Recently I took a trip to Boston for leisure. While doing so I decided to try out a startup car rental company called FlightCar. Their premise: allow travelers to rent other travelers' cars during their stay. Car owners get a cut of the rental income. Renters save money. Win-Win, no?
Here’s my take.
I made my airfare and hotel reservations through Travelocity after comparing rates through nearly a dozen other sites including Bing, Priceline, Hotels.com, Orbitz, and others.
Since FlightCar only currently serves a couple of markets (Boston and San Francisco) I was in luck for this trip. FlightCar has committed to “getting it right” in each market before serving another one. Rumor has it that Los Angeles might be up next on the FlightCar roster.
I chose FlightCar partly based on their being a startup in the 2013 class at The Brandery, a Cincinnati-based startup accelerator focused on companies in need of consumer branding by taking advantage of Cincinnati’s Top 10 global position in branding value.
Renting the Vehicle
The rental cost was low. About $135 over five days for a luxury sedan between 2001 and 2008. Book line and sinker. The Reservation process was simple enough, but it’s worth noting that FlightCar assumes you know your arrival and departure information before renting a vehicle. Input the destination, arrival and departure times, and flight info, and boom reservation made!
The need for accurate flight details was underscored by the fact I hadn’t reserved my flight yet, so I took a guess but missed it. The flights I’d reserved were off by a wide margin in time. I sent an email to FlightCar support who responded quickly, making changes based on accurate times once I had them.
As the time for the trip approached I was excited to get to Boston, but also to see how FlightCar fared. If FlightCar could be anything like AirBnB which I’d already fallen in love with, this could really be great.
As indicated in FlightCar’s confirmation emails, I called once I landed in Boston to let them know I’d arrived and they sent a “black car” to pick my travel companion and I up and take us to the vehicle. The black car was roomy and comfortable, but the tinted windows looked self-done showing some bubbling and spots which weren’t fully covered. No real impact to the trip, but it is a quick note to professional brand identity. A little extra cost could provide a better visual to those used to a “real” black car experience.
During the ride from the airport to the rental lot, I received a call from FlightCar HQ in San Francisco informing me that the vehicle I’d reserved wasn’t available. This was disappointing. Perhaps it was the mishap with my initially incorrect flight times, or that the owner of the vehicle I’d agreed to rent was late turning it in so I could drive it. Either way, the risk could and should have been noted to me at an earlier stage in the game so it wouldn’t blindside me. FlightCar did offer to refund the price difference between my requested vehicle and the next class down.
Once at the rental lot, a vehicle was ready and waiting for me to drive. Not the vehicle I’d requested obviously, but sadly not what I’d have liked either. I would have requested another vehicle had I been asked what class vehicle I’d like as a replacement, but instead of a luxury sedan, I drive out in a 2007 Dodge Durango. An Urban Assault Vehicle (c’mon when they get that big, they’re no longer sport utilities.) Couldn’t I just get that VW Passat over there?
While I was digitally signing for the vehicle with my finger on an iPad, the black car driver loaded the bags into the back of the Durango.
The Rental Period
The money I saved on the partial refund I quickly lost in fuel requirements for such a large vehicle. Perhaps I should have pushed for something else at the rental lot, but when it’s running, ready, and loaded the drive to fight disappears pretty quickly.
Over the five days, I drove a lot. Much more than the 90mi/day limit imposed on the rental. Since FlightCar is so small it’s not like they can let you drive all over the country and just drop the vehicle off at another location.
The vehicle handled well enough, but any possible envy I had for those driving anything in the Durango’s vehicle class absolutely vanished. Especially in the upper northeast where streets are thinner, parking lots and spots are smaller, and fuel stations less frequent than in the car-heavy midwest.
Over the five-day rental, I drove to Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut in addition to the greater Boston area of Massachusetts. I drove the vehicle on back roads, city streets, and in the suburbs.
After an adventure to Quincy, MA to visit the graves of late US Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, I drove back to FlightCar to turn in the Durango. The return process was simple. Sign again upon return and the black car driver took our bags and drove us back to the airport.
While there were some rough edges to my trip, I see the upside to renting from FlightCar. The process of reserving a vehicle was very simple. Pre-arrival support on that rental was very good, from amending flight times to the pre-drive call to alert me that the vehicle I’d reserved wasn’t available FlightCar handled this part well.
Initial drive support could have been better though. The FlightCar rep who called me from San Francisco could have asked what class replacement I’d like instead of just jumping to the next cost tier. Doing so would have prevented me from being uncomfortable asking for a different vehicle on the lot, or the lot having a vehicle I didn’t really want running and ready to go.
The 90mi/day travel limit is also a bit restrictive. Perhaps a 120-mile/day limit would be better. The suburb my hotel was located in was roughly 1/3 of the daily travel limit itself. I understand FlightCar can’t assume everyone will stay in the ‘burbs, but it might be a safe bet to make for customer service. I still would have gone over the daily limit, but I’d understand it wasn’t because of low mileage restrictions. Even ZipCar allows up to 180mi/day.
Beyond the rough edges, I plan on giving FlightCar another shot when I fly to a metro they serve. The concept and execution are strong. I’m sure they’ll smooth out the rough edges. But between FlightCar and ZipCar, I’d have been better with ZipCar this trip.