Very expensive to cross the Rockies.
May 1, 2009 2:19 PM   Subscribe

One-way car rentals. Why are they so expensive? I need to get from Denver to San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend...

I arrive at the Denver airport at 10 p.m. on Thursday, May 21. I need to be at an event in Grand Junction, Colorado on Saturday night, and then in San Francisco to fly out late at night the following Tuesday.

The cheapest I can find for a one-way rental of an economy car is about $650. I've checked Expedia, Orbitz and some rental company sites. That seems awfully expensive for five days. What other options are there?

I've posted a notice on both the Denver and San Francisco craigslist site (in the moving and labor section), to see if anyone needs a car moved, but that's a long-shot. I also checked Amtrak, and it's about $300 for the two of us, but wouldn't allow a number of side trips we want to take. I'd rather pay the $650 than take the train.

As a side question, why are these one-way rentals so expensive? Everyone I talk to seems to think it's because the rental company has to get the car back to its origin, but that's silly. Rental places are buying and selling cars all the time. My one-way rental will just mean the San Francisco location has to buy one fewer cars, and the Denver location has to sell one fewer. Or SF could sell one more and Denver could buy one more. The cost for a five-day rental staying in Denver is $150, so the one-way premium is $500. I realize that they know I will be putting about 1,000 miles more than a normal renter would on the car, and that that slightly decreases the resale value of the car. But it's an economy car! 1,000 miles doesn't decrease the value of an economy car by anything close to $500, does it?
posted by Dec One to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total)
 
To your side question: It's relatively rare that people want to rent a car and drive it one-way to another city. Generally speaking, that means that the people who do so have a substantial need to do so. Thus, higher prices can be demanded for the service. Plus, no matter how non-trivial it may be for the rental company to deal with the transfer of cars, it's still work they don't have to do with most rentals.
posted by chudmonkey at 2:23 PM on May 1, 2009


One way car rentals are so expensive because of inventory management. Just because there is a Budget/Hertz/etc in both cities doesn't mean they actually share cars--and there's no guarantee that someone will want to drive that car one way back from where it came from. So generally the car has to be shipped back and that is the expensive part. (When I shipped a car from LA to Denver it cost me about $600.)
posted by Kimberly at 2:28 PM on May 1, 2009


I've heard that they try to penalize one way trips just to avoid people making them a link in a cheaper chain of travel, with the result that cars would tend to migrate from less popular destinations to more popular destinations. This would then necessitate an actual effort to shift the cars back, with attendant costs.
posted by fatbird at 2:29 PM on May 1, 2009


Car rental companies sometimes need to reposition vehicles. It may be worthwhile to try calling some of the companies directly to see if there's anything like that available.
posted by dersins at 2:30 PM on May 1, 2009


FYI, a quick search on expedia revealed that if you wanted to fly to Grand Junction from Denver it would be $89, and from Grand Junction to San Francisco it's $150. You might want to consider that.
posted by Kimberly at 2:36 PM on May 1, 2009


I would go ahead and take the train. It's a great trip!
posted by icebourg at 2:37 PM on May 1, 2009


Yeah, I don't understand why you're not flying. It's cheap.
posted by rokusan at 2:45 PM on May 1, 2009


Kimberly has it. I once drove one way from Savannah to New Orleans because of a rental company screw up. They had to ship the car back (at their expense).

Also, I was once stranded in Albuquerque at 2 am and needed a one way ride to Tucson. Turns one they had a car that needed to be returned and I got a great deal (cheaper than a round trip rental).
So call around and ask although the chances of finding Grand Jn-SF are slim.
posted by special-k at 2:51 PM on May 1, 2009


We want to drive because there are people we want to visit in Fort Collins, and we want to see some national parks. And stop on the side of the road to take pictures of the Rockies.
posted by Dec One at 2:54 PM on May 1, 2009


From what I've been able to gather from frequent rentals from Enterprise is that each office (or groups of offices within some region) are responsible for buying and maintaining their own fleets. For example, I routinely rent from one office and return to another in my city, but I can't rent from the airport and return to a city location.

Doesn't Hertz or one of the big companies specilize in one-ray rentals--maybe that's what you are looking at already and the cost is that high.

You could always rent a 10-ft u-haul for one way trip for cheaper.... ;)
posted by buttercup at 3:21 PM on May 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've done several one way rentals with Avis and it wasn't a whole lot more expensive than round trips. Try calling the Avis dealerships directly and seeing what they have if it doesn't work out for you online.
posted by ohio at 3:29 PM on May 1, 2009


I think the keyword you want is "drive-away".

Companies in that business are brokers. Some people have cars that need to be moved one-way. Other people want to drive one way. You get your reservation in with the broker, and they try to match you up with someone with a car.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:38 PM on May 1, 2009


I was curious, so I checked out the website; u-haul is actually more expensive for that, but Budget Truck Rental is under $300 for a 10-foot truck. Pros: cheaper, plenty of cargo space (you could even pack an air mattress and a couple sleeping bags and sleep in the back!). Cons: not as comfy as a car, lower gas mileage.
posted by fings at 3:39 PM on May 1, 2009


Oh, but I'm not sure that a drive-away can be scheduled as closely as you are saying (e.g. this precise weekend).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:40 PM on May 1, 2009


The trick, in my finding, is to discover where the rental cars are accumulating. In Canada, Alberta has for years had a very low unemployment rate and high wages, so people moving there for high-paying job are less deterred by the drop fee (the extra charge for making it a one-way trip). As a result, a lot of people will take a one-way rental to Calgary or Edmonton and eat the drop fee.

A year ago I managed to pick up a reservation for a similar (albeit shorter) trip 800 miles north of your route, going Calgary to Vancouver with unlimited mileage for about $250.00 US. Of course, the rental company ended up trying to shaft me in several other fashions, so this may not be a ringing endorsement.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:23 PM on May 1, 2009


I was curious, so I checked out the website; u-haul is actually more expensive for that, but Budget Truck Rental is under $300 for a 10-foot truck. Pros: cheaper, plenty of cargo space (you could even pack an air mattress and a couple sleeping bags and sleep in the back!). Cons: not as comfy as a car, lower gas mileage.

Budget, last time I looked, charges for mileage. So, doing a roadtrip is not necessarily cheaper. It's often the same or more expensive.

Ryder, however, is sometimes cheaper than renter a car. But, you lose the savings in diesel fuel.
posted by Netzapper at 3:05 AM on May 2, 2009


Look at how the fee is being charged. If it's a higher per day rate (as opposed to a drop fee), then you might be better off renting several cars, e.g., a Denver-Denver car for messing around the mile high city, then a one day drop-off to Grand Junction, then another car for wedding events, then another for the trip to SF etc. if that comports with your schedule. I do this all the time under less complicated circumstances: fly into city A, rent car, rent different car for one day expensive drive to city B, rent car, etc.) Similarly, you might find that you can do better trading cars in some intervening city.
posted by carmicha at 6:43 AM on May 2, 2009


I had no idea that this was an issue (I don't rent cars often) and I'm trying myself to get from Baltimore to NYC next month.

None of the websites I looked at even asked about your return, specifically, they just indicate where you're picking up - so, in theory, if one were to play dumb and just drop a car off in another city from the pick up location, would they just hammer you right there and charge you a million bucks for doing so?
posted by tristeza at 9:16 AM on May 2, 2009


if one were to play dumb and just drop a car off in another city from the pick up location, would they just hammer you right there and charge you a million bucks for doing so?

Yes. They would charge you the difference between the ordinary rental and the one-way rental. They would start by keeping the "hold" money on your credit card and if that wasn't enough they'd send you a bill for the balance.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:26 AM on May 2, 2009


My one-way rental will just mean the San Francisco location has to buy one fewer cars, and the Denver location has to sell one fewer. Or SF could sell one more and Denver could buy one more.

The more pertinent point is that one location loses one car from its fleet with which to make money - lost revenue needs to be factored into the total cost of getting the car back from wherever you go to. At fleet turnaround times, maybe they'd be open to negotiation (but I'm not sure they'd bother) but if you take a car off their fleet, then they are one car down until they can address that. This can represent a sizable drop in profitability for the location, especially if they are in an area that demands a lot of one way rental and they lose more than just the cost of getting it back (which could be considerable).
posted by Brockles at 10:41 AM on May 2, 2009


One-way car rentals. Why are they so expensive? [...] The cost for a five-day rental staying in Denver is $150, so the one-way premium is $500.

OK, a five-day rental is $150, so the car brings in $30/day.

According to Google, Denver to San Fransisco is 1,300 miles and an 18 hour drive. So if you have a guy drive it back, and he works a standard 9-5 day, it takes two and a quarter days; unless you can rent it out on the day it gets back, you've lost 3 days of potential income. $90.

Then assume the guy driving it back makes minimum wage - $6.55 per hour. 18 hours of that is $118. That leaves 500-90-118 = $292 unexplained, and it's a 1,300 mile journey. In other words, $292 / 1300 miles = $0.224 per mile.

I don't know about where you work, but if I drive my car on business they pay my mileage at about 35 cents a mile, to cover petrol and wear and tear/depreciation on the car. So to me, 22 cents a mile sounds fair.

Also, none of this includes the cost of getting the driver back to his home, or accommodation for the driver on the days he's driving, or food for the driver, or time taken for breaks from driving.
posted by Mike1024 at 11:09 AM on May 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


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