Renting Cars Online
An Analysis of the Potential Benefits and Challenges of Booking Through a Car Rental Web Site (Abstract)
William J. McGee, Consultant,
Consumer Reports WebWatch, Yonkers, N.Y.
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Travel remains the single largest source of Internet commerce, with much growth occurring in the car rental sector. With this expansion in choices for consumers, however, comes increased ambiguity as to which Web sites offer the lowest rates for rental cars, and whether online pricing methods among these sites are confusing or misleading to consumers.
To answer these questions, Consumer Reports WebWatch embarked on extensive testing and analysis of the leading sites that rent cars online under the direction of William J. McGee, a travel journalist and consultant to Consumer Reports WebWatch and the former editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter. This car rentals study is the second installment of a trilogy of travel Web site research studies undertaken by Consumer Reports WebWatch and McGee; a report on hotel-booking sites was published in April 2003. The third, on comparison of pricing among opaque bidding sites and the major integrated sites, is scheduled for publication in early 2004.
For this study, Consumer Reports WebWatch tested the three leading integrated travel Web sites – Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity – as well as the branded Web sites maintained by four leading car rental companies: Alamo, Avis, Dollar and Hertz. All testing was conducted in a real-time, "apples-to-apples" environment to determine which Web sites offered the best booking tools, lowest rates, and customer satisfaction attributes such as ease of use and disclosure of taxes and fees.
Consumer Reports WebWatch found more competition within the car rental sector than previous Web site testing within the airline and hotel sectors. However, the three integrated travel Web sites proved to be much better at providing lowest rates than the four branded car-rental company Web sites.
This testing also shed light on troubling pricing display methods and issues of bias, serious concerns for consumers seeking to use the Web to book their next rental car.