Monday, February 19, 2007

Rental Cars

Chasing for a good rate, when renting a car is a kind of standard for all tourists. Fair enough! Unfortunately, you see only the rate, may be model or size class of the car, and not much else, when you decide on how to drive around on the island.

The island has more than 100 active car rental companies, from 1-2 cars rented from the kitchen drawer, or a shack to the 50+ cars big name franchise company. Visitors can rent from Dutch side companies and French side companies, both provide cars at the airport. Rates are at US level or even lower. Off season from about $25/day, and high season from $35+/day.

The most common misunderstandings, when renting a car on St. Maarten
  • Visitors chase for rates only, and do assume the cars being safe and in good condition - wrong! Some are not!

  • People rent "micro" cars, they would not even sit in back home. Where do you leave your luggage? What's about crash safety? What's about comfort?

  • Renters believe, the credit card absorbs all risks. Wrong!

  • You can return the car any time earlier before the committed rental period ends, and get only the used days charged. Wrong!

  • The companies are as creative with extra charges, e.g. tire tread fee, as they are in the USA. Wrong, the companies do not yet have this kind of creativity, and the quoted rate is usually the final price!

So many choices, so little transparency! Right! If you need to collect your air miles with one of the big names, okay, spend a bit more, and do so. Don't assume the same efficiency from those big name franchise outlets on the island, as you may be used at home. If you decide for a local company, and there are several good ones, ask for cars not older than 1 - 2 years. Potholes and other challenges get cars get into a bad shape quickly.

When you rent a car from a Dutch side company, be aware that you drive around "branded". The Dutch license plates have the letter "R" to begin with, so everybody knows from a distance, that you are a tourist. "Best Deal" car rental even has advertising slogans on each rental car. If you mind about, rent from a French side company.

An economy sized car, like a Toyota Corolla or Kia Rio is sufficient for most island destinations. Jeeps are fun, but not really required on the island. They cost 2-3 times the rate of before mentioned cars. The extremely small cars, like a Kia Picanto, are not worthwhile the little saving. An overview of rental car companies can be found here or here. The listed names on those two links are not an endorsement.

Visitors report high ratings for "Best For Less", also known as Alizes Car Rental, a very reliable small French company run by her dedicated owner Martine. Yes, they speak English. I especially like the brand new SUV's at very moderate rates. "Best-4-Less" meets you at the airport, hand over the car right at the airport parking, and you also can drop it off at the public airport parking, when leaving. Most of the larger companies have their parking lot and offices off airport and shuttle you to these places. Guess, what works faster!

Just to avoid any misconception: The photo with the car rental shack at the top is taken on the island. The company is no longer in business. And, one last advice, if the car is not in a safe condition, just don't accept it. Check locks, tires, brakes, ...

1 comment:

BIG said...

Thanks for the car rental advice. I run the St. thomas Blog and would love some advice for our trip to St. Maarten on May 3rd-10th. Could you recommend some restaurants and fun nightlife? Our blog is http://www.stthomasblog.com.

thanks!

Scott