Car Rental Keys

In our reviews, we come across many initiatives that are intended for rental car users. Drop is ostensibly one of those initiatives and we're reticent to even write about the service. According to their website, a Drop staff member will meet travelers at the airport terminal and then return their rental car -- fully refueled -- to the rental car facility for a modest fee and the cost of fuel. Of course, we immediately thought "an unauthorized driver is against the rental contract term every driver signs". And as far as we could tell, the entirety of Drop is a cursory webpage without grammar check, a Texas-based phone number for SMS support, two posts on Flyertalk, and a domain under the ".rentals" TLD rather than ".com". Even Google didn't know anything (at all) about the service. While we would like to have access to an on-demand service where we could drive straight to the airport terminal, Drop requires scheduling in advance and we're still not yet sure Drop is real.


The better formatted of the two announcements on Flyertalk

At the time, Drop was listing their service at Austin Bergstrom and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Trying to figure out of the company was real (and we're still not certain), I started a reservation at Austin-Bergstrom. The firm was happy to meet me curbside for my 1977 Datsun 620 rental so I could make my Allegiant Air flight if I provided my credit card details (no name necessary)! And frankly, I would be much more likely to be driving a Datsun 620 than flying Allegiant!


My rental would be obvious curbside; just look for the mass of Bondo!

We reached out to officials at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Austin Bergstrom International Airport to allay our own doubts. After all, Drop was not listed as an authorized concessionaire at either facility and we know enough about vehicles to know that airports would be extracting revenue from any form of transportation-related service. That's what our entire Fee Detective series is about, with both Atlanta and Austin featuring in past posts! A service with curbside assistance -- at airports around the United States -- would ordinarily require at least three routine payments: space and signage; a fee for each vehicle that is met curbside; and a percentage of total revenue to the airport authority.

After our emails to the airports, Atlanta responded that they hadn't heard of a company that's ostensibly operating at the airport and Austin never responded. However, the Drop service at Austin went from operating (and accepting reservations) to "Coming Soon" at Austin. Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Houston Intercontinental (IAH), and San Francisco International (SFO) were also added to the "Coming Soon" listing. 


"Coming Soon" in Austin? You helped with my Datsun a few days ago!

And less than two weeks later, Austin had completely disappeared! It went from "Operational" to "Coming Soon" to "We Don't Know What You're Talking About"


Farewell, Austin, we hardly knew ye.

Something doesn't quite feel right with this service, which was willing to help me at an airport until I asked the airport for information about the service. There are other little inconsistencies along the way in their documentation and presentation. Drop suggests their mark is registered, although it's not listed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. And parts of the website descriptions read like a joke or performance art:

"No more long trips to the airport rental car center. Book now and dropoff your vehicle curbside"

At Austin Bergstrom International Airport -- where the service was initially operational -- one has to drive past the rental car center adjacent to the terminal to get to curbside. During a high-demand timeframe, it might be quicker to return a vehicle than wait for space at the curb!

What's the Apparent Premise of Drop?

Drop's raison d'être -- if it is a real company -- is to serve individuals who should have used a ride-hailing service (or mass transit) but instead rented a car. The design helps the specific subset of renters with rental cars who are willing to pay for the convenience of going straight to the check-in desk (instead of the CONRAC), don't want to stop to refuel, and realize in advance that there would be the need for this paid service; the service only works with RSVPs made in advance. The service also requires one to suspend a bit of disbelief when it comes to the rental car industry. For instance, Drop states:

I thought no one else was supposed to drive my rental car?
Rental companies advise against others driving the car for liability reasons where the other party may not be adequately insured. All of our drops are handled by professional valets who are fully covered for any incidental damages while driving/parking your car.

Even casual readers of the AutoSlash blog know that's completely wrong. My friend Mike Gundy chimed in again when I read that "FAQ" statement to him over the phone:


Get your facts straight, indeed.

It's not "advice" from a rental car company; it's a stated prohibition of every rental car contract and there are so many things that could go wrong for the renter.

  • If there's an accident with a driver not listed on the contract, the renter's directly financially responsible to the rental car company and any injured party -- while Drop claims insurance, the company isn't a party to the rental car contract
  • If the vehicle's in an accident with a driver not listed on the contract, the renter's placement on the rental company's "Do Not Rent" is forever.
  • If there are any citations (speed cameras, red-light cameras, parking tickets) or tolls incurred before the vehicle is returned, those would accrue to the vehicle renter.
  • If there's any damage noted at vehicle return, what name does Drop sign on the "Condition Change Form"?
  • If a vehicle never makes it back to the rental car center ...

We could go on about why it's unwise to give someone a rental car to return on one's behalf but we won't. If one gives an unknown party their rental car (in violation of the rental contract) and their credit card information, then the School of Hard Knocks might have a new enrollee.

REALLY -- giving a stranger your car keys and credit card number.

Or it could all work out just fine. We just don't have enough information to tell, and we wish the two initially listed airports -- Atlanta and Austin -- were more responsive. The service remains "operational" at Atlanta. 

Where We Think Drop Should be Positioned

If a legitimate service, we could imagine a service like Drop could achieve moderate success by partnering directly with rental car companies for on-demand service (not the existing "schedule in advance" idea). However, that's not exactly easy, as many companies already offer services like Drop to their best customers -- I've recently received similar offers from Avis and Hertz at Nashville International Airport, where the rental car center is adjacent to the terminal, just like in Austin. And in some cases, these services are even cheaper than Drop; for instance, SilverCar at Austin offers direct-to-gate service and fuel fill-up with a $5 fee, without the worry of hitting one's 30-minute reserved block or violating the rental contract with unauthorized drivers.

Our advice as always? Follow the rules of the rental car contract and never hand over the keys of a rental car to anyone other than the rental company at the end of a rental! If the end of a trip's going to be so time-constrained that one has to make an advanced reservation to shave a few minutes off the rental car return process, that might be a great time to consider an alternative to that rental car!    

 

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