Monday, March 20, 2006

Rebuff the upselling, score perks anyway

I'm in Vegas this week for a software conference, and my company kindly shelled out for me to stay in style at the conference hotel, the
Venetian. (Motto: "More gilt per inch than Trump's most lurid imagined fantasyland!") When I checked in, the clerk promptly asked if I'd like to upgrade to a larger room. Larger!? Ha ha, no. The basic room is already bigger than my first NYC apartment. Next question: Would I like to upgrade to a room with a view of the Strip? Again, no.

Turns out the only rooms available at the moment all had Strip views -- so I got for free the "upgrade" I'd just declined to pay for. Rental car companies pull this scam all the time. I always book economy cars. (I'm short; I don't need legroom.) Inevitably, the first thing I'm asked when I arrive is "would you like to upgrade to a full-size?" Trick is, many car companies don't even bother actually stocking economy cars any more. More than half the time, when I turn down the full-size upgrade, I get a full-size car anyway for the economy price.

Insurance is another area where rental-car companies famously try to slip in lucrative, unnecessary add-ons. If you have your own auto insurance, you're generally covered for anything that happens with a rental car. If you don't have personal insurance, you still likely have some coverage on your credit card -- many offer policies that cover loss and damage, as my Amex does.

But here's something particularly insidious I hadn't known about before. Two weeks ago, I rented a car from Hertz for a quick day trip to Long Island. While filling out the forms, I noticed a small sign on the counter (very small) mentioning something legalistic about Hertz's optional CDW (collision damage waiver) covering damage beyond the insurance level mandated in NY. Googling turns up the info that New York requires rental car companies to cover collision damage on all rentals -- making Hertz's add-on CDW coverage in NYC even more ridiculous than usual.