Everyone is ga-ga for the urban car-sharing services that have crossed into the mainstream. Now Hertz is fighting back with shorter rental terms at its European locations.
It will now be possible to hire a car for three or six hours for short day trips, or nine hours for overnight trips.
A Hertz survey revealed that 61 per cent of travellers would be more likely to hire a car if they did not have to rent it for a full 24 hours.
The new service – Hertz 369 – is available at over 1,200 city and airport locations across Europe, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.
Why am I reminded of that unfortunate motel experience in 1998, when the front desk clerk asked, “You gonna need the room the whole night?” Why yes, yes we did. But I digress.
This isn’t Hertz’s descent into the equivalent of a seedy motel. This is a good thing.
You might be surprised that a full 61% of travelers don’t want to rent a car a full day. But consider parking expenses and hassle in center-city European cities, and it becomes more plausible. Consider, too, that you could use a short-term rental car to shuttle yourself to the airport, and it makes even more sense.
Of course, it all comes down to rates. But this is a welcome option.
This week, Hertz rolled out a new subsidiary named SimplyWheelz, targeted at the leisure market. Let’s get one thing right out of the way: “SimplyWheelz” is an absolutely awful brand name, repulsively stupid in its gratuitous use of the Z in lieu of the plural S. Trying to be hip? Edgy? “Urban”? It didn’t work, Hertz. Marketers, just for using that “Z,” you get an “F.”
I know it’s hard to look past the awful name. And it pains me every time I type that “Z.” But let’s move on.
SimplyWheelz (ouch!) promises to be a “low cost, low rate” brand, by automating everything possible and pushing the rental transaction online wherever they can. (Alamo/National rolled the automated rental out first. See here and here.) They’ll also keep a smaller variety of cars on their lot and rent a narrower range of car classes.
Segmenting the car rental market is nothing new, and it’s common to see one brand under a corporate umbrella go for the holiday crowd while another tries for the less price-sensitive business clients. Avis focuses on corporate contracts and business travelers, while their sister firm Budget targets the leisure traveler. National is more business travel, Alamo more leisure. On the other hand, Dollar and Thrifty, which are one company, both seem to target leisure travelers. Maybe they should start a new business travel brand… “CarRentBizzz” if you want to throw some “Z’s” into your name. ::shudder::
For now, SimplyWheelz is only live at Orlando Airport. Obviously, that’s a huge leisure market, and the car rental rates are already really, really low. I priced out a reservation for a random set of dates in October, and SimplyWheelz was indeed the lowest, by $1.26 total, for a three-day rental.
Hertz has built a reputation for solid customer service, so starting a largely self-service subsidiary is a bit of a risk to the brand name. Especially since they remind users that they’re a part of Hertz on every webpage — it’s “SimplyWheelz by Hertz” everywhere you look. Automation in itself isn’t a problem (see my defense of kiosks) but there needs to be a human “net” to catch you if the automation fails. If Hertz can pull off this tightrope trick while lowering prices, then they’ll have a winner on their hands.
Now if only they learned how to spell.
Downgraded: Odds of seeing pole-dancer art on London-Gatwick approach
First it was the Kentucky Fried Chicken ad featuring a Colonel Sanders image visible from space. Now, a website’s advertisement featuring a giant chalk outline of a poledancing stripper is causing controversy in the UK. The image, in a field below a common approach path for flights to London’s Gatwick Airport, is only visible from the air, but is still causing an affront. It’s likely to be removed soon. But thanks to news reports and posts like this one far more people will see it online than ever would see it from a plane. (Yes, I’m guilty of supporting their marketing machine… I know…)
Upgraded: Kayak.com introduces alliance-based search
Aggregator Kayak.com tweaked its search tools ever so slightly, allowing you to sort by alliance (Star, oneworld, Skyteam) and not just by airline. But you can only sort it that way AFTER you’ve the basic search. (You can search preferred airlines up front, so why not alliances? Meh.) Orbitz has allowed alliance search for some time, but this is the first aggregator that I’m aware of that’s doing this.
Upgraded: Hertz’s environmentalist credibility
Last September, Hertz rolled out its “Green Collection” of rental cars and I was thoroughly unimpressed. Buick LaCrosse? Come on. Where were the hybrids? Well, it took nine months, but Hertz finally got around to buying more genuinely eco-friendly vehicles, with a purchase of 3,400 Toyota Priuses (or is that Prii?). That’s more like it.
Upgraded: Wine in coach. Viva jetBlue!
JetBlue is serving up some slightly more interesting wines than usual the usual coach fare. Thanks to a partnership with Best Cellars, the airline is giving their all-economy class passengers a slightly better guzzle. Choosing wine for coach can be challenging, since it has to be a) cheap, b) in tiny ready-for-sale bottles, unlike in premium cabins, and c) pair-able with a wider range of foods. I hadn’t thought about that last one before: After all, the wine in business and first can presumably be paired with the menu (though that’s not always obvious). But in coach, a wine demands “versatility in pairing with a wide assortment of airport meals people bring on planes, including pan pizzas from Pizza Hut and Taco Bell burritos with chicken and mole sauce.” (Taco Bell has a mole sauce? Really?) Either way, good for jetBlue, and good for their wine-imbibing passengers. (Thanks Tyler!)
Downgraded: US Airways right to serve any wine
Unlike jetBlue… US Airways, which got into trouble for selling booze without a license in New Mexico a few months ago, and which has been serving the sauce with a temporary scrip since then, was denied an extension of its license this past week. Tough break. BYOB, anyone?
Upgraded: Marriott; Downgraded: Ian Schrager (or is it the other way around?)
Look, I happen to like Marriott hotels for what they are: Consistent, clean, competent, and overall comfortable spaces to spend the night. (4 C’s!) They usually don’t have too much bling or pizazz, though some of their big-city properties have that 1980s glitz that has an odd appeal to my mid-to-late-30s, graying-gracefully, receding-hairline self. So when I hear that they’re teaming up with Ian Schrager, king of the boutique hotel, to create a new boutique-y brand, I’m skeptical. It seems like a late-to-the-game attempt to create a “W” chain within a chain. If it adds a little funk to the Marriott decor, great. (Bye bye brass fixtures, please!) But it also smacks of desperation. And isn’t Ian Schrager past this? Seems like he’s here to cash in while the cashin’ in is good.
Upgraded: WestJet’s honesty; Downgraded: Little old ladies’ pensions
Canada’s WestJet (hearts) little old ladies. Not because they’re nice grandmas, but because they’re walking piggy banks, and the airline’s got a hammer. Consider this nugget from the airline’s president:
“There would be a little old lady coming up and she’d have a table and she’d have a chair and she’d have six or seven bags and we’d say ‘Yeah, take it on the plane. No problem.’ Now we’re actually going to charge a little bit of money for taking that table and chair and those extra bags on board. And that incremental revenue that we extract from that little old lady is very, very profitable to us. Some 85% goes to the bottom line.”
Good for him, for saying publicly what other airline executives discuss privately. So I guess the business traveler isn’t the company profit center; the rarely-traveled senior citizen is. Bank it.
Upgraded: Amputees and their TSA experience
Got a prosthetic? The TSA wants to make your security checkpoint experience kinder and gentler. Good! On the other hand…
Downgraded: Sippy cups, and TSA cinema verité
A former Secret Service agent reports that she was harassed when she accidentally carried her child’s sippy cup of water through security. Stupid enough, but it gets more absurd: The TSA actually released a silent security tape of the incident, labeled “Mythbusters,” in their own defense. Feel free to view the videos, read the incident report, review the embarrassed mother’s story, and decide for yourself.
Let me make myself perfectly clear: I want to help destroy this hotel. I’ve never been to it, but I want to help Spanish hotel chain NH Hoteles wreck the Alcala Hotel in Madrid. The company is holding a contest to see who can take a sledgehammer to the joint. Only 30 lucky few will get to play rockstar-cum-wrecking ball. Let the spirit of Keith Moon guide you.
Skybus 1: How to contact Skybus
I know, I know, enough already with the Skybus posts! But it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Recall that the startup airline, in its multi-pronged efforts to save money, claims it doesn’t have a customer service phone number, according to the website. But they do. Chris Elliott does Skybus passengers a public service by ferreting out that contact number — (614) 246-8800 — as well as the e-mail addresses of their customer service executives.
Skybus 2: What’s next, Amway?
Be careful if you try booking a “vacation package” on the Skybus website. It’s really a timeshare sales pitch. Classy.
Beats getting three toasters
In a smart marketing move, Northwest Airlines has started a gift registry. Friends and family can make payment toward air travel, such as for a honeymoon. Note that the registry funds can’t be applied to hotel, rental car, etc., as part of packages. Air only. But still, it’s surprising other airlines haven’t done this before.
This isn’t Singapore Airlines
Iris Peterson, the oldest flight attendant in America’s skies, has retired from United Airlines. She started flying in 1946 and is now in her 80s. Quite a bit of aviation history she’s witnessed, and a good number of job title changes, “sky girl” and “stewardess” among them. Congratulations to Iris! Though frankly I’m glad that she’s not flying anymore. Honestly, was she able to perform all safety duties? How productive would she have been during an emergency?
Red, white and drunk all over NYC
Got 36 hours to spend in New York? Does a bar crawl feel a little too college for you? How about a wine crawl? Alright then. Dr. Vino shows the way.
On top of the world, pissing down on creation
When you’re done with that wine tourism, you might need to hit the WC. For the gentlemen, why not seek out a urinal with a view?
Car rental by the hour goes mainstream
Hertz and other big rental car firms must be feeling some heat from Zipcar, Flexcar, iGo, and other regional short-term rental companies. The big guys are increasingly offering hourly rates for their cars. Unlike hotels, hourly rates are a good thing, especially for business travelers doing same-day hit-and-run visits to cities.
The self check-in kiosk is already taken for granted by most airline passengers, and increasingly, for better or worse, by hotel guests. Car rental companies have been slow to adopt self-serve machines, though. (In part, this likely has to do with the distribution of keys, though you get around this by simply putting the keys in the ignition in the secured parking lot. Anyway…)
Alamo and National (both belong to the same company, Vanguard) are introducing kiosks nationally, after successful testing in Las Vegas, Dallas, and Jacksonville.
I’m all for it. I can say “no” to collision damage waiver, etc., as quickly and easily to a person as I could to a machine.
While some companies, like Hertz and Alamo, make it easy for their frequent renters to get in and out quickly, the “masses” are generally stuck waiting in line. I remember waiting for over an hour — at midnight! — at the Budget desk at LAX. Awful. I would have gladly used a kiosk.
Perhaps this will improve the companies’ ratings for customer satisfaction. As Chris Elliott points out, the industry essentially gets a grade of “C.” Maybe the kiosks can bump it up to a B-.
Hertz is rolling out a “Green Collection” of rental vehicles, with some fanfare, but I’m not impressed.
The company is touting models with EPA highway ratings of 28 or more miles per gallon, with models like Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Buick LaCrosse, and Hyundai Sonata on the list.
Where are the hybrids? Heck, where are the non-hybrid cars with really decent gas mileage, like a Honda Civic?
The Buick LaCrosse gets 19 mpg in the city, and 27 on the highway, according to the EPA’s own site, FuelEconomy.gov. 19. Nine-frickin’-teen miles per gallon is not green.
This is a pathetic attempt to appeal to Americans’ increasing unease about the price of gas. A real green offering would be welcome, but this isn’t it.