Enterprise takes top spot in rental-car satisfaction

Rosemary McClure

Enterprise gives customers the best bang for their buck, according to a new survey that ranked the company highest in customer satisfaction among rental car companies eight out of the past nine years.

The survey, which was released today, is compiled annually by J.D. Power and Associates and rates customer satisfaction with airport car rentals.

After Enterprise, National came in second on the popularity scale, with Alamo and Hertz following. Avis, Budget, Dollar and Thrifty trailed.

In general, we're happier now with the service and cars we rent at airports, according to the study. In fact, customer satisfaction with rental cars has increased for a third consecutive year, reaching its highest level in seven years, according to the survey, called the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study.

Now in its 17th year, the study measures overall customer satisfaction with renting cars at airport locations by examining six factors (listed in order of importance): costs and fees; pick-up process; return process; rental car; shuttle bus/van; and reservation process.

In a statement, Stuart Greif, vice president of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates, attributed the increase in customer satisfaction to continuing improvements within the industry.

"The rental car industry continues to step up its game," he said. "However, there still are tremendous opportunities to leverage technology to address customer pain points in the rental car experience.

"How much does it cost to provide a genuine warm smile?" added Greif. "A friendly greeting and attitude toward helping customers goes a long way, and it doesn't cost millions of dollars."

When we rent a car, we want to do it quickly, not spend a lot of time waiting in line. The study showed that, on average, we spend slightly less than 10 minutes each waiting on the shuttle bus or van; in transit to the rental car facility; and returning the vehicle and being transported back to the airport. The pick-up process takes longer to complete, an average of nearly 17 minutes.

"Rental car companies must continue to balance the need to serve their customers more quickly with the need to improve service," said Ramez Faza, senior manager of the Travel Practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "There are benefits to reducing wait times, as customer satisfaction tends to decrease after 5 minutes at any given stage of the process."

Most leisure travelers (41 percent) said they select a rental car based on price,  while 13 percent base their selection on past experience with the brand and 9 percent base their selection on special promotions or discounts.

Among business customers, 24 percent selected their rental car company based on price, while 16 percent based their selection on past experience, 13 percent based on their company's travel policy and 12 percent on membership or rewards programs.

Enterprise, a perennial winner with customers, received a score of 804 on a 1,000-point scale, performing particularly well across all factors. National follows in the rankings with 788, performing particularly well in the return process factor. Alamo ranks third with 773 and performs particularly well in the shuttle bus/van factor. The three highest-ranked brands—Enterprise, National and Alamo—are all managed by Enterprise Holdings.

The following tips may be helpful when renting a car:
•    Know your insurance coverage. Your own auto insurance policy or credit cards may include personal liability coverage. Prior to renting, review your policy.
•    Compare prices for town vs. airport pick-up locations. In some markets, you'll save money by taking a bus from the airport to your hotel and renting your car there, as long as the additional time is not an inconvenience.
•    Consider joining a rental car company's loyalty/membership program, which offers benefits such as free airline miles, discount pricing and the potential to bypass the check-in counter when you make your reservation in advance.
•    Consider renting a hybrid model when taking long-distance trips. If you are renting a car for several days and will be refilling the tank once or twice, a hybrid vehicle may save on fuel costs.
•    If you're planning to use a mobile phone while in the vehicle, check ahead of vehicle pick up whether hands-free pairing or Bluetooth is available in the vehicle. If not, pack your own Bluetooth or other headset for your trip, as many states have laws that do not allow using your hands to operate the phone while driving.