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At Avis, We're Number Two, and We Plan to Stay That Way

Feb 19, 2002 (Updated Oct 19, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fast checkin and return

Cons:High prices, limited selection of cars

The Bottom Line: Okay company for business travelers because of the fast checkins and fast returns, but high average prices and a lack of "fun" cars keep away leisure travelers.

Do you remember when Avis used to run commercials saying "we're number two, so we try harder"? The commercials made some sense. If you're not the market leader, but you want to be, then you better do whatever you can to give the people what the want.

Well, I've rented quite a few cars from Avis, and I'm not sure that they're really the company that tries harder. They're not worse than the market leaders -- they're just not as aggressive in courting leisure travel business as I'd like and they don't really offer the kinds of cars that I want to drive on leisure travel.

I know what car I'll be getting next time I rent from Avis: a Pontiac Grand Am 4-door sedan. That's what I got last time I rented from Avis. It's what I got the time before that, and the time before that, and...

Whenever I travel on business, our company travel office books us a mid-size car. Avis's standard mid-size is evidently the Grand Am, since I've driven dozens of these suckers over the last few years.

I heard a tale that one of my colleagues was sent to a customer site visit in Oklahoma last year and actually got a Chevrolet Cavalier, but nobody was traveling with him and we can't really verify that it's true. I chalk it up as a topic for the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

Avis does have cars other than Grand Ams, but the only times I've ever gotten them has been when I've traveled for pleasure. When I went to New Orleans last year I got a good deal on a compact car from Avis and was given a new Pontiac Sunfire. About two years ago I was in one of my rare moods of feeling wealthy and generous, so I went ahead and paid for a car upgrade: I got a Cadillac Sedan deVille.

Generally, I've been pretty happy with the cars I get from Avis. They are always clean, low-mileage vehicles and I have never had a significant problem in any car I've rented from them. Cars like the Grand Am and the Sunfire are probably not cars that I would buy for personal use, but for a few days in somebody else's hometown, they get the job done.

If I had my druthers, I would like to see a larger variety of car classes from which to choose. Driving is fun for me, and I would sometimes pay a little extra to drive a vehicle that's a little sportier or more luxurious.

I know I can't be the only guy in the world who likes driving pickup trucks, and I wonder why rental car companies don't often offer them. Some do: I rented a Ford F-150 through Thrifty about 3 months ago, and I've rented Ford Rangers through Budget on a couple occasions (at IAH airport).

On my last trip to San Diego I got two surprises. One was that my company's travel office had, for some unknown reason, booked me a rental car through Hertz instead of Avis. The second surprise was finding out that Hertz has a "super premium" upgrade class where you can rent really cool cars, like a Jaguar or a BMW X5. I didn't spring for it because it would have cost me $80 a day extra out of my own pocket, but one of these days when I feel wealthy and generous again....

I know, I know. I'm getting a bit long-winded. Anyway, Avis cars are good enough for basic transportation and utilitarian purposes, but they generally aren't a heck of a lot of fun to drive. Other companies try a bit harder than Avis, offering cars that are really fun to drive!

Rates and Deals
Underwhelmed. Definitely underwhelmed.

I'm still trying to figure out just exactly why my company's travel policies prefer Avis. They are an okay company, but their rates just don't make me do backflips. Sometimes they're okay and in the ballpark of what I could probably do by pricing around, but sometimes they just seem outrageously high to me. A couple weeks ago I was sent to Dallas for a fast customer visit and the rate on the car was $80 a day. No bargain, that's for sure! (Past trips to Dallas have netted me cars priced closer to $50 a day, but that last price....boy oh boy, I'm glad I didn't have to pay the bill!)

When I've priced Avis on personal trips, they almost always come out among the more expensive rates. That's why I've been renting from companies like Dollar, Payless, and Advantage when I'm going places on my own dime. I find those companies much more likely to deliver good cars for a good price. I am the World's Cheapest Traveler (tm).

Other companies try harder in providing low rates to leisure travelers. Avis rarely touches these rates, so I rarely rent from Avis out of personal choice.

But Sometimes the Deals Are Better Than They Look...
My most important criterion for renting a car is usually price. Sometimes though, there's more to a good deal than just the rate. On a recent rental, I got a stellar rate quote from Enterprise, but the fine print was that if I took the car past the state line, I'd be assessed daily mileage charges....not the "unlimited mileage" that was in big bold letters with the promo rate deal. Because I was planning to visit a site in a nearby state on that trip, the Avis deal worked out cheaper in the long run because it was an honest "unlimited mileage" rate. Sometimes ya just gotta read the fine print!

Web Site
The Avis web site (www.avis.com) is fairly easy to use and I like being able to get to the rates and reservation pages fast. The site becomes easier to use if you have a Wizard number and you set up preferences on the My Avis page. That way you can save some frequently entered info (like your address, type of car, credit card info, and frequent flyer accounts) and you don't need to re-type it every time you come back to the site.

The only page I use frequently on this site is the Deals page (click the "Deals" tab near the top). The deals are usually discounts on certain classes of cars that you're not likely to rent or that are the most expensive rates to begin with. Dubious value. Sometimes there are some bona fide cheap deals that actually put a song in the heart of the World's Cheapest Traveler (tm). There's currently a $29 winter getaway rate, but it's really only good for weekend out-of-town travel. Still, if you're jetting out for a weekend of skiing or R&R, then you just might be able to snag a heck of a deal by trying to get that $29 rate.

Overall, the web site is okay. It's fairly easy to use and cleanly designed. If you are really as cheap a traveler as I am though, you won't rely on the rates and reservations features here. You'll go to Travelocity or Expedia where you can get a chart that lets you instantly compare rates across many companies for any given city and date. Now that's what helps the cheap traveler!

Avis is pretty good on service. Check-in lines generally move fairly quickly and most locations seem to have adequate staff to handle the business flow. Avis was among the first companies to have people with hand-held data terminals in the return lanes. I like being able to return a rental car in 2 minutes flat, and Avis is generally pretty good about not me slowing down when I'm trying to make a flight. If you have a Wizard card, it helps speed your check-in too since the clerks won't have to key in all your billing and drivers license information every time you rent. Speed in and out is the basic yardstick by which I judge rental car service, and Avis does acceptably well on both counts.

Young renters are out of luck at Avis: 25 is the minimum age.

I also like getting frequent flyer miles on rental cars, and Avis awards miles in most airline programs, though generally only 50 miles per day (big whoopty doo). The only car company doing much better on airline miles is Hertz with 2 miles per dollar spent. Given that Hertz has sky-high rates, you could pile up some serious miles if your company makes you use Hertz on business travel.

Bottom Line
Avis is okay, but I think they gave up on the "we try harder" philosophy.

They do okay on service with me for business travel, but they generally do poorly on rates across the board. Their selection of cars is less interesting or fun to me than some of the other car rental companies out there and they seem to follow "industry standard" norms on everything instead of trying to do better than average.

If they really wanted to try harder, they'd have better rates, more sales, some fun cars to drive and they'd try to be the rental company that didn't cut back on frequent flyer award miles. Ah well. Plenty of reasons for me to send my leisure travel dollars elsewhere...

Recommend this product? Yes

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