The Seasonal Divide

rent-a-car 1There’s an off-time in Mallorca and an on-time, a seasonal divide. Mallorca has its busy season when up to 13,000,000 visitors arrive, when hotels are open and staff are hired for up to 180 days with not a single day off. And there is the off-season when unemployment is rife, many hotels don’t bother to stay open and non-stop air destinations are few and far between. Any time soon, low-cost airlines will be connecting once again to far-flung places such as Edinburgh or Helsinki, Abu Dhabi or Warsaw. Also, at around this time of year, the beginning of April or just before Easter, whichever comes first, one can see a large number of auto-transport trucks making their way from the Port of Palma to the outlying pueblos, as far as Pollença in the North, Cala d’Or in the East and Port d’Andratx in the West. The new fleets of rent-a-cars have arrived and need to be taken to their respective rental outlets.

car hire 1

There are half a dozen major car rental firms in Mallorca, nationals, locals and international ones, plus a good two dozen minor ones. One of the larger firms, though, had to declare a Concurso Voluntario (voluntary bankruptcy) last year. It is said that three or four years ago there were up to 50,000 rental vehicles on offer in Mallorca, but recently that number has taken a steep decline. La crisis, what else. As a consequence, car rental prices have shot up recently and caused anger, consternation and some outrage. This year, with the season just starting, everybody is guessing as to where it all will go. Let’s hope for the best.

A few years ago, car rental in Mallorca somehow went down the wrong way. Car hire firms, there are about 40 of them on the island, not counting sub-agents, used to be able to buy their fleet of cars from the car manufacturers on a buy-back agreement. They would buy, say, 100 new cars from the factory in March on a contract with an agreed sale-back at the end of the season, in October or November. But then car manufacturers in Spain went through a bad patch of alarmingly low sales in the private sector. They now suddenly and unanimously did not agree to the usual buy-back condition any longer on fleet sales. Instead, they insisted on an outright sale and payment on delivery, or whatever financing deal might have been deemed agreeable. The Mallorcan car-rental firms were in a stew. They suddenly could only afford fewer cars, albeit for an already dwindling tourist market. In the end, hire cars became scarce during the high season, when car rental rates became at times erratic, aggravated and outright expensive. Customers complained, but, to no avail.

car hire 2

There is definitely a seasonal divide in car rental as well. In January, you can get a rental car for ten days for under 65 euro, excluding petrol but including full cover insurance, whereas in August you would pay for the same car up to 285 euro per week.

Recently, the buy-back at the end of the season seemed to have returned. Car manufacturers were now in a slightly better condition in Spain, and certainly on a pan-European level. They had also felt the pinch of a much reduced volume of fleet sales in the previous two years. Purchasing conditions for the rent-a-car firms had improved, but, in the previous couple of years profit margins had dried up to much reduced margins. Now, a new policy started to become more and more the common practice. Customers were increasingly pushed into more expensive insurance policies, regardless of what might have been signed and paid for, up-front, on the Internet where the original booking often had been made. And customers were given and charged a full tank of petrol, being told that the car should be returned with an empty tank. If the tank was not empty or was even as much as half full, no reimbursement was offered. This is a questionable practice of profiteering if not downright fraudulent.

Last year, I had a group of friends staying nearby. They were on the island from Sunday night to Friday morning; effectively they were here for four full days. They had rented two cars. Both cars were handed over with full tanks. Gasoline was charged at a higher price than could have been had at the petrol station. When the group argued that they could not possibly drive the required 800 kilometres in four days that would be necessary to use up the petrol, the sales person simply shrugged the shoulders. That’s what it was; take it or leave it.

car hire1

Nowadays, many people use price comparison web sites when looking for hire cars where the hire companies make the basic rate as low as possible to attract customers. The only way they can make these basic costs cheap is to add charges on elsewhere, so charging for a full tank of fuel or charging for an extra driver is relatively common these days.

For the sake of fairness, it must be said that there are  one or two car rental firms in Mallorca that hire out cars with a full tank, demanding a full tank upon return. That’s one or two. There are forty.

You could always check out car hire mallorca. But please make sure to read the small print before signing the contract. Try to get a car with a fuel policy of Pick up full, return full. And have a safe drive.

5 thoughts on “The Seasonal Divide

  1. Well done, I always enjoy your postings, but on this occasion you have touched a nerve! Still, you have managed to blog on my pet (hate) subject without once resorting to cussing!
    I happen to travel to a lot of places, including Mallorca, and have had more rows at car rental desks than anywhere else. I have, repeatedly, walked away from those desks, carless, because of the practices you describe.
    The petrol one is plain fraud, both on the charge per litre and the idea that you can return it “empty” – what are you supposed to do – push it back the final 500 m? The charges are not light, either. I check my bills in detail and the amounts being charged are serious.
    The “insurances” are even worse. As you say, no matter what is actually booked (I double/triple check by phone on this) there is ‘always’ another insurance for excess or something. This is actually where the local franchise makes its money (a lot of the big names are operated by franchisees) but that should not be the customer’s problem. In the USA those ‘insurances’ can actually double your estimated bill. In Mallorca it may not be quite as bad as that, but it’s still an expensive, cheating trick.
    Thirdly, my latest pet hate. You are asked to inspect the car. It will be perfect, or any defects are pencilled on a diagram of the vehicle. Car rental companies will rarely accept debit cards – which can be stopped at a later date – but on credit cards they can later charge for “repairs” which you have had no knowledge about. Easycar in the UK got lambasted over this after numerous complaints. I try not to use credit cards but in Marrakech I was asked to hand over €500 cash ‘in case of damage’ with my debit card. This can and would be used to repair stone chips – in a country where most of the country roads are loose chippings. There are hair-raising tales of what people have been belatedly charged for this. I refused and, again, walked away without a car. Make sure you inspect the car when you hand it back, go round with the diagram and check. Even for stone chips.
    Finally, a lot of people now book rental cars via the internet on meta sites, where they get cheaper rates from the big companies. These are basically corporate rates being extended to the public which is a good thing. It works best at, say, Avis Heathrow Airport which has a high turnover of its own cars. Where it falls apart is the franchisee at a smaller outlet, say a small Spanish Island, who very quickly realises that because of the deal most of the usual ‘extras’ will not be coming his/her way. They will therefore fight to make sure you take anything extra that is possible, and late returns will be particularly heavily penalised. Scrutinise the paperwork!
    Rant over. Thank you.

  2. Karl,

    I echo Derek’s comment about always enjoying your posts (Derek, I certainly enjoyed your rant) and agree that the rather new practice of providing a full tank of (expensive) petrol with the instruction to return the car empty (not a good thing for the engine) is fraudulent. Capitalism at its worst? Well, not quite, but you get the idea. I hope and pray that your health is good 🙂

  3. Karl, It’s been just over a month since I checked your blog. On the off-chance that you occasionally check on things, I noticed that your last post was in April 2014, so I just want to say that I hope your health is holding up and that you and your family have a lovely Christmas. Your presence here is sorely missed, but be good to yourself – that’s more important.

    1. hi David,
      thank you for the kind wishes and sentiments. I am fine, my family is fine. I haven’t blogged on mallorcaobserved for quite a while but was busy doing other things and other blogs. I shall continue my blog entries on mallorcaobserved soon, promised. Happy Christmas to you and your family, and let’s all have a safe and happy 2015.

      1. Karl, Very glad that you, and your family, are doing fine. You mentioned working on other blogs; I’d appreciate a link so that I can check them out. Thanks.

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