I am sure many holiday makers travelling to Spain have had some varying experiences with car hire companies out there, as there are many around. A quick search online through various review and comparison sites leads to many tales of frustration and pain.
Most of the complaints relate to being stung on arrival for excess insurance, over the top petrol charges, the wrong car being provided, being charged for damage that didn’t happen or generally poor customer service.
I travel to Spain quite regularly and have used a few different car hire companies with mixed results. They tend to fall into three types, the comparison or central agent/broker which has specific deals with certain Brands or local carhire companies such as rentalcars.com, auto-europe.co.uk, economycarhire.com. Then the actual commercial Brand sites such as Sixt, Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, Budget, Thrifty, Europcar, Easycar and National, and then more local/country specific such as Goldcar, Centauro, Record Go and Malaga Car.
Two years ago I booked with Goldcar, who were based a short 10 min drive from Malaga Airport at the time. Pickup was fine, however I was kept waiting for over 40 minutes at the depot, and the customer in front of me was having a blazing row with the agent due to the wrong car being provided. He’d requested a Ford Galaxy size car for wife, 3 kids and luggage and was given a Focus C-Max. Needless to say, by the time I got to the desk the agent processed my paperwork quickly (though the car was being washed so I had to wait 5 more minutes), and because of my own impatience, signed for the ridiculously expensive fuel and excess insurance. Otherwise the car, a VW Polo was in good condition and was dropped off with no problems.
This summer I decided to do a little more research and due to the two stop nature of my trip, I decided to book through two different companies, as choice was limited at my second stop in Santiago De Compostella. First important step was to book Excess Insurance, online, through iCarhireInsurance.com. This would save me the high charges offered or practically forced upon you by carhire companies. 455 AED for 22 days is alot cheaper than the charges they would apply when picking up the car. It takes minutes to do online and they send you a cover note policy to print and show the hire car company if requested. I also bought a TomTom XL GPS/Satnav with European Maps off eBay, as I would be travelling around Andalucia and Northwest Spain alot over the 3 weeks and didn’t want to rely on the high roaming charges for my Etisalat Dubai mobile or pay the carhire company 15 AED a day to hire one. (Satnav cost me 270 AED so paid for itself)
For my first stop, I booked online with Cargest, based very close to Malaga Airport, just on the main roundabout before you enter. Booking a family size Focus C-Max car was simple, with a confirmation email arriving quickly after. To secure the booking of the car, I paid 25% 720 AED, (2880 AED in total for the 16 days) on the link on the email. For the second part of our holiday in Santiago De Compostella, I booked online through rentalcars.com for a similar sized family car for 4 days (2190 AED). Unlike Cargest, rentalcars.com took the payment in full immediately after the booking confirmation online and was significantly more expensive than Cargest. Being a broker, the actual carhire was from Europcar.
At Malaga Airport, I was met by a Cargest representative in the arrivals hall who directed me to the shuttle bus for the very short journey to the depot/office. Without any waiting around, Raoul, the driver, took me straight to there, where the paperwork, including digging out my UK Drivers licence etc and balance payment was made very quickly and efficiently by Max at the main desk.
From the airport arrivals to being in the hire car, 30 mins at the most. A nearly new Kia Cee’d Sportwagen CRDi had plenty of space for the family and luggage. Fuel policy was simple, it had a quarter of a tank in it, so had to have a quarter of a tank in it when I dropped it off. Excess was offered but not forced, so I declined after showing Max my cover note from iCarhireinsurance.
I was reassured that if I had any problems with the car during my stay, to call the numbers provided. The Cee’d was absolutely fine and I had no issues during the time in Malaga. Dropping off the car took about 5 minutes and we were quickly shuttled to the airport for the next leg of our holiday.
After our short flight from Malaga to Santiago De Compostella, we went to the Europcar desk for our second carhire to pickup. Waiting behind two other customers took about 30 minutes with two impatient tired children, however our administration was handled quickly and efficiently, with no pressure on the Excess Insurance and again a fair petrol policy applied, leaving us to go locate the car on the lower floor parking. I do think a map of the carpark layout would help in these times though as they can be a bit of a maze with all the different hire car companies being parked on the same floor.
Ensure you do check over the car before leaving the airport in these circumstances where the desk is far away from the car. The Scenic above was missing it’s outer casing on the right hand door mirror and had numerous scratches on the right hand side. All this was on the form I signed for to be fair, but I was unable to check until we had got downstairs and found the car.
Dropping the Scenic off after 4 days, was more by luck than judgement, as there were few signs and no map provided to where to drop the car off at the airport. I got lucky and found the correct entrance to the rental car floor and 10 minutes later after a quick check of the car by the agent in the carpark, we were up in the lift heading towards departures.
Overall how would I rate both companies? Rentalcar.com / Europcar was efficient and straight forward, however a lot more expensive. There are few hire car companies locally in Santiago De Compostella so I guess they can afford to charge the higher rates, and deliver a more consistent, if inpersonal Brand experience than say a local or regional company. Cargest on the other hand is not a global Brand and only services the Costa Del Sol area. Their customer service was exceptional, making you feel they actually cared about your experience and were extremely good value for money. I will definitely be using Cargest next year when I return to Spain and certainly recommend anyone travelling into Malaga Airport to drop them a line.
(This article was originally published last August 2014)