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Car Rentals Through Firefly, a New Brand, are Dramatically Cheaper than Others, So What's the Catch?

Firefly, a discount car rental brand, begins arriving at American airports this month. You might think it's a new competitor. As it turns out, everything about it is older than you think.

Hertz created Firefly, a lower-priced offshoot, in Europe last spring, in part to fill the price gap that was left when it sold off the Advantage car rental brand. Now there are 40-odd locations there, including in Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

The first U.S. location will officially open on Sept. 15 in Orlando, although it has already been renting in that city for several months through Hertz. By the end of the year, there will be about 20 U.S. locations, starting with Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco, and West Palm Beach.

In Europe, Firefly often rents older vehicles, many of them having racked up much accumulated mileage, which is a big reason why it can discount deeply. By transferring cars that can no longer command top dollar to the Firefly market, Hertz wrings another year of use out of them.

That's how, in Orlando, prices on a week-long, full-size rental spanning New Year's were recently quoted by Firefly at around $160 when rentals from rival brands were going for double that price. Many times, the savings is more like 1/6th of the non-Firefly price, but you get the drift—Firefly cars cheaper because they're well-used.

You get the standard options that come with a Hertz rental, including add-on insurance, child seats, and so forth, with one exception: Because there are currently so few Firefly locations, one-way rentals are not permitted.

Do you mind driving around in a older car in exchange for lower rates? Most of us are more than fine with that, but adjust your expectations to prepare for what you're renting.