The part of your corporate travel policy which deals with refilling the gas tank of a rental car can have a big impact on your travel spend, especially if you have a large number of travelers who like to rent cars. The fact that gas is overly expensive at the moment just adds fuel to the financial fire.
The movement of ride hire companies like Uber and Lyft into the business travel market had taken a lot of volume away from traditional rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise. But the pandemic changed all that as travelers avoided the extra human contact with Uber drivers, and a movement back toward car rental took place, helped by the addition of contact-less pick-up and drop-off by most vendors.
Of course, then the car shortage sent prices through the roof and made availability an issue. (See our blog post “The Car Rental Merry-Go-Round” for more on how these suppliers are reacting to the crisis.)
Going back to the topic of refilling the tank, the subject is actually more complicated than you might think. The reason is every rental car company has different fuel options, choices may vary between airport and non-airport locations, not all options are available at all locations and refueling fees may be negotiated in your corporate agreement.
Having said all that, one factor is usually true…if the traveler refuels the car it’s almost always cheaper than having the supplier charge your company to refuel the car.
The big car rental companies all have multiple options available, which can be confusing, leading to costly mistakes. Multiply that by, say 100 travelers, doing the same thing at a company in one month and you can see why having a clear policy is so important.
The main types of refueling options are:
Full to Full
You pick the car up with a full tank of gas, and you’re expected to return it that way. If you don’t, the vendor will refill it, charging you market rates (or higher) for the gas, plus a refueling fee. The majority of car rentals go out this way (it’s generally the default choice) and the most lost revenue comes from travelers bringing back empty cars rented this way. Conversely, a conscientious traveler, who refills the vehicle, at a station near the return site, can make this option the most economical. Travelers who plan on using this option should map out gas stations in the area and be sure to leave time to stop and get gas on the day of return.
You pay in advance for a tank of gas when you pick up the car. You can return it empty if you like, but the value of any gas left in the tank is lost. This option works if you’re going to be doing a lot of driving, or if your return time is after the rental counter is closed. But if you’re only driving a bit, you’ll lose money because you paid for the full tank and any remainder is a gift to the rental company.
Pre-Purchase (with refund)
A slight variation on the above plan where you pick up a car with a full tank of gas, pay for it at the beginning of your rental, and then get a refund to your account for any gas left in the car a couple of weeks after your trip. (Not offered at all suppliers.)
The Vendor Refills the Tank
This category covers any other fuel plans like Hertz’s Express Fuel or Budget’s EZ-Fuel. These options apply a set fee when you drive over 75 miles and you return the car less than full. Most complaints are coming from customers returning a car with the fuel gauge sitting on full, but they’ve been billed the fee because the car wasn’t actually completely full. (Many suppliers have a system that lets them know the actual amount of gas in the car.) You can usually get the charge dropped by providing a receipt that shows you filled the car at a station near the drop off location.
As with most travel supplier issues, a bad charge requires resolution after the fact. Car rental companies charge a deposit so they have pre-authorized access to your card for an amount over the base cost of your rental. This is why it’s so important to keep any gas receipts you get at the gas station if you need to request a refund.
A good travel policy will address the refueling option (along with the insurance issue) taking into account your company’s corporate contract(s) with preferred car rental partners. With gas prices headed for the stratosphere, this part of your travel policy can’t be ignored!