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The rental experience with FlightCar
Over the last weekend, I had my first FlightCar rental and here is my review.
FlightCar is a three-year old startup which does not have its own fleet of cars. Cars come from individual owners who want to save on parking at the airport and make money by renting out their cars.
It is similar to Getaround, which I reviewed recently, but it works exclusively at airport locations. As you will see below, it is much cheaper for long-term rentals.
The company has set up shop at several major airports:
It is not usually part of an airport rental center, but instead rents a cheap warehouse close to the airport. I didn't come from the airport or leave this way. They have a simple valet service that you can request via text. The experience easily beats the rental car shuttles at most airports.
The warehouse near San Francisco International Airport was somewhat hidden, but easy enough to find with an iPhone. The two attendants do all the work on their iPads and it's a great experience compared to the major rental companies and their upsell tactics. It's like meeting your buddy who gives you his car while he's away.
FlightCar DOES include liability insurance – up to $300,000 in each rental for free. Most major car rental companies add $7.99 – $20.99 per day for this pleasure. They also offer Collision Damage Waiver, but this is standard for almost all credit cards and, since you need a credit card to rent, there is no real need for most renters to add this.
I had selected a 2009 or newer compact car and it came out at a 2012 Suzuki SX4 – indeed a small car with a manual gear shift. The car is very much comparable to the one I did my driving test in (a venerable Ford Fiesta manual) and I felt at home. Gas mileage was 30 mpg and it had optional AWD, which helped with the rainstorm that SF experienced in the following days.
With FlightCar, no one-way rentals are allowed and it limits drivers to 100 miles per day or adds an overage of 45 cents per mile (which is a lot!) My rental ended up being 275 miles in 5 days.
The price per day was almost exactly $20 incl. insurance, fees and taxes. This is about half price compared to the cheapest options at Avis and Hertz even when using discount coupons or the USAA trick for 5 days.
The company also rents out child car seats or booster seats at no extra cost (these can be pricey at Avis & Co.)
Fuel should be the same as when picked up. That's fair enough, but my car was almost completely empty on collection, so it wasn't easy to burn off exactly the amount of gas before returning (that's the reason the 'buy a full tank' options are always so cheap). I do not like that, but with gas prices so low it did not matter much.
The car worked great during my couple of days and upon return, a friendly attendant worked around the card and shot a dozen or so DSLR pictures. I had made no scratches or dents in it, so that is a bit odd compared to the rental return experience at Avis.
Now I paid ~$100 for 5 days – how does this work out for car owners? The owner did not have to pay airport parking for 5 days (at least). This averages out at about $15-$25 per day depending on how far away you are willing to park at SFO. In addition, the owner gets paid 10 cents per mile up to 75 miles per day and 40 cents per mile above 75 miles according to the website .
In this case, the owner saved $100 on parking and made $27.50 in mileage. Insurance is included when leaving your car with FlightCar. The company made a raw profit of ~$70 and had to pay operations from it (which they seem to do in a very frugal way).
If a renter drives close to the 100 miles limit, the company gives the miles free to the renter and pays out more to the owner (above 75 miles per day to 100 miles per day). That may put the P+L at risk, but clearly they must have thought of this.
I really liked the rental experience, the no-nonsense approach to car rental and the low fees. I'll be back for my next rental soon.