In this age of oligopolies, it can be difficult for the average traveler to catch a break. That’s particularly true in the rental car sphere. As I write this, three major car rental groups—Avis/Budget, Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty, and Enterprise/Alamo/National—control 85% of the market, which has meant less competition with each merger.
Enter a scrappy little company called AutoSlash. In 2010, it started using its customized search capabilities to help travelers. When a would-be renter came to its site and input an itinerary, it did a lightning-fast sweep of the internet and returned a price with every available coupon and discount code applied—the ones from emails to loyalty members, those given to members of special groups (like AAA, Costco or AARP), you name it. In a matter of seconds, AutoSlash clients were seeing radically lower rental car rates. In addition, AutoSlash would track each reservation, automatically rebooking if the cost of the rental dropped (which happens a lot).
And then one day about two years ago, AutoSlash simply stopped working. When you input a search for a rate, nothing came back.
"It’s no secret that the car rental companies are not fans of our business model," Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of AutoSlash, told me. "In the past, when you’d see immediate discounts come up, the rental car companies’ partners were being undercut and they didn’t like that." Translation: The car rental companies stopped accepting reservations from AutoSlash.
So AutoSlash added a conciliatory element: time. "We had to do some regrouping to make our company sustainable,” says Weinberg. “So now, when we get a reservation, we take it offline to analyze it. The advantage is we can do deep research on the rental."
And the advantage for the rental car companies is that the new process is more time-consuming. Today, instead of returning instant results on its website—results that consumers could easily compare with those being shown by Expedia, Priceline, other online travel agencies and the car rental sites themselves—AutoSlash takes the data customers enter and then emails them a list of car rental price quotes.
The wait can take up to half an hour, but the results are worth it, as I can personally attest. Several weeks ago, after searching online, I booked a one-way, 7-day car rental with Avis on the South Island of New Zealand. The cost: $595.29. Yesterday, I realized that I’d need the car for an additional day, so I did a search on AutoSlash and came up with an equivalent Hertz car for $434—a savings of $161….on a rental that was a day longer. I ditched my car rental on the New Zealand’s North Island for another significantly cheaper AutoSlash researched rental (more money for bungee jumping!). If my new prices drop, AutoSlash will automatically rebook me at the lower rate, with no additional effort on my part.
It’s rare to see a travel company virtually disappear and then come back to life. This is one phoenix that we’re thrilled to see emerging from the ashes.
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