Read this review, because it shows how they try hard to spoil your holiday even when everything else goes smooth. We're speaking of an 11-day rental from Madrid Barajas Airport, August 2015. Reserved through rentalcars.com first a Volvo 40 (Avis, 397,00), then a Ford Focus (Firefly, 194,00), then a Peugeot 3008 (Thrifty, 427,00). Got my money back or balanced quickly (in two to three days). I also bought so-called excess insurance coverage for the Peugeot (100,00). Notice that I ended up with Thrifty because of the Peugeot car they were posting, a small crossover, and of Thrifty's 8.1/10 customer approval rate instead of Firefly's 6.6/10. A common mistake. Customer approval forms on rentalcars.com and elsewhere are built around relatively minor comforts, like how brisk is the process or how smiling the clerk, but they skip the big problems, and all the hidden cheating doesn't show there.
All the same, the 8.1/10 approval rate notwithstanding, when I finally applied at the Thrifty desk I was extensively annoyed by the clerk (by the name of Beatriz) who kept questioning my insurance choice, insisting that I buy her coverage (so forfeiting the previous one) and finally downgrading my Peugeot 3008 to a Ford Focus Trend SW, a station wagon that usually sells at half the Peugeot's price. I tried hard to be given my Peugeot, but she was adamant, no way to get it. She (and her boss) said the booking was for a "Peugeot 3008 (or similar)", and the Ford Focus, in their opinion, was absolutely similar. Facing such a neat refusal, I had to give up and sign for the Ford. My wife and daughter were waiting for me to reach the hotel and start our tour.
Minutes later, at the parking lot across the street I found my 46,000km-old Ford, all with its eight scratches, stationed just in front of a brand-new Peugeot 3008 (picture on request). Now, there's no doubt that if that car was available, they should have given it to me, while if it was booked by someone else before I booked it, then it shouldn't have been posted on the rentalcars.com site at the time I chose it for my trip. Of course there was nothing to do at that point, having already signed for the Ford deal.
A quick look on the internet explained what was going on. The much-coveted 3008 was still there, ready for rent at the outrageous rate of 630,00. What they do is to keep idling any attractive new model as long as they can, so as to increase the online price indefinitely. All in all, I was cheated into paying over 200,00 euro more in order to get the same car I has previously booked for 194,00. By the way, not only the Thrifty and Hertz agents were exactly the same people behind one desk, but I suspect that, at least in some venues, all the car rental market is deftly monopolized. The big money is made in two ways: a) additional insurance coverage which is highly profitable and b) allocating the oldest and less valuable cars in the pool through bare downgrading, based on a very loose understanding of the "or similar" clause and coupled with a kind of artful deception of the online customer.
This explains why I gave rentalcars.com a two star instead of one, because they do not seem to be more guilty than other agents on the scene. Compared to what it used to be decades ago, now this market is rotten. The car you need is only a bait for them to fool you around and drain as much money as they can. This being the outline, such being the people, the question is, What is advisable do to, especially by the occasional customer, who doesn't show up at the desk as a golden' or preferred' client?
It seems obvious to me that 1) It'd be better to avoid multiple and mutually conflicting service providers (like rentalcars.com and Thrifty in my case). 2) Let's book everything directly with the rental company itself. 3) Contact them beforehand in order to make sure that you'll get the car you want. 4) Insist for them to revoke the "or similar" clause. 5) In case they don't do that, don't fantasize about booking a fancy car, because they routinely downgrade your booking and give you the oldest and the least desirable of the "similar" ones under their carport. Book instead the less expensive car you can afford to travel with, something they cannot really downgrade. If you care to, bargain your upgrading at the desk.