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Travel cheaper by minimizing huge car rental fees

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A row of rental cars are parked below a sign for Hertz Corp. at Denver International Airport.

A row of rental cars are parked below a sign for Hertz Corp. at Denver International Airport.

Matthew Staver, Bloomberg News

If the already expensive car rental cost wasn’t enough to irritate Warren Smith, the 52 percent taxes and fees were.

On a previous trip to Salt Lake City in August, Smith, a Japanese translator who lives in New Hampshire, paid $100 more than his original price rental estimate had projected.

Car rates more than doubled the year-over-year average in December 2012, according to an analysis by Auto Rental News. In quotes taken from six major cities, the smallest increase was $2.51 in Miami, with the largest being Chicago with a $37.58 increase.

Smith’s experience isn’t unique. High taxes and fee rates are not unusual for car rentals, but there are ways to minimize traveling costs.

“When you go to Salt Lake, or other places, after you get your luggage, the first thing you do is go to pick up your rental car,” Smith said. “And that’s when you feel slammed and think, ‘Wait a second, this isn’t what I’ve signed up for. What are all these extra charges?’ ”

In Smith’s case, he planned to pay $105.96 for a four-day compact car rental Dec. 15 to 19. But a customer facility charge, concession recoup fee, county tourism tax, motor vehicle rental tax and VEH license recovery added an additional $54.78

Many taxes can’t be avoided, but Amy Lee, the senior travel strategy analyst at Travel Nerd, said looking farther away from the airport for rentals saves money. Airports charge car companies high premiums to be close. AAA, the military or airlines often offer discounts, she said.

“I think we are just unaware that there are other options,” said Stephen Ebbett, president of the insurance company Protect Your Bubble. “Make sure you are aware of other options and don’t just buy the options that have been there traditionally.”

Specialty companies like Protect Your Bubble have cheap prices, charging $7.99 a day, Ebbett said. It also includes primary inclusion coverage, rather than secondary. This is important because it won’t affect personal vehicle insurance, he said.

An important part of renting is knowing exactly what you are buying, Ebbett said.

“The actual base can be reasonable, but with all the taxes they put on top it becomes expensive. That’s the primary reason we launched our product,” Ebbett said.

To save on expensive surprise charges later, Ebbett recommends seeing the car with the company person before you sign off on it to see if there is any damage. If this isn’t possible, take photos around and inside the car. This can provide evidence if suspicious charges come later, because 17 percent of users have experienced damage to their car, he said.

Filling up a rental with gas before returning it can help avoid premiums charged for returning a car with an empty tank, said Aubrey Manzo, the public relations specialist for Independent Traveler Inc.

Coupons, booking early and adjusting dates can also lower the price, said Sorab Bhardwaj, founder of Zalyn.com, an online pricing site. Generally, rentals are cheaper on weekends.

EMAIL: alovell@deseretnews.com