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I love miles and points because they save me money and let me have Big Travel with Small Money. Sometimes that is saving money when I rent a car and sometimes that is flying in coach with my Southwest Companion Pass.
But miles and points can consume you!
A lot of miles and points activities can’t be automated and require you to manually check and re-check. For example, you have to keep on checking if an award seat opens up, or if a hotel or car rate has decreased, or if your credit card bonus has posted.
Unfortunately, we don’t have an unlimited stash of focus and concentration. And the manual nature of many of these tasks means that you sometimes will make a mistake.
1-Way Car Rental to Key West
We also wanted to fly back to Austin directly from Key West using our Southwest Companion Pass, so we booked a 1-way car rental from Fort Lauderdale to Key West.
The regular rate for a car rental on a site like Hotwire or Expedia was ~$300 for the 1-way rental. But I used Costco Travel to book a 1-way car rental for ~$160.
Check out the Cheap Car Rental series for the best tips on how to book a car rental!
Be Careful When you Re-Book!
~$160 was a pretty good rate for a 4 day 1-way car rental.
But no! I had to keep booking and rebooking in the hope of finding a cheaper rate. Rental car prices often decrease as you get closer to the time when you pick-up the car (unless the rental car company is sold-out).
I finally found a rate for ~$90 on the day we were supposed to pick up the rental and cancelled my old reservation and re-booked at the cheaper rate. I even mentioned to Emily how I got the rate down from ~$300!
Fast forward to the airport at Key West. We had a wonderful time at Key West and I dropped Emily off at the terminal and went to return the car.
I looked for the signs to the Alamo lot. There were signs to other rental car agencies, but not to Alamo! So I drove around again thinking that I had missed the sign, but there really was no Alamo lot at the Key West Airport.
So I got out my Costco Travel confirmation and realized that I had booked a round-trip rental and had to return the car to Fort Lauderdale (instead of a 1-way rental with a drop-off in Key West)!
What makes this all the more embarrassing is that I reminded folks who attended our Rental Car Session (co-presented with Rapid Travel Chai) at the Frequent Traveler University that you should stop booking and re-booking once you find a rate with which you’re happy!
Our flight was leaving in 1 hour and I needed to fix this as soon as possible. So I called Alamo and asked them if I can return the car to their off airport location in town. They agreed to let me return it to an Enterprise location close to the airport, but I’d have to pay the difference in rental price which they calculated at $250.
This meant that I paid ~$340 for the rental ($90 + $250 difference) which is $40 more than the regular rental rate! Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.
The story ends well (besides ruining my travel budget) in that I drove fast to the Enterprise location, returned the car, paid the difference, and made it back to the airport in the free Enterprise shuttle just in time for our flight.
And Emily being a much better person than I ever will be, didn’t “remind” me of my skills at finding a cheap car return. I’m so lucky to be with her!
The lesson for me – and for you – is that it doesn’t always pay to be obsessive about miles and points.
You don’t have to work every promotion, squeeze every mile out of your award redemptions, maximize every dollar you spend on a credit card, and obsessively check and re-check for lower rental car and hotel rates.
Once you find a rate which you’re willing to pay for a rental car or hotel, and which is much cheaper than what it costs elsewhere, let it be.
And spend your time & energy on more important things.
Oh, and double-check your drop-off and pick up location!