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J.D. Power survey says we’re happier with rental car companies, especially National

November 5, 2013

We’re happier than ever when we hit the road in a rental car, according to a new survey measuring customer satisfaction with the rental car industry.

And we’re especially happy with National Car Rental, which swept to the top of the popularity chart for the first time this year, reported the survey by marketing research giant J.D. Power and Associates.

National, which allows many customers to choose their own car in the rental lot, soared in customer satisfaction ratings, showing marked improvement across the board.

National Car Rental had the highest scores. (Photo: Atomic Taco / Flickr)
National Car Rental had the highest scores. (Photo: Atomic Taco / Flickr)

The 2013 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study survey, released today, found that customer satisfaction with rental cars increased for the fourth consecutive year. “Companies are raising the bar to stay competitive,” says J.D. Power’s Rick Garlick. “Consumers are the winners.”

That doesn't mean we're happy about the industry’s spiraling costs and long waits at the counter (it takes an average of 17 minutes these days to rent a car once you reach the counter). But a smile from an employee can help erase some of our dissatisfaction, according to the 18th annual study.

Smiles aside, the survey found that scoring a good deal on a rental doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to be happy; in fact, overall satisfaction is lowest among people who rented based on low price.

“Lowest price is often associated with a negative experience. Customers often feel like they got what they paid for, and it wasn’t a positive experience,” says Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power.

Overall, the survey found that there isn’t much difference in median price between the major car rental companies: Avis and Hertz, for instance, charge an average of $50 per day and National is $48. But National’s satisfaction level is much higher.

Other median rates: Budget, $45; Enterprise, $42; Dollar, $40; Alamo, $38; and Thrifty, $37. The industry average is $45.

And here’s how those same companies scored in the popularity poll, from the top down: National, Enterprise, Alamo, Hertz, Avis, Budget, Thrifty and Dollar.

Interestingly, the top three brands—National, Enterprise and Alamo—are all owned by the same corporate parent, Enterprise Holdings Inc. Based in St. Louis, the company is privately held, which may give it an advantage in terms of making customer-friendly decisions rather than decisions based on quarterly profits.

The study, which took place between September 2012 and August 2013, measures overall customer satisfaction with rental cars at airport locations by examining six factors: cost and fees, pickup process, return process, rental car, shuttle bus/van and the reservation process. Responses were gathered from more than 12,382 evaluations by customers who rented a vehicle at an airport location.

Based on a 1,000-point scale, overall customer satisfaction with their rental car experience averaged 775 in 2013, a six-point increase from 2012 and the highest satisfaction score since the study’s current methodology was adopted in 2006.