When you’re trying to find the best car rental deals, the pick-up location matters just as much as which company you rent from. It’s often assumed that downtown lots’ smaller selections and convenient locations come with a cost. On the other hand, rental companies operating at the airport are required to tack on some additional taxes and fees that you won’t encounter with a downtown rental. So, ultimately, is it cheaper to rent a car at the airport or in the city? Let’s find out! And we’ll share a convenient and affordable alternative to car rental for those traveling around Chicago or Denver.
The cost of airport versus downtown car rentals
We’ll tell you straight: It is not cheaper to rent a car at the airport. In fact, it is 26% more expensive to do so, according to a recent analysis by NerdWallet. The reason is because of the extra fees we mentioned. There are two main charges, one of which is mandatory and the other is non-mandatory.
Let’s start with the mandatory fee. This is often labeled on a car rental bill as Customer Facility Charges, Airport Facility Charges or Transportation Facility Charges. The airport requires rental agencies to collect this fee on each booking, and it’s used to help pay for operating costs. The fee isn’t regulated at the federal level, so the amount will vary among states and airports across the country.
The non-mandatory fee is one that airports charge to rental companies in order to operate on the premises. To offset this expense, the rental agency typically passes the cost onto the consumer in the form of an airport concession fee or concession recovery fee. You may also encounter a tourism fee and/or a parking charge recovery fee at airport locations, which helps rental companies recover the cost of related payments they’ve had to make.
Is an airport rental car worth the added cost?
Paying 26% more to rent a car from the airport may not seem so bad when you consider the convenience of picking up the car right after landing and driving yourself back to the airport. However, it may not actually be as convenient as it seems when you consider your whole trip. For example, say you’re flying into Chicago and planning to stay in the city for two days and then drive out to the University of Notre Dame to catch a football game and stay the night. If you don’t actually need a car for the first two days in the city, then you’re paying a hefty price to keep it parked at the hotel, considering that you’re eating the cost of parking and two days of the car going unused.
Instead, you could pay $5 or less to take the L train from the airport to downtown. Then you can pick up your rental car downtown from a company like Avail starting on the day you actually need to use it. Returning your car downtown also saves you the stress of finding a gas station near the airport to refuel and budgeting enough time to catch the shuttle to the terminal too.
Saving money and time with a rental alternative
If you’re traveling to Chicago or Denver, Avail car sharing is an alternative to traditional car rentals that has dozens of locations across the two cities’ downtown neighborhoods. You won’t encounter facility charges or a concession fee. In fact, there aren’t even additional fees to modify your reservation or add a second driver. All Avail locations are set up to be self-service, so you can just grab the keys and go without waiting in a single line. Rent the Avail car you need for the amount of time you need it, and you’ll save both money and time.