Q. We need to rent a people-carrier for a holiday in Switzerland. I have found a company called Honk Car Rental which promises "We're like those mystery deals you sometimes get for hotels, but instead for car rental". Being very cautious, I follow the maxim, that anything that appears too good to be true, probably is. So before paying for a car, do you know anything about them?
A. You could book a car in Switzerland with a company based in New Zealand, but it's difficult to see why you would. Presumably you found Honk Car Rental through a price-comparison website. Here is how the business model appears to work; draw your own conclusions about whether you want to get involved.
Honk Car Rental owns no cars. It is a broker, whose parent company is located in Commerce Street, Auckland. We tested it out by asking for a quote on a five-day rental in "Edinburgh City" this week. Honk quoted £150 for a Fiesta or similar. Not bad. But the car is not actually available for pick up in the city centre; it is supplied by the Arnold Clark depot in Seafield, three miles away. You pay a "deposit" of £21, which appears to me to be the company's commission; you pay the remainder to Arnold Clark when you pick up the car.
Yet if you book direct with Arnold Clark you pay a flat £135 - 10 per cent less than Honk wants. So Honk's boast "You'll pay less than your friend who books a car with someone else" looks hollow.
So where does this leave your trip? Well, we looked for prices for a week's hire of a Ford Galaxy or Renault Espace seven-seater at Zurich airport in June. Through a price-comparison website. The quote was £767, of which the "pay now" element - which often turns out to be the broker's commission - was £200.
Same dates, same vehicle through Avis, was quoted at £838. But Hertz and Holiday Autos both came in at £472, a rate so low that it is difficult to see why you would look elsewhere. All other things being equal, because usually the fewer layers involved in a travel transaction, the better.
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