Prices and wait times up, rental car satisfaction down, study shows

Prices and wait times up, rental car satisfaction down, study shows
Product recalls have taken many cars out of service, increasing wait times and prices. (James A. Finley / Associated Press)

You're not happier with your rental car experience, but you're not significantly unhappier either.

That is one of the findings of a new study that shows that after years of steady increases, rental car customer satisfaction has hit a plateau.

Customer happiness declined by a point from 2013, according to J.D. Power's 2014 North American Rental Carl Satisfaction study, released early Tuesday (today).


On a 1,000-point scale, overall satisfaction ranked 774 for 2014.

That may be a bit of a relief in an industry hampered by inventory and operational issues.

Inventory was tighter, said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, based in Westlake Village, partly because of the number of product recalls that took cars out of service. As a result, car rental rates increased an average of $5 a day.

Recalls that reduced inventory also affected wait times, he said, which is also key to customer satisfaction. This survey showed that customers spent 43.4 minutes getting and retrieving their car (which includes pickup, return and shuttle ride). That's an increase from 40.8 minutes from the 2013 survey.

Of the six factors evaluated in satisfaction, costs and fees ranked as most important, followed by pickup process (No. 2), return process (No. 3) and the shuttle bus (No. 5). The rental car itself ranked fourth, and the reservation process was No. 6 in importance in the evaluation.

At the top of the customer satisfaction class: Enterprise and National ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at 805 and 797 on the 1,000-point scale.

At the bottom: Thrifty and Dollar scored 734 and 725, respectively.

But don't automatically assume that the bottom two are of lesser quality.

Instead, it could be the kind of customer those companies attract — a customer that is traditionally more difficult to please.

Customers who are price-driven are less satisfied, the study shows — by 34 points on average.

That's often the case no matter what the product, Garlick said. "We find people who are driven by price as a primary factor are always among the least satisfied in every industry," he said. "With hotels it's the same thing."

Surprisingly, the group thought to be part of what might be termed the "fussy" generation — the millennials (which Power identifies as those born between 1977 and 1994) was more satisfied than other "generational" customer groups.

Garlick thinks it could be the respect (or lack thereof) accorded to these younger travelers that contributes to their perception as more critical.

"The fussiness, the petulance, whatever you want to call it, is simply a myth," he said.

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