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Michael Bennett is the former Senior Producer of the Travel Channels west coast operations and is currently a travel writer for Savoy and Black Enterprise Magazine. Michael is the host of Globetrotting on BET's BET on Jazz Network. For travel question write to


Someday in the not to distant future I hope to write a travel article without
referring to September 11. Terrorism crippled the airline industry for
months and forced cruise lines, hotel chains and car rental companies to
reevaluate the way they do business. And the news, when it comes to car
rentals is not good for the consumer. The industry has found more creative
ways to tack on fees and cut services to drive up prices.

Rental car prices decreased significantly in the immediate aftermath of
September 11. Car rental companies downsized their fleet by about 30 percent
as demand slowed to a trickle. Most rental-car firms have yet to increase
the size of their fleets. As we enter the heavily traveled summer rental
season, simple supply and demand would suggest rates will increase, and in
fact, they have already started to rise. If you've made travel plans for the
summer and need to rent a car, make those reservations NOW.

When renting a car, make sure you ask about all the fees and taxes before you
leave home. Most reservations agents will conveniently neglect to tell you
about those nasty surcharges which could add as much as 50 percent to your

Here are just some of the fees and surcharges to look out for; airport
concession fees, licensing fees, sales taxes, stadium or convention center
fees and transport fees. And if that wasn't bad enough, some airport
authorities have started to levy a security surcharge. This surcharge is for
the cost of storing vehicles in off-airport locations. According to Consumer
Reports, passengers flying into Jacksonville, Florida pay an additional $2.70
per rental and those landing in Toledo, Ohio pay an additional $1. Most
airports around the country are expected to follow suit.

You thought I was done mentioning fees. Well here's another one that will
make you cringe. Most companies have minimum age requirements to rent a car.
However, several states have laws on the books making it mandatory to rent
vehicles to military members as young as 18, or where corporate contracts
call for allowing any employee of a particular company to rent a car provided
they have a legal drivers license. Avis charges a $110 daily surcharge in
New York if they rent to anyone under the age of 25.

Here's one more for you, and I promise I'll stop: how about second-driver
fees. If you and your spouse plan to drive the car, it could cost you an
additional $25 per day. Prices vary from company to company and location to
location, so make sure you ask.

To save money do a little comparison-shopping before making reservations.
Rates for the same class of car for the same number of days can vary
significantly from one company to the next. In a Consumer Reports survey,
travelers picking up a car at LAX on a three-day rental paid $83.85 at
Enterprise. The same class of vehicle through Alamo ran a whopping $176.97,
that's double the price. Make sure you include the Internet in your search.
Often you can find web-only promotions that a reservations clerk or your
travel agent might not have access to.

Other money saving tips include:

1. Catch a cab to your hotel and rent a car from a downtown or neighborhood
location instead of the airport.

2. If you belong to an organization such as AARP, AAA or you're in the
military make sure to mention that when you make the reservation.

3. Find out if your personal auto insurance company, credit card or
homeowners insurance covers you for insurance purposes. If so, decline the
coverage offered by the rental car company.

4. Do not under any circumstances allow the rental car company to fill-up
your gas tank. Several companies now offer something called the "fuel
prepurchase option" (FPO), where you buy the gas in advance at some
astronomically high price. Not only does your wallet take a significant hit,
if you don't use all the gas, which by the way the rental car company is
counting on, you've just purchased gas for the next renter and made the
rental car company a nice little profit.

5. And lastly, make absolutely sure you fill-up the car before returning it.
Some companies have been known to charge two or three times the market rate
for gas to fill-up a rented vehicle.