First of all, the cost of renting a car directly from the airport is greater than in town. This is due to all the airport fees and taxes, etc. (We noticed on our receipt a “Premium Location Fee” in excess of GBP 30, simply because the car was rented from London Heathrow). Of course, big cities, like London, may impose some taxes as well. So it’s best to rent from outlying areas and not directly in the city center. However, the convenience of taking a shuttle from the airport to the rental lot is hard to resist. Keep in mind, though, that a bus ride or taxi, although less convenient, may save you quite a lot in the long run. This applies mostly to long rentals, but depending on the extras you might need, it can apply to short rentals as well.
Secondly, booking online saves time in queues as well as money. Discounts are usually offered only if you book online. If you book online, make sure you go ahead and book for the insurance. This may sound unnecessary but it will save a headache later. We found out that if you do not book insurance online and add it later, it costs even more. However, if you find you do not need the insurance, you can drop it when you get to the counter.
If you do not have insurance coverage for UK rental, you are obliged to purchase the insurance. Yet, the insurance you purchase with the rental company is only basic coverage. That means that in the event of damage or loss, you still have a high deductible to meet – somewhere in the region of 500-650 pounds sterling. You can reduce this deductible by paying an extra fee. (This is unlike the US, where buying car rental insurance gives you peace of mind in cases of damage or loss.) You have to prove that you have insurance coverage in order to waive the rental company’s insurance.
To reserve the rental, you must use a credit or debit card. The only credit cards accepted worldwide are Visa and Mastercard (at the time of writing, UK car rental companies do not accept Discover). If you use a credit card, they put a hold for the entire amount on the credit card. This includes the cost of the rental with all its fees as well as the deductible. You may choose a different method of payment when you return the car, if you wish. If you use a debit card, the entire amount is deducted from your account. If there are no claims later, they will return the deductible to your account. This can be very inconvenient if your account is at risk of being drained during the rental period.
It sounds so simple now, but it wasn’t so simple when we first relocated to the UK. We had rented on vacation previously, but things had changed since then. Plus, our situation had changed. The information above is based on our experiences of renting as of the last two months.