Added Car-Rental Fee

Taylor, an authority on the travel industry, lives in Los Angeles.

Don't be surprised to find another proviso in the fine print in car- rental ads stating that the price listed doesn't include airport access/concession charges.

While the advertised price also excludes such options as collision damage waivers and personal accident coverage, payment of an airport access/concession charge is mandatory.

The reason for this development is greater competition between on-airport and off-airport car-rental companies, centering around an ongoing dispute about such fees.

Some airports have begun charging off-airport, car-rental firms the same or similar amounts--based on gross receipts--for access that on-airport firms pay on a concession basis for their locations. Other airports may do the same.

The off-airport companies, up in arms over what they consider unfair taxation, have successfully lobbied Congress for a law regulating such airport-imposed taxes to prevent what they term discriminatory fees.

On-airport companies generally have a better chance of attracting passengers.

However, a Hertz spokesman indicated that the situation at airports has changed.

"The economics of airports is different today. We were supposed to have exclusive access, but there is no exclusivity when off-airport companies can pick up passengers. Moreover, with the growth of some airports, we've been moved at some places to less advantageous positions on the outskirts."

No Guarantees

Alamo Rent A Car, which operates many off-airport locations, argues otherwise. "Airports never guaranteed exclusivity to on-airport car-rental locations," says an Alamo spokeswoman.

Says an LAX spokeswoman: "We have space for five car-rental companies, and this area is exclusive and competitively bid. But there is no prohibition as far as access to the airport by off-airport car-rental companies."

One bill dealing with such airport fees has already been introduced in the Senate.

Meanwhile, some off-airport firms are passing along these higher access charges to consumers.

In response, Hertz has announced it will remove the airport concession fee from its advertised rates as of Jan. 1 and list this amount as a separate charge to customers. Hertz says it wants to remain competitive with off-airport firms that were not including access charges in rates they advertised.

Avis is also following the same procedure for non-business travelers, according to an Avis spokesman.

Holdouts

Not all car-rental companies are as yet following the lead of Hertz and Avis.

"We don't want to see this type of charge happen because it confuses consumers," says a Budget spokeswoman. "Many people don't read the fine print. But if we have to do it to be competitive, we will."

A similar wait-and-see viewpoint was expressed by Dollar Rent A Car.

"Consumers aren't being charged anything extra since these airport charges were always structured into the rates," a Hertz spokesman says.

The Hertz spokesman added that this separate airport fee, which varies from 7.9% to 12.5%, only applies to the basic rate and excess mileage charges, not to any optional charges.

"Renters can also call our toll-free number to find out what this amount would be at any airport."

There is concern that other off-airport vendors--hotels providing courtesy vehicle transfers, limousine operators, park and fly companies, etc.--might also be hit by airport access charges comparable to what on-airport outfits pay. Such fees could wind up being passed along to consumers.

The entire issue of car-rental advertising is being examined by the NationalAssn. of Attorneys General, according to the Hertz spokesman. The NAAG has justissued a set of guidelines governing airline advertising that goes into effectJan.l5. One of the key issues to be addressed is what goes into the basic price andcharges can be stated elsewhere in the ad, and in what size type.

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