Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Cheapest way to hire a car in Texas?

Every day our travel guru answers your travel questions

Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Q In February 2013, I am flying to Houston. I have already bought my return flight ticket online. What is the most cost-effective way for a UK passport holder to hire a car in Texas for 10 days: to buy here, or there on arrival?

John Lopes

A I have been fortunate enough to make several fly-drive trips to Texas, which is certainly the US state with the widest possibilities: from the fine beaches on the Gulf coast to the fascinating Hill Country, with great cities and wild national parks all worth exploring.

Over the years I have tried all three variants of renting a car in Texas: reserving and paying ahead through a UK firm or website; booking ahead through a US enterprise; and a “walk-up” rental from the airport, with no pre-booking. From these experiences, I unequivocally recommend the first of these. Buying a comprehensive rental deal from a UK company brings many advantages.

First, the like-for-like price is probably going to be the lowest. (A walk-up rental is likely to be the most expensive.)

Next, knowing that you have paid for the essential extras means that you can stand your ground when, almost inevitably, you are put under pressure to sign up for additional insurance, an upgraded car or roadside assistance cover. At the desk, be very careful about what you are signing. I always politely decline everything, but nevertheless on my last two rentals I have successively been charged for an upgrade and only narrowly avoided paying for an unnecessary roadside assistance package.

Third, if any aspect of the rental is in dispute - whether the paintwork was scratched when you picked it up, or how much fuel you used – it helps to have someone in the UK with whom to discuss the problem.

One tip for next time: whenever I pre-book, I try to do it in conjunction with my flight, eg online through BA/Virgin Holidays, or through an agency such as Trailfinders or DialAFlight. In legal terms, this turns your trip into a package – bestowing a wide range of consumer protection.

Finally, for some ideas of how to spend your time in and around Houston, you might want to check out the latest 48 Hours in Houston – online and on screen. Here’s a short code:

Click HERE to email Simon.

You can also tweet him your questions @SimonCalder