While planning for our trip to Cape Town, we knew we wanted to explore several scenic areas outside of the city, and the best option was to rent a car. Note that South Africa is a right-hand drive country (i.e. drive on the left side of the road, steering wheel on the right side of the car), that means it's a total opposite of driving in the US. If you're up for the challenge, read on.
We spent quite a lot of time researching and making comparisons before finally deciding which rental car company to go with. We figured it would be helpful to share some tips and our personal experience of renting a car in Cape Town.
1. Read Reviews
You would think the safest option is to go with a reputable rental car company, e.g. Hertz and Avis, but reading reviews with overall rating of 2 or 3 stars on Google and TripAdvisor proves otherwise.
In contrast to the reviews for Hertz & Avis, other local car rental companies had fantastic reviews.
While reviews can be very helpful, it's also important to read them with a pinch of salt. Gotta remember that most people only leave review for bad experiences, not for normal/good experiences.
2. Compare Prices and Know What's Included/Excluded in the Quoted Price
Even though the reviews are not as good for Hertz and Avis, we still included them in our shortlist for price comparison. Partly because I've got Avis Preferred Plus and Hertz President's Circle statuses. The roads in Cape Town are easy to drive on, so a compact or economy car is sufficient. Other things to consider include insurance, mileage limits, additional driver fee, contract fee, GPS, etc.
AVIS's rate includes the CDW insurance by default, and there is no option to opt out. So you may not be able to use your credit card's rental car protection.
AroundAboutCars' rate of ZAR979 was higher than the other two. Same as Avis, they do not provide the option to decline the CDW insurance but their rate includes one additional driver.
Hertz's rate was slightly higher when I first looked about a month before our trip. However, the price dropped from ZAR939 to ZAR750 when I checked again just a week before our trip. Definitely something to look out for especially if you choose the 'Pay Later' option.
Hertz did not make it compulsory to purchase the CDW insurance, which is fine because I was planning to use my credit card rental car protection (make sure it's primary). However, I read online that they will take a hefty amount of deposit if you don't purchase their CDW so I decided to email them ahead of time to ensure I have sufficient credit limit on my credit card. FYI, the amount in the email was actually wrong (should have been much higher), but I was able to negotiate with them to take this amount as deposit by showing this email.
With the price drop and the frequent flyer bonus (#7 below), Hertz was the winner!
I do not like paying extra for car rental insurance, and that's why I like credit cards that offer primary car rental coverage (more info here). The rental agency will try to hard-sell their insurance (CDW, Super CDW), just decline nicely. Note that even if you accept the CDW from the rental agency, you are still liable for the 'Excess Liablility' (i.e. amount you need to pay before insurance kicks in), so you're better off using the rental coverage provided with your credit card. For your credit card coverage to apply, the following must be met:
Call the number behind your credit card to request for a Coverage Letter sent to your email. Very simple.
4. Driver's License
We were able to use our US driver's license without any problem. As long as you have a valid driver's license (in English) with a photo ID, it should work. Just confirm with the rental agency if you are unsure.
We survived driving around Cape Town for 4 days without a GPS or data plan. We downloaded Google offline map for Cape Town prior to the trip, and even though it did not provide real-time traffic info, it worked good enough to navigate us all around without getting lost. To be safe, we downloaded the offline map on both our phones and an iPad, so we had backups in case one didn't work.
Always return the car full and decline the Fuel Purchase Option (FPO). Make sure you allocate extra time to fill up at the gas station closest to the airport before dropping off your car. Make sure to keep the receipt because the person inspecting your car will request for it when you return the car.
7. Frequent Flyer Bonuses
Another important factor to consider was the targeted offer I received from United. I could easily get at least 4,000 miles by renting from Hertz. That's a pretty good deal!
Remember to provide your frequent flyer number when you make the reservation to earn those free miles!
8. Optimize Perks that Come with Statuses
My Chase United MileagePlus Club Card came with complimentary Hertz President's Circle status, which came with the following benefits:
Our complimentary car upgrade from VW Polo (right) to Toyota RAV4 (left).
Overall, our experience renting with Hertz at Cape Town International Airport was an easy and pleasant one. The total cost for our 3-days rental was ZAR 828 ($62) plus fuel of ZAR 362 ($27), not bad at all! On top of that, I also received 4,000 United miles for this rental!
In our opinion, renting a car is definitely the best way to explore Cape Town. As long as you do your research beforehand, renting a car doesn't have to cost you a fortune. =)