At AutoSlash, we frequently get asked to compare the rental experiences between various car rental options. This is a substantial challenge. Even among the limited number of rental car firms, the experience at individual locations can vary greatly. Yet renters do like to have a simple measure of what to expect with their rental car experience.
Every member of the AutoSlash team is a frequent traveler and we each understand that sometimes renters encounter agents who make dubious or illegal statements in attempts to upsell unnecessary products. We know that even the best-run organizations have lapses. Conversely, poorly rated organizations have superstar employees! Any rankings system simply provides advance estimates of customer experiences.
Let's take a look at the rental car ratings you might encounter in magazine ads or on the nightly news and why you might want to take them with a grain of salt. (For our rankings, which we think are more accurate, see here.)
Rental Car Rankings
Rankings take consumer experiences from hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of locations and return an easy-to-point-to average. Two external agencies are known for ranking rental car firms. The 2016 JD Power and Associates rankings were recently released (November 2016), and those rankings relatively mirror those released by Travel + Leisure magazine in the Summer of 2016.
JD Power Ratings
The JD Power North American Rental Car ratings for 2016 largely mirror the 2015 rankings from JD Power, where Enterprise was evaluated as the most exceptional firm in overall satisfaction as well as each of the six rating criteria. JD Power's survey combined business and leisure travelers, only at airports, and considered the following six criteria (in their stated order of importance): cost and fees; pick-up process; return process; rental car; shuttle bus/van; and reservation process.
Among the JD Power rankings, only Enterprise was considered "Among the Best". National was "Better than Most" while Alamo, Hertz, and Avis warranted an "About Average". Budget, Dollar and Thrifty were all scaled below average as part of "The Rest".
Our Take on the JD Power Ratings
We do have a few bones to pick with the JD Power survey and methodology.
1. Although the three holding companies - AvisBudget Group (Avis, Budget, Payless), Enterprise Holdings (Alamo, Enterprise, National), and Hertz Global Holdings (Dollar, Hertz, Thrifty) - were "award-eligible" (per JD Power's own terminology), the rankings intentionally left out AvisBudget Group's much-maligned Payless affiliate.
2. Multiple rental car firms were included in the JD Power survey but were ineligible for the rankings. These companies included ACE, Advantage, E-Z, Fox, and Sixt (which has a great reputation in the industry for premium cars). The survey was designed to only rate the three major holding companies, as JD Power stated in a footnote. Why is this important? Ranking six more firms (the five listed above plus Payless) would change the cutoffs for each of the star rankings. There would necessarily be more "average" firms.
3. Enterprise is ranked "Among the Best" - five power circles, the best possible ranking - on all six criteria plus the overall ranking. No other companies receive a rating of "Among the Best" in any single criteria.* Enterprise even ranks above sister companies Alamo and National on factors such as pick-up process, the car itself, and shuttle buses, even though:
o the pick-up process at Enterprise is more time consuming,
o the same rental cars are often rented by Alamo/Enterprise/National interchangeably,
o National loyalty club members get to pick their own cars, and
o rental car shuttles among Alamo/Enterprise/National are frequently shared.
* One can read many articles online where Enterprise employees, ex-employees, and customers are described as more than a little "different". In most business settings, more time-consuming processes with less consumer choice ordinarily results in lower ratings.
Travel + Leisure Rankings
That's not to say that Enterprise Holdings isn't among the best rental car companies around. In fact, the three Enterprise Holdings companies also dominate the rankings composed by Travel + Leisure magazine as well. While the Travel + Leisure methodology isn't published and only the top five ranked firms are presented, the criteria listed are "service, value, vehicle selection and availability, and rental locations." Of the five ranked firms, we agree that those five companies ordinarily all provide good customer experiences and would recommend those firms at almost every location!
1. National (Enterprise Holdings)
2. Enterprise (Enterprise Holdings)
3. Hertz (Hertz Global Holdings)
4. Avis (Avis Budget Group)
5. Alamo (Enterprise Holdings)
What About the Bad Actors?
Even among great organizations, thousands of locations mean there will be a few with poor business practices. For instance, we've seen franchised locations with major rental companies in cities such as Anchorage, AK, Austin, TX and Omaha, NE who repeatedly attempt to hide bogus fees within rental contracts.
We not only want to help renters save on rentals, we want to see fewer headaches with the rental car companies! Fortunately, of the many thousands of rental car sites across the United States (airports as well as neighborhoods), we would estimate that fewer than fifteen operators should be completely avoided. Overall, that's a fantastic ratio!
How do I Ensure a Great Rental Experience?
Well, there's no way to ensure a fantastic experience, but members of the rental car loyalty programs tend to receive better treatment! With many rental car firms, members of the loyalty programs even get to proceed directly to their vehicle without encountering those customer service agents who attempt to sell (on commission) those products and services that might be entirely unnecessary! Not to recommend anti-social behavior, but avoiding interactions at the rental car counter is often the best way to avoid the hassle of (repeatedly) declining options!
Want to learn more about the loyalty programs offered by the rental car companies? Read our blog post "Tricks to Short Cutting the Car Rental Counter ."
Of course, we would suggest you trust us here at AutoSlash, since we actually rent cars dozens of times each year (unlike the people who work for JD Power or Travel and Leisure). For our informed opinion, check out our article on our rental car rankings .