Miami, no vice: Trip planning
EVA Air B77W Hello Kitty Business Class SIN-TPE
Decoding the lounge situation in Taipei
EVA Air B77W Business Class TPE-IAH
Red Roof Inn IAH Airport
United A320 Economy IAH-MIA
Renting with Sixt Miami
Element Miami International Airport
Miami, the Keys and everything inbetween
Jetblue A320 Economy MCO-JFK
Revisiting the EVA Air and SQ Taipei lounges
I love driving holidays, but the quality of your driving holiday really depends on the type of rental car you get. I know many people who will happily settle for a run-of-the-mill Toyota Corolla, or a Nissan Sunny, or a Hyundai Avante. Which are all perfectly decent cars, don’t get me wrong, but isn’t part of the thrill of a vacation escaping from the ordinary?
I’ve mentioned before that it’s possible to rent a convertible for the same price or a small premium over the standard rental car, or to get an upgraded SUV or premium sedan simply by having the right status (Sixt Platinum was part of the perks of the now dead LHW free membership, and if you hold a Visa Infinite you can get National Car executive status for free)
Another cool thing I’ve learned is to try booking with Sixt when you’re travelling in the USA. Sixt is well-established in Europe but only now breaking into the US market. Their marketing USP is to offer people the chance to drive continental cars like BMWs, Audis, Volvos for the same rates you’d pay for a Japanese or American car with Hertz/Avis/the other incumbents.
I played around with rates for a one way rental from Miami to Orlando and I found what I was convinced was a fantastic deal for an 8 day rental of a luxury convertible.
$381 for a one-way rental (which other agencies will gouge you through the nose for) including insurance for a 4 series or A5? That had too-good-to-be-true written all over it. So I went to look at Sixt Miami’s reviews.
So I was definitely weary. The thing is though, when you read the reviews it sounds more like people complaining about not having read the fine print properly.
Just to be on the safe side, I made a booking with National Car as a backup. What I love about booking rental cars in the USA is that you don’t need to provide any credit card details. If you don’t show up, your reservation is just cancelled and there’s no penalty. It’s great for the consumer. The industry is slowly moving to offer prepaid discounts that have cancellation fees, but you can still find fantastic rates on no-obligation reservations like the one I had.
Finding the rental car facility in Miami isn’t rocket science, although it is a good distance to walk and requires taking an airport train
EDIT: I had actually made 2 bookings with Sixt- the other one was allowing me to select my car via the Sixt app already but it was for a premium car, not a luxury convertible. I wanted to show you guys how the app works because it really is quite cool
The app shows you a countdown until you can select your car. At the T-30 min mark car selection will open up
As you might expect, the app will try to upsell you to nicer cars. But I could pick a Volvo V60 with no additional charge. Which is already much better than a lot of other rental companies.
As any renter knows, not all cars of the same make and model are made equal. There’s a big difference to picking a Volvo V60 with 1,000 miles on the odometer and one with 10,000.
And that’s where the app comes in handy- it tells you the mileage on each car just by tapping on it! Nifty.
Of course, I was hoping to utilize my other luxury convertible booking so I didn’t go with the app this time round
My rental was originally booked for 8pm for a total of 8 days However, thanks to my rejigging of my flight schedule, I actually arrived in MIA closer to 11am. I was worried that this would necessitate a complete repricing of my reservation.
Fortunately, it did not- I kept my existing awesome rate, just needed to pay another $30 for the additional day. The problem was that I arrived too early and they didn’t have any luxury convertibles. As mentioned before, Sixt defines luxury convertible as a BMW 4 series or an Audi A5.
What they did have was an Audi A3 soft top, which they classified as a premium convertible (one tier lower).
An Audi A3 is definitely not in the same league as a 4 series, but since I was taking a downgrade they also gave me an $81 discount. That made my total bill for a 9 day rental $337 all in.
Let’s pause and think about that figure for a bit. Hertz/Avis et al wanted to charge me just below $400 for a mid-sized Hyundai/Toyota. And here I was getting an Audi A3 convertible for $37 a day, with full insurance coverage. Keep in mind that this wasn’t even an upgrade; if anything, it was a downgrade. That is an implausibly good deal.
They made the usual attempts to upsell things like additional insurance, toll passes, a prepaid full tank of gas (never go for this- the discount may sound attractive but unless you can return the car exactly empty you’ll probably lose out), but they weren’t overly pushy. I’ve encountered much worse. Protip: don’t ever let rental car agents bully you into buying their insurance by saying something like “it’s the law you have to buy it”. If it were the law, it’d be included in the base rate already.
The car wasn’t the newest with about 23K miles on the odometer. But it handled nicely and was a great choice to drive the overseas highway.
Here are three useful tips for maximising value whenever you rent a car in the States.
I love satellite radio. It’s a pity we don’t have a similar concept in Singapore because Sirius XM in the states is amazing. The problem with the US is that you often drive long distances, meaning that your radio options will differ in quality (of programming and signal) throughout your trip. Satellite radio gives you 200+ channels of music, news, sports, entertainment wherever you go. I had a lot of fun listening to conservative talk radio, where the default volume is shout.
But it does cost money if you want it on your rental car as a feature. You might get lucky and be assigned a car with an active radio subscription, but if not you have two options for getting free satellite entertainment.
(1) Get a free 30 day trial on your smartphone (you don’t need to provide a credit card number) and listen via your data plan. Sirius XM has an Android and iPhone app that lets you access all the channels from your phone, which you then connect to your car’s audio via AUX cable or Bluetooth. Of course, this might end up burning through your data cap, so there’s always option two…
(2) Activate the 2 month trial period on your in-car satellite radio (you’ll need to provide your Radio ID as shown below, but you don’t need to provide a credit card number). This may not be an option if your car used to have a subscription which since lapsed, however, in which case you’ll have to do (1)
One thing you really need to be careful with rental car companies is tolls. This isn’t so much of an issue in places where you can pay tolls in cash, in which case you just drive to the correct lane and settle the toll yourself. However, cashless tolling is becoming more and more common across the US (it’s now not possible to pay with cash when crossing the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco). This is normally a good thing, because it means not having to slow down and lets you get to your destination faster.
But when using a rental car, it means relying on the transponder within the vehicle to record the toll crossing and paying the rental car company a hefty fee for the privilege of doing so. Think the rental car company will just bill you on a reimbursement basis for the tolls you incur? Fat chance. They earn a good amount of money on “admin fees” charged each time you use their transponder. This issue has become so big that the tourism authorities and politicians have taken note. Whether or not anything happens is another question, suffice to say that you need to be hyper alert about your rental company’s toll policy when you rent in the US. Agencies can charge anywhere from a $4 to $15 admin fee on top of the tolls, even on days when you don’t incur any tolls. Meaning that if I go through a toll on my 2nd day and 5th day that costs $1 each, notwithstanding the fact that I don’t incur any tolls on the 3rd and 4th day, I’ll be billed $4-$15 for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th days. Yeah.
Cashless tolls are the only option along many stretches of the Florida Turnpike. Sixt offered a $8 per day option that had unlimited tolls included, but I did the math and it was never going to work out in my favour. So I went to buy a Sunpass.
If you’re ever headed to Florida, know that you can buy a Sunpass sticker of your own to fix on your windscreen. This acts as a transponder that you can add value to using your credit card and avoid having to use the rental car company’s option. Registering your Sunpass is simple, and although the website doesn’t let you enter an address outside the USA, you can just enter your hotel’s address to register.
I’ve covered this already here– if you’re not satisfied with the basic coverage offered by your travel insurance provider on rental car excess, you should consider buying a special rental car only insurance policy. I personally like World Wide Insure, where coverage costs much less than what the rental car company wants for their own insurance policy.
My experience with Sixt was painless and drama free. I’d definitely look to use them again if the price was right. If you want to try driving some exotic vehicles beyond the usual rental car fleet, give Turo a try. I’ve spotted BMW convertibles and Tesla Model S cars for under S$100 a day…