In comparing online travel agencies (OTA) with direct travel suppliers for rental cars, SmarterTravel.com finds virtually identical pricing whether booking directly with the rental car company or with an OTA. The three largest OTAs recently eliminated booking fees for airfare, but not for hotel or rental car transactions.
Five car rental scenarios were tested for the Columbus Day holiday weekend, comparing the same car class, city, rental duration, and car company. SmarterTravel.com received quoted rates from Payless in Los Angeles, Budget in Dallas, Avis in Miami, Hertz in Boston and National in Chicago, and compared them with online prices from Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. All final costs from major airports in these cities, including estimated taxes and fees, were identical, with only a one-cent difference in one estimate.
SmarterTravel reports that in the absence of price differentiation, travelers will mainly have to decide whether convenience (a range of choices with an OTA) or brand loyalty (frequent customer rewards programs, discounts, etc.) is more important.
Research did not include quotes from sites such as Hotwire or Priceline, which tend to offer significant savings on rental cars. SmarterTraveler.com reports that comparing providers can result in surprising savings, such as a cheaper rate for a full-size car from one provider than an economy car from another. In addition, sales, seasonal promotions and membership bargains were not considered.