In recent years we have chosen to rent a car on many of our routes through Europe: Scotland, Romania, the Baltic States, Belgium, Poland, etc. Well, today we have thought of making a small comparison between 5 of the best car rental search engines to see what they can provide. The truth is that we have almost always used the same search engine (we will reveal which one), but there are several alternatives that are worth taking into account. Let’s go with the analysis!
Our favorite, no doubt about it. RentalCars was founded as TravelJigsaw in 2004 and is based in Manchester. In 2010 it was acquired by the Priceline group, which owns brands such as Booking, Kayak or Agoda, and was renamed RentalCars.com. This huge business group is today the largest online travel agency in the world and is part of the NASDAQ Top 100.
One of the weak points of this website used to be the design, but with the latest facelift it has been great: simple, clean, nice and intuitive both the desktop and mobile versions. Regarding the search engine, we believe it is its great asset. It shows a large number of results for each search and offers better rates than the provider itself. In addition, the list of results has numerous filters: company, car features, rating, delivery point, etc., which greatly facilitates the search. And the summary tab that is displayed offers very useful data, such as fuel policy, number of doors, type of coverage, etc. Other highlights are: user area to manage reservations and streamline the process of future rentals, customer service in Spanish 24h (phone or other ways), app for smartphones, no commissions for paying by credit card, free modifications and cancellations (under conditions), sending newsletter with exclusive offers, best price guarantee and presence in 167 countries. In terms of trust, as of today it has 63,590 ratings on Trustpilot with an average of 8.1. It is certainly a 100% trustworthy website.
The truth is that we don’t have much to criticize, but there are always points that can be improved. As for customer service, we have only needed it once and they were very kind, but they did not solve our problem as efficiently as we would have liked because it seems that the provider (Thrifty) put a lot of obstacles in their way. They did, however, do what was humanly possible. As minor issues, we would add the following: we do not understand the prominent role of the map in the searches and the necessary step of selecting the office location before displaying the results. We also don’t like the typical “in-a-hurry” banners informing you that someone else has made the same booking (Booking style) or that they try to sneak extras into the booking process. Finally, it is curious that there is no presence in social networks (only Facebook in English). Nevertheless, as we said, our rating of this company is close to excellent.
AutoEurope was born in 1954, in Germany, as a “conventional” car rental company, specializing in Volkswagen car rentals for expatriate Americans visiting relatives there. The founder later moved the headquarters to the United States and today the headquarters are located in Portland.
A few years ago it was our “other” search engine, almost on par with RentalCars. The main reason is that they also specialize in cheap car rentals. Although in many comparisons it loses out to RentalCars, there is always a different model at a good price, so it is worth taking into account. In addition, they also have a free telephone number in Spanish every day (not 24h), possibility of modifications and cancellations 48h before pick-up, reservations without card payment charges, best price guarantee, newsletter sending and presence in 180 countries. The booking results tabs, which show the most practical data at a glance, are not bad either. Auto Europe España has only 1,103 ratings on Trustpilot, but its average score is 8.7. Another 100% reliable company, which also has Twitter and Facebook in Spanish.
Although it is still an interesting alternative, the truth is that we use it less and less. Its design has become very outdated and it is annoying to have to use dropdowns to search. They have a mobile version (not very nice either) and an app, but they don’t even advertise it on their website and it has bad reviews in general. As for the results, we don’t like the fact that they show a matrix with the prices, which doesn’t really add much, and that you have to click on the boxes to show the list of cars. On the other hand, according to our experience, the range of suppliers is more limited. Finally, they do not have a user area, although you can manage your reservations online.
HolidayAutos was founded in London in 1987 and has since passed through many hands. In 2003 it was acquired by lastminute.com, which in turn was taken over by Travelocity two years later. Finally, the holding company that owned this company announced in 2013 its sale to the Irish CarTrawler, the real driving force behind this and many other car booking websites, including the service offered by many airlines (Ryanair, Vueling and a long etcetera).
To tell the truth, it has been the positive surprise of this review. We knew it in passing a long time ago and we have found that it has made a big change, as a result of the annexation to CarTrawler. We love the results page. In the comparisons we have made, it has not been able to beat RentalCars’ prices in general, but it has a wider range of suppliers and some cheaper rates on a one-off basis (cents difference). Other points in favor: free cancellation up to 24h before, 7 days (24h) phone attention in Spanish, no card charges, new app for cell phones and newsletter with offers. On Trustpilot they have 8,047 ratings, with an average score of 8.8.
Although they have a customer service phone number in Spanish, their connection with the Spanish-speaking market seems quite limited (no social networks in our language or other visible contact channels in Spanish). Unlike RentalCars, it does not have a user area where you can enter your data for future reservations or view your history, but each reservation can be managed online independently. It is worth remembering, once again, that HolidayAutos is just one of the many intermediary brands that take advantage of CarTrawler’s technology, which is the one that actually offers the service.
Expedia.com was born in 1996 as the first property of Microsoft, which would end up selling it in 2001. It is now part of the giant Expedia, Inc. a NASDAQ top 100 company that owns other well-known brands in the industry such as Trivago, Venere, Hotels.com, Orbitz and HomeAway.
Honestly, we are not big fans of this type of large online travel agencies that sell you a cruise as well as a hotel, but of those we have analyzed (Rumbo, eDreams, Logitravel, etc.), it is the only one that does not act as a white label of third parties or offers a list of results that is worth considering, either by price or number of suppliers. An additional advantage is the possibility of accumulating points in the Expedia+ program with each booking. Although on Trustpilot there are few reviews and they are quite bad, on a similar website like Feefo it has 6,915 reviews and a 4.1 out of 5.
Beyond the prices and the reliability that is presupposed to a great brand, we do not have much positive to add and quite a few negative aspects, starting by not being a specialist in rental cars. The design, while not unpleasant, is quite boring and the page dedicated to “cars” does not contribute anything, as it is full of links and texts aimed at SEO. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be a special channel for the car rental service, being the contact forms somewhat “diffuse”. There is also no section for cars in the app. Finally, the bad reviews on Trustpilot are worrying.
We had initially left it out of this analysis because it was related to the old “rent-a-car” brand, but the observation of a reader in the comments has made us realize our mistake. Pepecar was born in 2003 within the Globalia group, owner of companies such as AirEuropa or Halcón Viajes, with a differentiation based on low-cost car rental. In 2012, however, it changed its business model and ceased to have its own fleet and became a search engine. It is currently owned by the Ibericar group.
Pepecar.com maintains the fresh and modern style it already had as a rent-a-car, especially since the restyling of its website and blog in 2016. The results page is one of its great successes, with a careful and quite minimalist design, ideal to get an idea of the set of prices (thanks to the table above) and the best results at a glance. As for customer service and contact, they have toll free numbers in Spanish (24h/7) and very active social networks, where they usually communicate with a fun and cheeky style. Other highlights: newsletter, blog, user area, van rental service, free cancellation up to 24h before and no card charges.
As for the search engine, we found only one small drawback: the issue of drop-downs (to end up selecting “Prague airport” you would have to open three lists: country, city and pick-up point, something that is usually solved by typing “prague” in the rest of search engines). In the booking process we find annoying and unnecessary the option to leave a deposit of 6€, although it is appreciated that on the next page there is everything you need to finalize the rental. Regarding rates, in our comparisons they have not improved RentalCars prices and the range of suppliers was somewhat lower. They also don’t have a mobile app and, most worryingly: they have a 3.5 out of 10 rating on Trustpilot (112 reviews to date). However, many of the complaints seem to be related to the providers, the lack of information or a misinterpretation of the terms and conditions.
Clarifications and conclusions
What shocked us the most when analyzing dozens of car rental comparators is how little real choice there is. Almost all the options seem to be white labels or intermediaries of intermediaries.
Many companies use the same search software, such as Car Rental Gateway, used by RentalCars (provider of Rastreator, Atrapalo, eDreams, alquilerdecoches.com…), Carrental8, Car del Mar, Vehicle Rent, Car Hire Labs, Vip Cars, WiseCars, etc., or CarTrawler, used by HolidayCars, EasyCar, Argus Car Hire, Centauro and many others. Of course, although many use the same search engine, the prices may vary significantly from one to another, we suppose due to the different agreements reached with the suppliers, the commissions they apply, etc. And, of course, the customer service offered by each of them also changes, which is a determining factor in the choice of one or the other.