When travelers rank the three major car-rental companies equally, all are likely to try a little harder. So consumers may soon see an extra competitive push on the part of Hertz, Avis and National - which finished in a three-way tie for top U.S. rental company in the third annual J. D. Power and Associates Domestic Rental Car Customer Satisfaction Study.
The survey drew on evaluations by more than 6,000 rental-car customers at or near major U.S. airports. Power gave each of the top three a grade of 104 - higher than the industry average of 100 but in two cases lower than last year, when Hertz scored 109, National 105 and Avis 103.
Budget came in slightly below the top trio this year with 101, and Thrifty scored 100 - both up from last year. Power didn't release scores for Dollar or Alamo, the two other rental-car sources it surveys, because of company policy to refrain from detailing companies that fall below the industry average, spokesman John Pepitone said.
A spokeswoman for Hertz, which is used to standing above the crowd, said market share and customer loyalty have more meaning than surveys. She said statistics from her marketing department indicate that Hertz retains the industry's largest market share - "31-plus percent" - and that members of the "No. 1 Gold Club" for frequent customers make up 80 percent of Hertz renters. Avis still claims the No. 2 market share.
The three companies also stack up in that order when it comes to prices of current one-way "Florida drive-out" programs, in which travelers have two weeks to help companies move cars from the Sunshine State to cities in the Northeast for the summer vacation season. Each company's drive-out offer lasts through June 30 and includes unlimited mileage.
Hertz's rates start at $6.95 daily and $41.99 weekly. Call 800-654-3131, and to ensure the proper rate quote, mention code RQ ICFD for a daily Florida drive-out, code RQ ICFW for a weekly price.
Avis' Florida drive-outs start at $8.95 daily (no weekly rate); call 800-331-1212.
National's drive-out plan starts at $17.99 a day, $79.99 weekly; call 800-CAR-RENT.
Though rental rates keep rising, price wasn't of top concern to travelers Power surveyed, coming in third among the various elements of the rental experience. Pickup process was ranked most important by 34 percent, return process by 25 percent, rates by 15 percent, the car itself by 14 percent and the reservation process by 12 percent. National was the strongest in reservation and pickup, Avis in return and Hertz in quality and condition of the vehicle.
But just to be on the safe side, Hertz has another discount program - offering "Plan Ahead and Save" rates in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Europe for those who book at least 14 days ahead. Call 800-654-3131 for domestic rates, 800-654-3001 for international; in all cases request the "Save" promotion.
Various auto-rental discounts often are available, as well, to members of various clubs and associations such as the American Automobile Association. But these usually can't be combined with other deals, so always ask which rate will be cheaper.
The most hazardous cities (excluding war zones) for business travelers, according to Kroll Associates, a business-intelligence firm:
* Algiers, Algeria
* Bogota, Colombia
* Caracas, Venezuela
* Johannesburg, South Africa
* Karachi, Pakistan
* Lagos, Nigeria
* Medellin, Colombia
* Mexico City, Mexico
* Moscow, Russia
* Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Delta Airlines has revamped its "Fantastic Flyer" program to feature many more options and lower prices. Designed for children ages 2 to 12, this membership now costs $19.99 (from $35) per child for U.S. residents. Each member gets a $25 saving certificate, the Fantastic Flyer Funtastic Feast while aboard and access to the Fantastic Flyer Radio station, where hostess "Michelle" will educate listeners with fun facts about geography.
Dusty's Dens - found in major airports and offering refreshments, activities, Sega games, books and movies - will re-open for members Memorial Day weekend and continue until Labor Day. The program also includes a Fantastic Flyer magazine subscription, coupons for in-flight movies, and hotel and car-rental discounts. Parents can call 800-635-9949 to enroll or online at http://www.delta-air.com/fantastic.
"Packing With Jill": It takes only 20 minutes for Jill McAlpine, owner of the Travel Bag in Carmel, Calif., to show how to pack - in just one suitcase - enough clothes for two people for a week or one person for two weeks. We're just talking clothing and shoes here, no hair dryers, hiking boots, snorkel masks or shaving kits. $19.95 for the video; call 408-626-5545.
Looking for a hotel or B&B; that will accept Fido, Fluffy or even Pete the parrot? A Web site lists thousands of pet-friendly lodgings in the United States, plus emergency pet clinics. There is also a bulletin board for pet owners to exchange information. The address is http://www.petswelcome.com.
From wire reports
Pub Date: 5/17/98