Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Which gas option should I use?

February 2007 - In retrospect the question of which gas option you should purchase while renting a car in Hawaii is painfully obvious. However, when suffering from jet lag and caring for a hungry, tired, and not to mention pregnant wife, making such a decision is overwhelming to say the least. A few weeks ago, Mrs. No and I headed off to the south pacific in search for rest and relaxation. We started off with a day and a half in Oahu and then jetted off to the Big Island.

The Big Island is an amazing rock out in the middle of the ocean. More impressive than its rich array of volcanic activity and wild life is the kind and speedy service offered by the rent-a-car companies. While I don’t rent a car very often (I dislike cars in general and when on vacation like them even less) when I do, it’s typically an hour of unfriendly, slow, and egregiously overpriced displeasure. Our experience was different than normal though. On the Big Island our vendor Dollar Rent-a-Car, which I found out upon arrival didn’t offer any “dollar” cars, provided the type of service only expected at the finest of steak houses. The shuttle service was prompt, rental line short, and service representative pleasant.

Before signing three sections and initialing another five, the smiling representative asked me which gas option I’d like. She pointed across a lively waiting area to a small sign stating “A – $2.95 per gallon, B – $4.25 per gallon, C – $3.15 per gallon.” Below each lettered section contained unreadable small print which I found out later explained the difference between the options in gory detail. Now remember I’m tired and caring for Mrs. No, who is in little mood for me to crunch numbers like I typically do with presented with financial options. So with little haste, I picked letter “A” and signed my life way.

As it turned out, “A” was the right choice for us. In the small writing below “A,” Dollar explains they’ll sell you a tank of gas for a 15-20 cent discount per gallon if you purchase the tank ahead of time. What they don’t explain in writing, but will when you ask them, is that there are no refunds. You pay the same whether you use one gallon or the entire tank. Our “economy” class car held around 13.9 gallons. With option “A” we drove around the entire island and broke even after using 12.9 gallons. Drivers who use more than 12.9 gallons, come out ahead.

Option “B” is a rip off for most of us. “B” says use as much gas as you’d like and just bring back the car. Then we’ll fill it up for you for a modest 35% markup over retail. There are only two times you should use “B.” You’re late for a flight or using an expense account for a company that just pissed you off. Use option “C” when you plan on using less than a tank of gas. For example on Maui we used option “C” and saved around $12 verses option “A.” That’s because we spent most of our time in Maui laying on the beech and reading fine literature.

You should wonder why option “A” turned out to be the right choice for us on the Big Island. Mathematically both option “A” and “C” turned out the same as both cost us around $41 (give or take a few cents). Time is money though and option “C” would require an inconvenient stop at the gas station before a 9AM flight. Mrs. No likes to arrive at the airport with days to spare, so any amount of time saved sooths her nerves and lengthens my beauty sleep. All other variables equal, the time saved using option “A” worked best for us. Happy travels!