Husband and I resorted to a rental car after our flight from upper Michigan got delayed at least 5 times for a total of 9 hours. We decided to get a car to make it to our connecting flight in Chicago–with no hindrances, should amount to about 6 hours of driving. Lots of people were apparently thinking the same thing: when my father-in-law took us to the Enterprise rental in town, we were told that all cars were already reserved, so he advised us to try the airport.
We thankfully were able to get something there–to make sure of it, I reserved online while my father-in-law drove us. I wanted an economy sedan since it was cheapest and tends to have better fuel efficiency; and even though it was the day after Christmas, the roads were well-plowed of snow, so we didn’t need something heavy-duty for that. Unfortunately, the only clean vehicle at the airport was a small pick-up truck, which the customer service rep spun as a “free upgrade.” Sure, normally we would have to pay more for it upfront, but the gas… Oh well.
I was glad, though, to see that it was indeed very clean and appeared to be almost new. (In Oahu, I resorted to the cheapest car rental there and the car we received was a bit beat up!)
The drive itself was mostly hindrance-free; we just worried a bit about getting there in time. We had almost made it to the home stretch of the airport when we ran into 3 tolls: one that was $2.80 with a human, one that was $3.20 (for pickup truck) with a self service booth for cash or credit (though quarters seemed to be too big for the coin slot… So we paid an extra 80 cents with a $1 bill), and one that was $1.50 for coins only, no human. I thought it was weird that the human gave us almost $3.00 in change from my $10 bill and was even prepared to tell him to keep the change. Thank goodness he did his thing and I did not do mine! We would’ve been screwed at the coin basket toll booth.
Well, not screwed. After that incident, I looked up what other people have done in that situation without having the Fortune of enough coins. It turns out that if you note the toll plaza, booth, time/date, and your license plate number, you can pay the fee online or via a given phone number (if you happen to see one at the coin basket). But you should do so within a 7-day grace period. For some areas, including Illinois, that grace period is true and no other fees are added. For other areas, an arbitrary administrative fee is tacked on.
In summary, here are my tips for using a rental in a hurry:
Reserve in advance
I naively assumed that since we were coming from a small town in the UP, we would not have trouble getting a car in town without an advanced reservation. But if your small town only has a few flights departing and they get delayed or canceled, you won’t be the only one thinking like you.
Prepare for tolls
If you are renting a car in the U.S. and have EZPass, check if the area you’re driving through accepts it. Even if you’re not planning before your trip to rent (like us), it may be worth carrying the small transponder just in case. Otherwise, check the roads you will use for tolls and prepare accordingly with lots of small bills and coins. Yeah, we are entering 2020 in just a few days, but it turns out coins-only baskets are still a thing.
Be wary of traffic and inclement weather
This is the risk we took in trying to catch a connecting flight over 300 miles away, and we were thankfully incredibly fortunate, with about 10 minutes to spare when we factored in time to refuel on gas on the way there, time to fill the tank to full just before dropping the car off, time to turn in the car, and time to catch the car rental shuttle to go to the airport. Had we not had TSA Pre check, we would’ve also needed to factor in time to go through security.
What we did was a bit reckless and we were incredibly lucky to not run into any real trouble–we almost got in one accident and had trouble with the self service toll booth, but otherwise experienced no traffic at all. We lost about 15-20 minutes with having to drive to a second Enterprise agency, but the 5-minute congestion delay we were supposed to experience in Milwaukee had cleared by the time we got there.
Was it the right move in the end? It turns out our original 8:28 a.m. ET flight actually left at 5:28 p.m.–I thought it would continue to delay until it got cancelled, which is what happened to the poor folks who wanted to fly out the day before (Christmas). But by 2 p.m. ET when we left with our rental car, shrug. It is easy to say we made a mistake because of this