Chicago O’Hare is expanding. And if you’re renting a car at O’Hare in August and beyond, you’ll be paying for it.

[Chicago's city council] today approved without dissent a measure backed by Mayor Richard Daley to charge [at least $8 more per day] on rentals at O’Hare to cover the cost of a consolidated rental-car center needed to accommodate two new runways that are to be built as part of the O’Hare Modernization Plan.

City Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said earlier this week that the fee will likely be around $8 each day on cars rented at O’Hare, but said she could seek to raise it considerably if the cost of the rental facility ends up being higher than anticipated.

The new fee, which should be in place by August, would go on top of an existing $2.75 flat fee and an 8 percent tax on O’Hare rentals.

How might this look? Here’s a sample rental today, before the fee kicks in. You’ll see the current $2.75 flat fee and the 8% tax in there, but obviously no $8 fee (yet):

ord rental surcharges OHare expansion: Chicago bilks car renters, blames LAX

This is a rental with National, on a base rate of $42.90, fyi.

Adding $8 to that menu would make the total fees $20.32 on a $42.90 base rental, or 47.3% in taxes and mandatory fees.

But hold on, there’s more… This comment from the city’s aviation commissioner, which partially justifies the fee: “The per-day rental fee at LAX airport in Los Angeles is $18.”

Why, if LAX charges $18 on top of their other fees, then Chicago charging $8 would be a veritable bargain! Except that LAX doesn’t charge $18 a day.

Here, see for yourself. Same car rental company, same car class, same base rate of $42.90 a day, but at LAX:

lax rental surcharges OHare expansion: Chicago bilks car renters, blames LAX

I don’t see an $18 charge in there. I see a bunch of charges, yes, including a $10 charge. And these fees are steep — 49.1% of the base rate, to be precise. But if Chicago is going to point to LAX as an example of high fees, they should try to be more honest about it.

Categorized in: car rental, Chicago

The competition for customers traveling between New York and Chicago — already a crowded field — is about to get more crowded. Delta is launching a new shuttle service between LaGuardia and O’Hare, to complement their flights to Boston and Washington.

For those who have never had the pleasure, a “shuttle” operation typically means high-frequency, some perks aimed at business travelers, and open seating — no reserving that aisle or window.

The press release adds some detail:

Delta’s new hourly shuttle service between New York-La Guardia and Chicago O’Hare will begin June 10 and replace existing flights between LaGuardia and Chicago Midway. The flights, which are a strategic part of Delta’s commitment to expand in New York, will operate between Delta’s convenient Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia and O’Hare’s Terminal 2.

In advance of the launch, Delta will install new dedicated Shuttle check-in and self-service kiosks at O’Hare, which will become a new Delta Shuttle station. The kiosks feature the ability to purchase tickets for travel that day to LaGuardia, replicating the speed and convenience that customers enjoy in other Delta Shuttle markets. The airline also will assign the Chicago-New York flights to dedicated gates located nearest to O’Hare’s Terminal 2 security checkpoint and offer complimentary morning coffee, tea and newspapers to customers departing from these gates.

Flights on this route will be operated with Embraer 175 jets equipped with 12 seats in First Class and 64 seats in Economy Class. Both cabins are configured with no middle seats. Delta’s enhanced onboard Shuttle product will be offered in both classes, including meals in First Class, and, in economy, bagels on departures before 10 a.m. and complimentary wine and Sam Adams beer.

There are a few things notable here:

For starters, more frequency in a crowded field. The announcement means eleven Delta shuttle flights a day in each direction. But talk about a crowded field: American has 17 flights between O’Hare and LaGuardia alone, plus 8 flights to Newark and a single, solitary flight to JFK. United has 15 to LGA and 8 to Newark. JetBlue has three flights to JFK. Continental has 7 flights to Newark. And Delta has two flights to JFK in addition to their new shuttle service. (The online schedule still shows 9 flights between Midway and LaGuardia, but those are due to be cut.)

At first, I thought that the increased frequency between two of the busiest airports in America would mean greater delays. But Delta recently picked up a number of slots at LGA in a convoluted 6-way transaction with other airlines, so there should be no congestive effect of the increased frequency.

The shuttle service also will include some amenities for the folks in coach, including a snack and a included alcoholic beverage (ironically, on the heels of Continental’s elimination of free meals in coach).

Some might object to the use of Embraer 175 regional jets, in lieu of larger Boeing or Airbus aircraft. The aircraft have been flown by subcontractors under the Delta Connection label in the past. Personally, I find those Embraers comfortable, especially for a short flight like the 733 miles between New York and Chicago.

So I like this. It improves the product on a busy route while increasing competition. I’ll be interested to see how they choose to price these flights — at a premium to other airlines? — and how they fare with business travelers.

Categorized in: Delta Air Lines

credit cards accepted Upgrades and Downgrades: credit cards abroad, passport control, cockpit brawls, and more

Downgraded: American credit cards
For several years now, a pet-peeve of mine as an American traveling abroad has been the challenge of using a swipe-and-sign credit card in a country where chip-and-PIN is the norm. (Consider previous posts on chip-and-PIN challenges. I even wrote a piece for National Geographic Traveler on the issue.) Now the New York Times revisits the issue and finds that it’s getting worse, not better, for American cardholders. When will US card issuers catch up with the rest of the world? (Thanks, David!)

Downgraded: US Customs and Immigration
Did the gruff face of US immigration kill the city of Chicago’s bid for the Olympics? It was apparently a contributing factor, if reports from the IOC are to be believed: “Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, in the question-and-answer session following Chicago’s official presentation, pointed out that entering the United States can be ‘a rather harrowing experience.’” Somehow, it’s not a shock that the guy from Pakistan had this particular critique of entering the US. But he’s hardly alone.

Downgraded: Cockpit decorum
When I draft my list of minimum requirements for pilot competence, I think “not getting into fistfights in the cockpit” goes unspoken, an assumed background condition for commercial travel. Apparently, I need to be more explicit with my expectations. An inflight cockpit brawl on Air India, anyone?

Upgraded: Hotel promo deals
Over at View from the Wing, read up on an ongoing Hyatt promotion “the best hotel promo I’ve ever seen.” The deal: 13,500 United Airlines miles and a free Hyatt night for a two one-night stays at a Hyatt property, including discounted Hyatt Place properties.

Downgraded: Brazilian justice
Three years ago, NYT columnist Joe Sharkey was onboard a plane that survived a midair collision over Brazil. He subsequently criticized Brazil’s fractured air traffic control system and came under nationalistic fire for refusing to go along with the official Brazilian line that the (American) pilots of the surviving business jet were solely at fault for the accident. Now, Sharkey is being sued for $250,000 for defaming the entire population of Brazil. The lawsuit is offensive and absurd. For more background on the case, see here.

Downgraded: Helicopter service in Manhattan
Helicopter service from downtown Manhattan to JFK, canceled? I’m shocked, shocked!

Upgraded: Electronic cigarettes on airplanes
Back in February, I posted about a report of an impending deal between an electronic cigarette manufacturer and an unnamed airline. Immediately, I thought it would be a European low-cost carrier. Sure enough, it’s the granddaddy of ‘em all: Ryanair. For €6, you can buy a pack of 10 (disposable, I assume) nicotine-vapor sticks.

Upgraded: Clear’s life chances
Clear / Verified Identity Pass, the subscription-based service that promised shorter airport security lines, before it died an abrupt and refund-less death, may be back. I was a skeptic from the get-go — frequent travelers already get shorter lines, without having to give up their personal information. I’m still a skeptic.

Upgraded: Bloggers branching out
Brett Snyder of CrankyFlier is expanding the Cranky franchise: He’s launching a new service, dubbed CrankyConcierge. For $30, he’ll help you find a low fare, track your flight status for you, look for alternatives in case of rebooking, and aid you in post-trip dispute assistance. At the same time, Gary Leff of View from the Wing is now charging $150 to help travelers book frequent flier tickets. I’m looking forward to seeing these business ideas develop. Good luck, guys!



snake car Upgrades and Downgrades: Back on the beat edition
It’s been a tough few weeks, but U:TB is back on the beat. Not tanned, rested, or particularly ready, alas. But back.

Upgraded: Snakes in a car
A Florida woman got in her Enterprise rental car, only to find a 3 1/2 foot long red rat snake on the dashboard. Will “snake availability waivers” be the next add-on fee? And was it a Dodge Viper?

Upgraded: Convictions of liquid bombers
Prosecutors in the UK convicted three men of conspiracy to murder, as part of the 2006 liquid-explosives threat. Prosecutors want to re-try three of the men, for whom the jury could not reach a verdict. In connection with the trial, the BBC released a video ostensibly showing a liquid bomb of the type planned by the convicts.

Upgraded: Newcastle airport
UK officials are testing liquid-explosives scanners at Newcastle airport, using a device that scans liquid containers to judge whether their contents are a potential bomb ingredient or a harmless beverage, facial cream, or toothpaste. Could the 3-ounce liquid limit be up for review?… stay tuned.

Upgraded: Singapore’s A380
Global travel is in a slump. But if you’re expecting an empty seat in coach on board a Singapore Airbus A380, guess again. People still pack the plane. Full planes don’t mean a fat bottom line, though. The airline isn’t getting top dollar per ticket, even if the public seems to like the plane.

Upgraded: Hotel deals
The average rate for hotel rooms has dropped 17% in the first half of 2009 alone, making the average room the cheapest its been in five years. Bucking the trend: rates in Caribbean, down only 2% on average. (I’m sure there’s still a lot of variation between islands.)

Downgraded: Block 37
For years, “block 37″ in the center of the Chicago Loop (the block is bounded by Randolph, State, Washington, and Dearborn) stood vacant. It’s a construction site now, with plans for a central transit hub underground. And above ground, a Loews Hotel was planned, with rights sold to the company for $1. But the hotel chain can’t (or won’t) get financing for this prime downtown location, so yet another hotel project is up in the air.

One of the oldest tricks in the money-saving book has been to rent a car in an area that’s not as heavily taxed. For example, it’s often cheaper to rent downtown, rather than at the airport, to avoid the airport “concession fees.” But the city of Chicago is fighting back and taxing renters in ways that can be called “creative,” at best. And it’s landing the city in court:

Enterprise Rent-A-Car has sued the city of Chicago for trying to tax car rentals outside city limits, including far-reaching suburbs.

The St. Louis-based car rental giant filed the suit last week in Kane County after Chicago’s Department of Revenue decided that all car rentals in the Chicago suburbs are subject to the city’s 8 percent “transaction” or leasing tax.

To be excused from the tax, Chicago is requiring rental companies to photocopy customers’ driver’s licenses and obtain a sworn affidavit that they won’t be spending more than half of their time driving in Chicago with their rented car.

Sworn affidavit? That’s just ridiculous. And, may I add, unenforceable.

The city has a history of extra-jurisdictional taxation. When I lived in Chicago, I bought a car at a suburban dealership (in Schaumburg, just west of O’Hare, for those keeping score.) And much to my dismay, I had to pay the higher Chicago sales tax rate, instead of the lower Schaumburg rate, because the tax was based on the zip code of registration, not the location of the seller.

The move to tax rental cars is most likely targeting those suburbs near O’Hare Airport. Drivers there would be nailed with both airport fees and Chicago tax rates if they rented at the airport, and the city wants that revenue. Much like the Washington Airports Authority is trying to nail hotel shuttles with fees, this is a case of the city shifting the goalposts when the rules aren’t working out in its favor.

I don’t think Chicago’s taxation policy will stand up in court. It’s not only logically questionable to have a city taxing services in another city, but it’s an undue burden on both drivers and the rental car companies who have to collect the fees. I think Enterprise will win this case.

In the mean time, watch out for Chicago taxes outside of Chicago. And if you see such a fee on your rental agreement, then your bottom line is simple: Sign the affidavit. Then drive in Chicago with impunity.

cta red line belmont Chicago to align short term car rentals and mass transit

This is brilliant:

The CTA board Friday approved an unusual partnership to create a new transit fare card that can also be used to rent cars.

The joint Chicago Card Plus and I-GO car-sharing smart card might seem at odds with fostering mass transit in the congested Chicago region. But the deal with the non-profit I-GO will promote the “complementary nature of car-sharing and public transit,” said Jim Fowler, CTA chief information officer.

The 10 I-GO rental car facilities are located near CTA rail stations and bus terminals in the city, Evanston and Oak Park, Fowler said. I-GO provides 200 fuel-efficient cars for short-term rental for people who don’t own cars but occasionally need one for grocery shopping, medical appointments or other reasons.

The partnership creates demand for both mass transit and car-sharing. It’s win-win.

Beyond helping out residents without cars of their own, it has potential for urban tourists who only want to take a car for a few hours (though a cab ride might do the trick for that purpose, too).

It will be interesting to see how — financially — the new fare/rental card will improve upon simply getting an I-Go or Zipcar membership and separately taking the train to a lot. But hats off to the CTA for thinking about this as a single ticket.


Categorized in: car rental, Chicago