Priceline’s car rental deals certainly sound great.

In an email I received from Priceline earlier this week, they said I could rent a car in Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Miami (MIA), or Chicago (CHI) from just $9 a day.

In Atlanta (ATL), the rentals started at $11/day. In Boston (BOS), from $14/day. In NY (JFK), $23/day.

Great deals all!

But after clicking through the link in the email – the so called “deals” disappeared like a desert mirage.

Let’s take the $9/day deal in Chicago as an example. After clicking on the link, under the big $9/day headline, there’s a note saying “$49 total”.


Further investigation finds there’s a 2 day minimum. Seems reasonable. But that would suggest it should be a $19.98 total… plus perhaps a bit more for taxes. Still a far cry from $49.

Diving in deeper… we find the hidden costs. A couple of bucks in tax here, an “energy surcharge” there, and then a $19.48 fee for “Misc VLCR”. All in all, a total of $29.09 in fees, surcharges and taxes for an $19.98 car rental.

Hidden fees that more that double the advertised price.

Priceline neglects to explain what that “Misc VLCR” fee is. But Budget Car Rental’s site says it stands for “Vehicle Licensing Cost Recovery Fee” and states  “… this car rental fee is sometimes charged to renters for vehicle registration and licensing fees.”

Costly and oddly named hidden fees are commonplace when it comes to car rentals. We can’t blame the misleading prices on Priceline alone.

The Chicago $9/day a day deal is through Firefly Car Rental, and they offer the same deal, with the same $19.48 VLCR fee, directly through their own site.

Another example: the $14/day deal in Boston. There’s a two day minimum for that price ($28 for two days) and then over $33 in various fees. This deal is through Payless Car Rental and they also offer the same prices with the same hidden fees on their site.

If Priceline advertised the true rates, then it would look like it costs more to rent a car from Priceline than direct through the rental company.

The problem is industry wide. And while US consumers have grown accustomed to hidden fees upping the overall price – using hidden fees to more than double the advertised price is extreme and misleading.

Have you been caught off guard by high, hidden, car rental fees?

Tell us about your experience below!