results that way.

Airport Car Rental: Companies differentiated by the color of their logo, not service.

Airport Car Rental: Companies differentiated by the color of their logo, not service.

That said, let’s throw in a benefit for the company willing to make the switch to online reservations: enter a credit card. Right now it seems that the rental companies operate in a state of uncertainty. Since there is no credit card to back up reservations, they keep a larger inventory of cars waiting at the airport to meet demand. If the entire reservation, plus the upsell, is completed online, then all that would need to be done at the airport would be to verify the driver’s license and hand over the keys. Utopia!

A final note: it seems that all six companies at the airport I was at seem to operate in the exact same way. The only difference between them is the color of their logo. If only one of them made the change to a more streamlined process instead of competing purely on price, would that convert more customers? Could they offer the prepaid offer alongside their current model with a different line at the airport? Could they completely automate the transaction at the airport with a check-in on a mobile app? Do they want happier and more loyal customers? One can only hope.



3 thoughts on “Can Someone Please Disrupt Airport Car Rental?

  1. Not sure about international but at least nationally I have had a really good experience with National (pun not intended). It’s just like you say: I login to my account on their site, fill in dates and locations. My CC information is pre stored, and all upsell options are right there.
    When I get to my destination, as a member of their emerald aisle loyalty program, I can pick up any car available in the aisle. So go over to the aisle, get into any car I like, and drive off. The checkout person at the gate scans the barcode on the car, takes a look at my license, and offers the full tank of gas option which I decline, and I’m off. As painless as it gets.
    I think the loyalty program membership gives you a similar experience with other companies, but not as seamless.

  2. Pingback: Is someone finally disrupting airport car rental?? Yes! | What it all boils down to

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