More car rental madness: a $10 “transaction fee” and other absurd price games

Oh, how creative! Here’s a surcharge I’ve never come across — a $10 “transaction fee” for a car booked through Thrifty’s website in San Francisco.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Elite Travel Insurance -- Cavalry Travel Insurance takes the worry out of travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

What’s a “transaction fee”?

I asked Thrifty. It didn’t respond.

I checked Thrifty’s site, but there’s no mention of it. I tried booking the same car through Expedia, and found it again, so it’s not related to the Thrifty website transaction, per se.

No other car rental companies at SFO have a “transaction fee” although they do have suspiciously similar “transportation” fees of $20 per rental. I’m left to conclude that Thrifty and other car rental companies are passing along the cost of an airport shuttle to their customers.

And that’s been going on for a while.

But while we’re on the subject, let me say that they’re not being very up-front about it. If you book through an online travel agency, it’s almost honest. Here’s the Orbitz matrix:

Why can’t they just quote the all-in price? It’s not as if we’ll ever pay the “base” rate, right?

The car rental company sites, on the other hand, are just pure bait-and-switch.

Here’s a quote for a Thrifty car in San Francisco.

Oh wow, $15 a day. What a deal.

But wait! Go to the next screen and …

Friends, the only reason the government hasn’t cracked down on these price games is that you don’t have to pre-pay for a car rental and you don’t even have to honor your reservation.

Car rental companies should quote a full price when you ask for a rate, not a base price that more than doubles at the end of the transaction.

/End rant.

(Photo: Tech No pal/Flickr Creative Commons)