child in smoke filled car Budget and Avis ban smoking in rental cars
Budget and Avis (which are the same company, though operated as separate brands) announced that they were banning smoking in all their rental cars in North America.

Effective October 1, 2009, smoking will be off limits. If you do smoke in the car, there will be a $250 cleaning fee. The ban also applies to employees, who typically get to use a car for their personal transportation as a perk of the job.

To be honest, I haven’t noticed many smoky rental cars lately. They’ve been so rare (either because people aren’t smoking in rentals, or the cleaning process is so much better) that I’ve gotten to the point where I haven’t even thought to request a non-smoking car anymore. I can’t even remember the last time I made such a request.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see other companies follow suit. But there will almost assuredly be a company that doesn’t ban smoking, much like hotels, where some chains (e.g., Marriott, Westin) have gone smoke free, but most others have retained a mix of smoking and non-smoking offerings. (Will there be surcharges for renting a car that permits smoking, going forward?)

bangkok airport chanel Upgrades and Downgrades    Duty free and other scams, OpenSkies, scorpions, fees, more

Downgraded: Bangkok airport duty-free
If you’re in Bangkok, you might want to skip the duty-free shop. Customers have been falsely accused (better: framed) of shoplifting. And thanks to an apparently collusive agreement between the police, the duty free operator (King Power), and individual “translators,” all working in cahoots, travelers have been forced to pay up thousands of dollars in order to leave the country. “The British Embassy has also warned passengers at Bangkok Airport to take care not to move items around in the duty free shopping area before paying for them, as this could result in arrest and imprisonment.” Absurd! Read the whole convoluted story of the “zig zag scam” here.

Downgraded: OpenSkies
British Airways is looking to sell its all-business class OpenSkies subsidiary, only a year after buying L’Avion and merging the two operations. The airline-in-an-airline is still operating, though, and there are some pretty sweet deals for premium class travel. If you’re flying between New York and Amsterdam or Paris anytime soon and looking for a relatively inexpensive upgrade, this could be the ticket. (~$1230 all-in roundtrip for a 140° cradle seat, or ~$2100 for a 180° flat bed.) But I wouldn’t book more than a month or two out.

Upgraded: Inflight internet overseas
Lufthansa is reportedly exploring ways of restarting the now-defunct Boeing Connexion satellite-powered inflight internet service. The receivers are already installed on many of their planes (a process which was undertaken at a hefty cost. Panasonic is the most likely provider of the services to the airline.

Downgraded: The St. Regis Monarch Beach
Upgraded: Irony

You may recall the St. Regis Monarch Beach in California as the site of controversy — Weeks after accepting a huge federal bailout, AIG executives spent nearly half a million smackers to host a swank affair at the resort. Now the resort itself has gone into receivership: Creditor Citigroup has foreclosed on the property, taking possession from the franchisees, Makar Properties. (Perhaps not surprising if reports of 15% occupancy rates are true.) But foreclosure doesn’t mean closure. The property remains open, albeit under new ownership.

Upgraded: Exotic inflight vermin
Paging Samuel L. Jackson! A passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight departing Phoenix was stung by a scorpion in flight. The creature fell out of luggage in the overhead bin, where numerous other scorpions were residing.

Downgraded: Budget Rent-a-Car’s ethics
Budget Rent-a-Car is still working with Trilegiant, the shady operators who send out “checks” you shouldn’t endorse. Signing the back commits you to an expensive membership in a “consumer club” with minimal benefits — all billed to the credit card you used when you rented a car from Budget. I reported on this back in January. I just received a similar solicitation this week, offering me a $10 check in exchange for a $219.98/year membership in “HealthSaver.” Shame on you, Budget, for pimping out the credit card data that your customers trusted you with.

Downgraded: Airline fees
Another week, another hike of airline fees. Continental, as part of its earnings report, is raising the cost of checked luggage by $5, bringing it to $20 for the first bag and $30 for the second. Also: Delta is adding a $5 in-person luggage fee for bags not checked in in advance online.


If you’re rented a car or truck from Budget, you may be receiving a check in the mail. But don’t sign it.

There are offers in the mail referencing Budget car rentals, but signing the check will activate your membership in “Everyday Values,” a shopping “club” membership that promises big discounts but costs you hefty membership fees. The program is managed by Trilegiant, a former Cendant subsidiary that specializes in separating people from their money in convenient monthly installments.

But the really sneaky part — and the reason this is relevant to travel — is that your signature on the check gives Trilegiant the right to get the credit card information you used when you rented a vehicle with Budget.

That’s unacceptable. Swiping the card for a rental transaction is intended for use in the rental transaction, and that transaction alone. It’s shameful that Budget has no qualms sharing your card number with a company that uses such fishy customer acquisition tactics.

But this is unfortunately not new. Complaints on the web date back to 2005, and may be even older, based on Trilegiant’s longstanding history of shady offers. Budget and Trilegiant were once under the same corporate umbrella (Cendant). But while they’re no longer corporate siblings, their partnership lives on.

Inquiries to Budget went unanswered.

Full scans of the letter I received after the jump…



cruisecast roof Avis and Budget to feature live TV in your rental carWhile drivers will still need to keep your eyes on the road, Avis and Budget are partnering with AT&T’s CruiseCast to beam television channels into rental cars.

For $8.95 a day, the passengers in the backseat will never need to part with their precious television. Sorry, no Tivo option yet…

Unsurprisingly, the channel lineup is heavily tilted toward kids’ programming. Disney Channel, Disney XD, Discovery Kids, Animal Planet, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network Mobile, USA, COMEDY CENTRAL, MSNBC, CNN Mobile Live and CNBC. Perhaps ironically, the Travel Channel is being added soon.

Cars will be outfitted with a roof antenna (pictured), and the streaming video will be cached for three minutes, to prevent signal drop when you lose a direct line of sight to the satellite.

Budget and Avis are pitching it to both vacationing families and business travelers. The family angle, I get. The business traveler, not so much. Keep CNN or the Colbert Report running in the background while you drive?

Is this something you’d opt for in a rental car? Hit the comments!

Hat tip Budget Travel

flight delays heathrow Short hops    November 28, 2007    Mental anguish, healthy snacks, shameless self promotion, and more

Flight delayed? Sue!
A judge in India has ruled that passengers whose Go Air flight was canceled were due the equivalent of US$380 each because of the mental anguish they suffered. Is this a trend? Where can I sue for suffering through flight delays inside a regional jet?

Get on the bus
The American Bus Association wants you to feel green about hitting the road: They claim that buses — ahem, motorcoaches — are more environmentally friendly than passenger cars, trains, and planes. According to their numbers, a bus gets 184 passenger miles per gallon, while commuter rail comes in at 86 and planes only make 42. I’ve sat behind some black soot-spewing buses, and I find this claim hard to believe. And what about all the electric rail out there? Nonetheless, one thing is indisputable: Buses are more efficient than passenger cars.

Which airline has the healthiest snacks?
Domestically, it’s United and their $5 snackboxes according to Charles Stuart Platkin of dietdetective.com. See his post for the lowdown on the various airlines’ snacks.

Business class shootout!
Reader Gianugo has personally tested three of the all-business class airlines that cross the Atlantic. In his tests, Silverjet comes out on top, with L’Avion and Maxjet trailing. (No test of Eos Airlines, but they’re generally at a much higher price point.) The L’Avion review certainly jives with previous reports from the field (here and here). Read his detailed post for the breakdown of what makes these discounted business class airlines tick.

No more being charged extra fees for returning your car with a full tank
Consumer victory! One of the very first posts on this blog — in its first week of inception, in fact — railed against Budget Rent-a-Car’s practice of levying a $9.50 charge if the odometer registered fewer than 75 miles upon return. This is one of those “what are they thinking” fees that gives the travel industry a bad name. I’m pleased to report that the Federal Trade Commission has clamped down and told Budget to stop. (via Consumerist)

Shameless self-promotion, part one
Chris Elliott, consumer advocate, National Geographic ombudsman, and general thorn in the travel industry’s side, compiled his list of the seven “most influential” travel bloggers. You’re reading one of them. Huzzah! The others: Paul Brady at Jaunted, Arthur Frommer, Holly Hegeman at PlaneBuzz, CondeNast’s Wendy Perrin, Ben Popken at Consumerist (where I’ve been a guest blogger on several occasions), and FareCompare’s Rick Seaney. Nice company to be in, to be sure, and a good starting point for your other blog-reading needs. There are seven runners-up, too, so go read the whole thing. Consider other blogs, like the Travvies winners from earlier this year. (Or heck, the finalists!) And peruse the blogroll in the pulldown in the right sidebar for more great blogs that I read regularly.

Shameless self-promotion, part deux
Upgrade: Travel Better goes audio: You can hear a few snippets of me commenting on recent frequent flyer mile devaluations on Marketplace, which aired this morning on public radio. If you didn’t wake up to the “dulcet tones” of my voice on your clock radio this morning, you can hear the clip and read the transcript here.



animal control hearse Reader roundup: More tips for car rental deals

Several great tips rolled in as responses to recent posts on car rentals. Some were posted to comments, but in case you missed them, I’m upgrading them to a post of their own:

Max out your dropoff time
Reader Jason, a former employee of one of the major rental car chains, responding to a post about disappearing grace periods for late returns, offered this advice:

Make sure the rental agent updates your pickup time if you arrive after your scheduled pick up time (i.e. scheduled to pick up at 2pm and you don’t arrive until 3pm). If you arrive early, the computers will likely set your pickup time to the actual time you pickup the car, but if you arrive late it’s up to you and/or the agent to update your pickup time. This little trick has caught a lot of renters who return at the same time they picked up the car, but still get the late fees.

International rentals: Test-drive local booking sites
Reader NPM, author of the Porto City Guide (or Oporto, if you prefer) offers this tip:

Internationally, renting online through local branches can be cheaper than using US major car rental companies’ websites — even for the same company. For instance, in Portugal www.budgetportugal.com tends to be much cheaper than www.budget.com.

Warehouse discounts for underage renters
Reader Brent offered this tip on saving money if you’re under the age of 25:

Get an Executive membership at Costco. The cost is 100$ but you get the membership right away and it’s worth it. Then rent a car from Budget Car Rentals. The executive Costco membership waives the 21-24 underage driver fee (savings of 25$/day), allows you a free upgrade in car category, so basically if you’re going to get a full size vehicle, you only pay for what a mid-size would cost – and finally they also waive 10% for being a Costco executive member.

After four days, you’ve broken even! And the Costco executive membership is yours to keep…

Know the upsell speech
Finally, over at the Consumerist, they got their hands on Enterprise Rent-a-Car’s script which their associates use to try to convince you to buy their loss/collision coverage. Read it and ignore the temptation to spend your money unnecessarily.

A reminder: Reader tips are always welcome! Just use the “contact” link at the top right of every page, or leave a comment.


- Reader mail: If you’re under 25, how do you rent a car without huge surcharges?
- Reader mail: What happened to car rental late-return grace periods?
- Rental car agent blows smoke up my backside, redux
- Loss of use? Get lost.