Background and reservations
Usually on business trips I choose taxi services because I do not need to do much beyond getting transportation from the airport to the hotel/convention center and back. However, on a recent extended business trip to the Orlando area, I had to rent a car for the week as I would be in the suburbs most of the time and taxi service would not be convenient with the schedule I needed to keep.
The organization I work for allows employees to book their own travel. As a whole, we do not travel much for work, and as such most employees, including myself, are very conservative when booking travel and lodging. After doing a number of price comparison searches across car rental web sites, I found that Budget was going to provide me the best price for the rather lengthy time I would have to be renting a vehicle.
Again, because of the conservative nature of our business and my own aversion to spending money unnecessarily, I chose the economy car at the lowest price. My aversion to being lost in a strange city also caused me to reserve a Where2 GPS navigation unit.
The total cost of the week's rental was aproximatily $145 for an economy car and another $45 for the GPS and then the associated taxes that go along with renting a car from an airport location.
Getting to Orlando is a topic for a different review. However, I was on one of the latest flights into Orlando the day prior to when I had to be at work. The flight was delayed in getting into Orlando by at least 45 minutes. This didn't bother me much until it came to picking up my luggage and getting the rental car.
It took forever to get my luggage, at least 35 minutes from the time the plane landed. After retrieving my bag, I went to the rental counters which were not far from luggage return. Whereby I found myself in a line of 8 or 10 individual renters. Looking at the composition of those in line, some of us were tourists, some of us were traveling for business. One thing I have learned over the years is that business travelers and tourists don't mix well when traveling, again a topic for another discussion.
The counter at the Budget location in Orlando was very long and was well staffed. All the employees were working dilligently with each of the customers, however in watching them work, it became clear that in spite of the number of agents, their processes for renting cars were cumbersome, which was causing the line to be so long.
After about a 15 minute wait, I finally got up to the counter. I presented the agent my reservation and he began working on completing my rental. Very few words were exchanged between the agent and myself. Being that it was after Midnight I'm not surprised that either one of us was not talking much. It was at this time I discovered the problem they were having, in addition to the complex paperwork process they have to go through, they had a limited selection of vehicles. I wouldn't say they were running out of vehicles, but they were literally handing out any car they had keys for to whoever was next in line.
As you may recall, I had reserved an economy class car. Well, the agent looked a little befuddled. He then asked, "Is it just you traveling and is that your luggage," pointing over the counter to my suitcase with my carry-on and jacket draped over them. I confirmed this and he went off down the counter. He stopped off by another agent and rummaged through a pile of keys like a kid shuffling dominoes. Then he turned around and looked at a pegboard with just a hand full of keys on it and picked one rather reluctantly and returned to his computer, grabbing a GPS from a box on the way.
At which time he explained the inquiry into my traveling and luggage. He explained, "We have plenty of cars in the garage to fill all the reservations we have tonight, but we don't have your class of vehicle. Since you are traveling alone and with the luggage you have I thought we had a Solstice available. They are neat cars, but not real great if you are a couple traveling with luggage. Basically good for one person and their luggage, or two people with no luggage. But I was wrong, I can't find any keys for them and all I have left are minivans and pickups. Will a minivan work for you? Of course, there will be no additional charge above what you would have paid for the small car."
As it was late, and I wanted to find my hotel and get to bed I just wanted to get on the road, and anything with 4 wheels, a roof and an engine would do the trick. So, I took it.
The rest of the paperwork was simple, just a bunch of sign off on various acknowledgements of my responsibility to return the car in one piece, etc. and I had my keys and was off to find the vehicle.
Lucky for me, Budget at the Orlando airport keeps their cars in the parking garage near the reservations desk. So, no shuttle to some out-of-the-way parking lot. But the garage is huge. The agent wrote the floor and space number of where the car was on my document package and pointed on where to go to find it, even suggesting that I use the alarm button on the remote to have the vehicle help me find it by making lots of noise as I was getting close to it. However, the garage is huge, and my minivan was all the way down at the end of what was otherwise mostly empty parking lot. And I forgot to mention that this particular parking space was obscured by a number of little "guard shacks" and other small rental car agency support offices inside the garage itself.
Once getting to the vehicle, the rest was smooth sailing. The Budget agent pre-programed my hotel address into the Home button on it and the GPS got me to my hotel in a reasonable amount of time, even taking me on surface streets rather than the toll roads that lead in and out of the airport to the Interstate and other high speed roads that move you toward Orlando. I later discovered through using the GPS through my week there that the GPS was programmed to avoid toll roads, a useful user selectable option provided by the GPS unit. No telling who or when that choice was selected, but I certainly did not change the GPS settings.
During the week
During the week, the vehicle, a late model Dodge Caravan, performed well, but the A/C only worked sporadically, which in humid Orlando, that was less than pleasing. More than once I thought about calling up their service number and taking some of my free time and going back down to the airport and getting a vehicle exchange, but in the end, it wasn't that important to me.
Returning the vehicle
Returning the vehicle was easy. Again, I had to travel on surface roads to avoid the toll roads that connect to the airport. The GPS gave me a clear and reasonably straightforward path to do so. Ironically, while driving to the airport from my hotel, the A/C in the vehicle started to work flawlessly and never stopped. It ran all the way from the hotel to the airport.
Once at the airport it was fairly straight forward getting the car back to the Budget portion of the rental car garage. Keeping your eyes pealed and reading the directional signs regarding which turn to make to go to which agency is essential, or else you will get lost or end up in the wrong section of the garage at the wrong rental car agency.
The employee I dealt with at the return was very quick at checking in my vehicle. She had a hand held computer and receipt printer. She asked how my week was and how the vehicle ran. I indicated that the A/C didn't work the whole week, except for the drive back to the airport and that it was working currently. She seemed to indicate something on her computer about that. She printed my receipt, made sure I had refilled the vehicle and we were all taken care of. I then slogged my through the airport to get checked in for my return flight and the rest is history.
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