Standing in the line to rent a car at the Nice/Cote d’Azur airport, I heard the woman behind me telling a man, “Yes, I rented the car for a week, so I could get a special rate.”
“What is it?” asked the man.
“$900,” she said. “Unlimited mileage.”
“What kind of car?”
Holy crap, I thought. Did she ever get screwed. I was paying less than $20 a day.
It’s fairly easy to get screwed – and badly – if you’re a tourist on the French Riviera. Comes with the territory, doesn’t it?
Actually, no. Not if you’re a savvy traveler. Nice can be downright affordable! (For me, it’s cheaper than being at home in California.)
Here are some tips, for the savvy traveler to save money renting cars in Nice:
- Book ahead. I use Kayak.com for most of my rentals, and I book 2-3 weeks in advance. But no more than that. Rentals booked a month or more in advance seem to carry higher rates, and more gotcha stuff – like requests to pre-pay for the whole rental to get that “special rate.” No dice. The rental companies have almost no idea what kind of demand there will be that far out; at 2-3 weeks, they know whether they will have too many, or not enough cars, and price them more reasonably.
- If you are a member of frequent renter club, like Hertz #1, you might qualify for even deeper discounts. Or added perks like bonus miles on partner airlines.
- Understand that airport rentals in Nice are subject to steep facility use taxes meant to gouge unsuspecting tourists – to the tune of $40 or more per rental. (So, if you are renting at the airport, renting for more days can help you “amortize” those tourist taxes over more days, for less of a bite. For instance, if I had rented a car for one day at $20, the $40 tourist tax would have tripled the cost of my one-day rental.)
- Rent at an off-airport location to beat the tax. Right in downtown Nice, there are several major car rental companies (Avis, Budget, Sixt, Europcar, etc.) with very competitive rates – and no airport facility use fee taxes. (Some taxes are charged, however, no matter where you rent.) It’s easy to get from the airport to downtown, via city buses that leave right from both terminals (1 & 2); these cost $7-$9 per person, though. If you walk 50 meters out to the main road (Promenade des Anglais) in front of the airport, and catch a regular city bus (like locals and airport employees do) it’s only $1.50 or so.
- Use a credit card that gives you rental car coverage, like my American Express card (which eliminates the need for me to take the Collision Damage Waiver – a ripoff insurance the rental car companies want to sell you for $35 or so per day).
- Avoid the extras, like the onboard GPS, for which you can substitute your cellphone. The cellphone probably has better maps. (Note: My most recent last three rentals featured cars with factory-installed GPS systems; so even though I declined to pay for them, I subsequently ended up getting them for free.)
- Don’t take the fuel option, unless you know how much fuel you’re going to use and/or need – you need to travel at least 400 kilometers, most likely, to make the Fuel Option pay for itself. And unless you know exactly how much fuel the car holds. Otherwise, you’re going to be returning a tank still sloshing around with a lot of very expensive gas ($7+ a gallon) you paid for, and didn’t use. Also, if you are taking care of your own fuel, fill up before you return the car; there are several stations close by on the Promenade des Anglais, or even the A8 Autoroute or E40.
- Reserve a smaller car than you think you need. Usually, you’ll end up with a larger car, as a no-cost upgrade (especially at the downtown rental locations). Even if you don’t get the upgrade, you’ll probably be glad you didn’t. The smaller the car you have in Europe, the easier it will be to get around, maneuver, park, etc. (Parking spots are tiny!) Most cars in Europe have folding rear seats, so jamming in all your over-packed luggage for a traveling party of one or two people is not likely to be a problem (having four people, and all their luggage, in a Fiat 500 – well, that could be a problem).
- If you rent at a non-airport location, make sure you know their opening hours. The ones in downtown Nice are probably closed a couple of hours in the early afternoon for lunch; closed on Sunday; and closed after 7 p.m. most days. (The airport’s central rental car location seems to be open all the time.)
- If you don’t want to be bothered returning your car downtown at the end of your rental (if for instance the downtown location is closed, or you are worried about missing your flight) you can just drop it at the airport, and they will have you pay a $17 drop off fee/penalty. No big deal.
Follow these simple suggestions and the cost of a rental – like that woman’s $900 weekly rate mentioned above – could drop to a fraction of the full rack rate. In fact, my next weekly rental in Nice is going to be $142 – about $20 a day, all taxes included.
March 31, 2016