Don't believe the base rate. That should become a mantra among consumers, as special fees, taxes, and other tacked-on charges pad car-rental bills to unrecognizable levels. The industry is hurting—ANC Rental, parent of Alamo and National, is in Chapter 11, as was Budget before it was acquired last year by Cendant, which also owns Avis—so companies are looking for revenue wherever they can find it.
A Travel + Leisure staffer discovered this the hard way when he booked a car at Milwaukee's airport over the Christmas holiday. Though the $29.98 daily rate he was quoted was attractive, the three-day rental with extras ended up costing $267.33—more than his airfare from New York and nearly three times the basic rate.
The rental companies aren't the only culprits: in recent years, many state and local governments have added or boosted their own surcharges. One study found that since 1995, such fees have gone up in three out of four major world cities.
Besides the various taxes and fees indicated above—which vary by state—rental companies usually charge more for using a second driver; dropping the car off at an alternate location; keeping the vehicle for longer than you booked it; being under age 25; accruing frequent-flier miles for the rental; and requesting additional equipment, such as a child safety seat or ski rack.
Whether you reserve a car on a Web site or by phone, be sure the price you're quoted contains all the mandatory and optional add-ons so your rental doesn't end up busting your budget.