The List of Budget Car Rental Hidden Fees and How to avoid

The List of Budget Car Rental Hidden Fees and How to avoid

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You rent a car. You think you know the price. But when it’s time to pay, there are some extra charges. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. In this article, we’ll look at those sneaky fees and make them easy to understand. So, next time, you and your wallet won’t be caught off guard.”

14 Budget Car Rental Hidden Fees to Keep an Eye on

When you see an enticing car rental deal, it’s natural to jump on it, thinking you’ve snagged a bargain. You know the feeling, right? You’re scanning the internet, and there it is: the perfect car at a price that seems too good to be true. And often, it is.

But why? Well, the devil, as they say, is in the details.

Let’s get into our list…

1. Environmental Fees and Location Surcharge

Estimated Cost: These fees can range from $1 to $5 per day for environmental fees, and location surcharges can vary widely from 5% to 20% of the total rental cost, depending on the location.

This is one of those fees that often raises eyebrows. “Environmental fees?” you might wonder.

Yes, some rental car companies include this to cover the costs of hazardous waste disposal, like oil and tires, and other environmental initiatives they might undertake. Budget is not na exception here.

It’s their way of passing on some of their operational costs to the consumer.

On the other hand, the “Location Surcharge” is another sneaky add-on.

What the premium location surcharge looks like on an avis bill

Depending on where you’re renting—maybe a downtown location in a bustling city or a popular tourist spot—there can be additional costs associated with maintaining that specific rental location.

While it’s logical for businesses to have varying costs, as a consumer, it’s always good to be aware and factor these in when budgeting for your rental.

How to Avoid:

  • Research Different Locations: If you’re not in a rush, compare the costs between renting from a high-demand location (like an airport or city center) versus a less busy location.
  • Opt for a Green Vehicle: Some companies might waive environmental fees if you choose a hybrid or electric vehicle.

2. Frequent Traveler Surcharge:

Estimated Cost: This can be anywhere from 50 cents to $2 per day, or sometimes a percentage of your total bill.

For those who travel often and use reward programs to earn points or miles, here’s a catch you might not have seen coming.

When you decide to collect those frequent flyer miles or reward points through your car rental, some companies may charge an additional fee.

What the Budget Frequent Travel Program Fee looks like in a snapshot

They call it the “Frequent Traveler Surcharge.” It’s a small price added to your bill, often as a percentage of the total cost. The reasoning?

The rental car companies usually have agreements with airlines or other partners, and there are costs associated with transferring those points or miles. While these rewards can be a sweet deal, always check if there’s a surcharge attached.

How to Avoid:

  • Weigh the Benefits: Consider if the rewards points or miles are worth the surcharge. Sometimes, it might be cheaper to not claim those points.
  • Direct Deals: Occasionally, airlines or credit card companies have special deals with car rental companies where the surcharge is waived. Always check any partnerships or deals available through your frequent traveler program.

3. Vehicle License Recovery Fee:

Estimated Cost: This can vary but is often in the range of $1 to $5 per day.

Ever come across this fee on your bill and thought, “Aren’t they supposed to handle the vehicle’s licensing?” Well, yes, they do.

But here’s the thing: the “Vehicle License Recovery Fee” is the company’s way of recovering the cost they pay to license their vehicles, a cost that’s spread out across all renters.

It’s essentially a pass-through fee where the cost of the car’s registration and licensing is divided and charged to the consumers. It’s an operational cost, much like the others.

While it’s a standard fee for many companies, it’s always good to know what you’re paying for, especially when it seems like something the company should inherently cover.

How to Avoid:

  1. Bundle Deals: Sometimes, if you’re renting a car as part of a package deal (like with a flight and hotel), this fee can be waived or reduced.
  2. Negotiate: While this is a standard fee, if you’re renting for a more extended period, there might be room to negotiate. It never hurts to ask.
  3. Off-brand Rentals: While reputable brands like Budget offer reliability, sometimes local or lesser-known car rentals might not have this fee. Always ensure, however, that these off-brands meet safety and service standards.

4. Young Driver Fees

Estimation Cost: This fee can range anywhere from $20 to $30 per day, depending on the location and the age of the driver.

Renting a car when you’re young can come with its own set of challenges, one of which is the “Young Driver Fee.” If you’re under a certain age – usually 25, though it varies by location – you might find this additional fee added to your bill.

Why? Statistically, younger drivers are considered to be at a higher risk for accidents.

As a result, car rental companies like Budget often impose this fee as a way to offset the potential risk of renting to younger clientele.

This doesn’t necessarily mean young drivers are less skilled, but the fee is based on broader insurance statistics and general risk assessment. For a young traveler, this can be a significant addition to the rental cost, especially if renting for an extended period.

How to Avoid:

  1. Age Flexibility: If you’re traveling with a group, consider letting an older member (over the age threshold) handle the rental agreement.
  2. Check Membership Discounts: Some memberships like USAA or AAA offer discounts or even waivers for young driver fees. If you’re a member, it’s worth checking.
  3. Shop Around: While Budget has this fee, other rental companies might offer lower young driver fees or special promotions. Always compare before booking.

5. Cleaning Fees

Estimation Cost: Cleaning fees can vary widely based on the severity of the mess, ranging from $50 for a basic cleanup to $250 or more for significant spills, stains, or smoke removal.

Returning a rental car in a significantly dirtier condition than when you received it can result in a “Cleaning Fee.”

Rental companies expect normal wear and tear, but if there’s excessive dirt, trash, or even more severe issues like smoke odor or stains, companies like Budget may decide to charge an extra fee.

The idea is simple: the car should be ready for the next customer without the company having to spend a lot on deep cleaning.

Some instances that might trigger this fee include spilled food or drinks, evidence of smoking, or transporting pets without protection.

It’s should be an understandable charge from a business perspective, but for renters, it can be an unwelcome surprise at the end of a trip.

But the worst? It can be unpredictable.

How to Avoid:

  1. No Smoking: The easiest way to avoid a fee related to smoke odor is simply not to smoke in the vehicle.
  2. Be Cautious with Food and Drinks: Avoid consuming items that can spill or stain in the car. If you do eat or drink, be extra cautious.
  3. Pet Precautions: If you’re transporting pets, use seat covers or carriers to ensure pet hair or any damage is minimized.

6. Tolls

Estimation Cost: The cost of the toll itself plus an administrative fee, which can be anywhere from $2.50 to $10 per toll event.

If you’ve driven on highways, especially around urban areas, you’ve likely encountered toll booths.

While these charges are normal for any driver, what many renters don’t realize is that if you go through electronic tolls without paying in a rental car, the charge doesn’t just disappear.

Instead, the toll authority will bill the rental company, like Budget, who will then pass that charge on to you.

But here’s the kicker: in addition to the toll fee, the rental company might add an administrative or processing fee. This is for the hassle of managing the unpaid toll.

While this might seem like a small detail, if you’re driving through areas with multiple tolls, these charges can add up quickly.

How to Avoid:

  1. Pay Tolls Promptly: If you go through a cash toll, always pay on the spot. For electronic tolls, some areas allow you to pay online within a certain timeframe.
  2. Use a Toll Pass: If you’re traveling in areas with many tolls, consider using your personal electronic toll pass or inquire if Budget offers a toll pass program for renters.
  3. Plan Your Route: Use navigation apps or GPS devices to identify and potentially avoid toll routes.

7. Mileage Fees

Estimation Cost: The fees can vary, but a common charge might be anywhere from $0.10 to $0.50 per mile over the allowed limit.

When renting a car, most people might assume they can drive unlimited miles without any added cost. However, this isn’t always the case.

Some rental agreements come with a mileage cap, meaning there’s a limit to how many miles you can drive without incurring an extra charge. Exceeding this limit can result in the “Mileage Fees.” The logic behind this is wear and tear – the more miles put on a vehicle, the faster it depreciates. For Budget car rentals and other companies, it’s a way to manage the lifespan and maintenance of their fleet.

While many rentals, especially those for business trips or short vacations, offer unlimited miles, it’s essential to check the fine print when planning an extended road trip.

How to Avoid:

Unlimited mileage offer on Budget Car Rental
  1. Unlimited Mileage Plans: When booking, specifically look for deals or cars that come with unlimited mileage. This will give you peace of mind on longer journeys. You can check this using this link.
  2. Calculate Your Journey: If you have a rough idea of the distance you’ll be traveling, choose a plan that aligns with your needs to avoid going over the set limit.
  3. Check Different Locations: Sometimes non-airport locations might offer better mileage deals than airport-based offices.

8. Airport Surcharge or Concession Recovery Fee

Estimation Cost: This can range from 10% to 20% of your total rental cost, depending on the airport.

Ever noticed that renting directly from an airport location might cost a bit more? Welcome to the world of “Airport Surcharges” or “Concession Recovery Fees.”

A snapshot of the amount of concession recovery fee in a certain bill

Airports charge rental car companies for the privilege of operating within their premises. These costs, often in the form of leases or concession agreements, are then passed on to the consumer.

So, while the convenience of stepping off a plane and straight into your rental car is undeniable, it comes at a price. This fee is a way for rental companies like Budget to recoup some of the costs associated with maintaining an airport-based rental office.

How to Avoid:

  1. Off-Airport Locations: Instead of renting directly at the airport, consider getting a shuttle to a nearby off-airport Budget location. The slight inconvenience might result in considerable savings.
  2. Compare Prices: Sometimes the convenience of an airport location might be worth the extra cost, especially for short trips. But for extended rentals, the difference can add up, so always compare prices.
  3. Transparent Communication: Always ask the rental agent about any airport-related surcharges when making your reservation.

9. Fuel Charges

Estimation Cost: This varies depending on gas prices but expect to pay a premium, potentially $5 to $10 more per gallon/liter than the current market rate.

This fee revolves around one of the most basic necessities for a car: fuel. Most car rental companies, including Budget, provide you with a full tank when you start your journey and expect you to return it in the same state. If you return the car with less than a full tank, you might get slapped with “Fuel Charges.”

Instead of just paying for the cost of gasoline, you’re often charged a premium rate for every gallon or liter the company has to replace. The convenience of not having to refuel right before returning the car is attractive, but it might come at a considerably higher price than simply refueling at a nearby gas station.

How to Avoid:

  1. Refuel Before Returning: It’s often cheaper to fill up the tank yourself before returning the car. Find a nearby gas station to the drop-off location and refuel.
  2. Check Gas Station Rates: Some rental locations might be surrounded by pricier gas stations. A quick search on a map can help you find cheaper fuel a bit further away, still saving you more than the fuel charge.
  3. Fuel Purchase Option: Some companies, including Budget, offer a pre-purchase fuel option, where you buy a full tank at a somewhat reduced rate when you pick up the car. If you anticipate using almost a full tank, this might be cost-effective, but you won’t be refunded for any unused fuel.

10. Energy Recovery Fee

Estimation Cost: Usually a flat daily fee, it might range from $0.50 to $1.50 per day, although the exact amount can vary depending on the region and the specifics of the rental agreement.

The “Energy Recovery Fee” is a charge that might appear small on your bill, but it’s a fee that many renters aren’t aware of until they see the final invoice.

Another Snapshot of the energy recovery fee (ERF) from a particular bill

It’s meant to help car rental companies like Budget offset the costs associated with various energy-related expenses, whether it’s the energy required to run the company’s facilities or the price fluctuations of fuel.

It’s essentially a way for the rental company to mitigate some of the unpredictable expenses tied to energy costs.

While this might sound like a broad umbrella of potential costs, and it is, the idea is to spread out these costs among all renters rather than raising base rental prices.

How to Avoid:

  1. Inquire in Advance: Before confirming the rental, ask the company if this fee is applicable and if there are any promotions or membership discounts that might waive it.
  2. Alternative Rental Options: Some car rental companies or specific promotions might not include this fee. It’s always a good idea to shop around and compare.

11. Damage or Loss Fee

Estimation Cost: The cost can vary greatly depending on the extent of the damage. Minor scratches might cost a couple of hundred dollars, while significant damages or total loss of the vehicle could be in the thousands.

Nobody anticipates damaging a rental car, but accidents do happen. If a car is returned to Budget with damage that wasn’t there when you rented it, or if the car is lost due to theft and you’re found to be at fault, the “Damage or Loss Fee” kicks in.

This isn’t just the cost of repairs or replacement. It can also include “loss of use” charges, representing the income the company lost while the car was being repaired and not available for rental.

This fee serves as a way for rental companies to recoup the financial setbacks associated with repairing or replacing a damaged or lost vehicle.

How to Avoid:

  1. Purchase Rental Insurance: Either through Budget or a third party, insurance can help cover potential damage costs. Some credit cards also offer rental car coverage, so check with your provider.
  2. Document the Vehicle’s Condition: Before driving away, thoroughly inspect the vehicle and take photos of any pre-existing damage. Ensure the rental agent acknowledges these to avoid being blamed upon return.
  3. Drive Safely: This might sound obvious, but always adhere to traffic rules, park in safe areas, and be cautious in unfamiliar territories.

12. External and Internal Fee

Estimation Cost: Since this is a mixed bag of various costs, the fee can range from a few dollars to higher amounts, depending on the specifics of the rental and the region.

This is a slightly more ambiguous charge, and the terminology might not be immediately clear to everyone.

The “External and Internal Fee” relates to third-party costs that Budget incurs, which are then passed onto the customer.

“External” might refer to regulatory fees or taxes imposed by local or national governments, while “Internal” might involve administrative costs or internal services that the company has chosen to outsource.

An example of this fee comes when for instance, you’re by busted by the police for breaking traffic law. As long as Budget has to intervene, you’ll get charged this fee alongside a possible administration fee.

Essentially, it’s a catch-all category for various expenses that don’t fit neatly into other fee designations.

How to Avoid:

  1. Ask for a Breakdown: When reserving the car, request a breakdown of all fees. This allows you to understand what you’re being charged for and decide if the costs are reasonable.
  2. Negotiate: If certain fees seem arbitrary, you can always try to negotiate with the rental agency. It might not always work, but it’s worth a shot.
  3. Comparative Shopping: Different rental agencies have different fee structures. By comparing the total costs (and not just the base rental rate), you might find a more favorable deal elsewhere.

13. Administration fee

When you rent a car from companies like Budget, you’re not just paying for the vehicle. Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of administrative work taking place.

From processing paperwork to handling various transactions and ensuring compliance with different regulatory requirements, these tasks require time and resources.

But that’s not actually what the administrative fee is all about in detail.

Basically, the admin fee (administration fee) is a fee assigned to a customers invoice whenever Budget has to be involved in a mess by the renter. This includes things like parking ticket, tolls, roadside assistance, and just everything that’ll need Budget unplanned effort.

14. Customer Facility Charge

Estimation Cost: The CFC can vary based on the rental location and the infrastructure’s size and sophistication. Typically, it ranges from $1 to $5 per day, but at some major airports, it can be higher.

When you rent a car, especially at airports, you might notice a “Customer Facility Charge” (CFC) on your bill.

A snapshot of a customer facility charge for a bill at Avis car rental

This fee isn’t directly associated with the car itself but rather the facilities you use when picking up or dropping off your rental.

Airports and other large transit hubs have dedicated areas for rental car agencies. These zones, equipped with parking lots, service counters, and sometimes shuttle services, require maintenance, development, and operational expenses.

The CFC is essentially your share of the cost to maintain and improve these customer service facilities. While these charges support amenities that enhance the customer experience, many renters are unaware of them until they finalize their transaction.

How to Avoid:

  1. Off-Airport Rentals: Often, rental locations away from major transit hubs or airports might not have a CFC or might have a lower one. Consider renting from these spots if convenient.
  2. Transparent Communication: Before confirming your booking, ask about any facility charges. Knowing about them upfront can help you budget accordingly.
  3. Check Online Platforms: Sometimes, booking through third-party online platforms might provide a detailed breakdown of fees, including the CFC. This can help you compare and choose a deal without hidden surprises.
  4. Bundle Deals: In some cases, travel packages that bundle flights, hotels, and car rentals might have negotiated terms that reduce or eliminate such fees.


Renting a car shouldn’t be a game of hide and seek with fees. But unfortunately, many times, it is. The key takeaway? Always dig a little deeper. Ask questions when you’re unsure, and read the fine print. That way, you won’t just hope for a hassle-free experience; you’ll ensure it.

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