J.D. Power: Customers paying more, waiting longer for rental car

(November 11, 2014) WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — Higher costs and longer waiting times have leveled off the upward trend in rental car satisfaction the industry has experienced since 2009, according to the J.D. Power 2014 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study released today.

Now in its 19th year, the study measures overall customer satisfaction with rental cars at airport locations by examining six factors (listed in order of importance): cost and fees; pick-up process; return process; rental car; shuttle bus/van; and reservation process.

Overall customer satisfaction with their rental car experience averages 774 on a 1,000-point scale in 2014, a 1-point drop from 2013 when satisfaction was at its highest level since the study’s current methodology was adopted in 2006. The plateau in satisfaction followed consistent improvements since 2009 when satisfaction averaged 733.

The 2014 study found that the price of a rental car has increased by an average of $5 per day from 2013.  Additionally, wait times are longer across all aspects of the rental process, from the shuttle bus or van ride to returning the vehicle, compared with 2013.

On average, customers wait 43.4 minutes in total for the vehicle pick-up and return process, and shuttle bus/van experiences. Business customers experience slightly shorter wait times than leisure/personal customers (41.5 minutes vs. 44.3 minutes, respectively). Timeliness of service, an important component of satisfaction, dropped between 18 and 58 points when customers wait longer than five minutes during any of these steps in the rental process.

A simple smile from employees at the rental car agency makes the waiting period seem shorter for customers. On average, customers who are greeted with a smile from the rental car staff indicated they wait 16.8 minutes to pick up their vehicle, while those who are not greeted with a smile indicated they wait 25.7 minutes, on average.

“Customers have experienced cost increases for airlines and hotels, but hotels can demonstrate they’re adding value commensurate with the increased costs; customers aren’t able to see that added value with airlines and rental car agencies,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. “Time is always important, specifically for business customers who are under constraints to be somewhere at a certain time.”

Satisfaction among business customers, who wait an average of four minutes less to pick up their rental car than leisure/personal customers, improved to 772 in 2014 from 771 in 2013, while satisfaction among leisure/personal customers declined to 774 from 777. The decline in leisure/personal satisfaction, coupled with the increase in business satisfaction closed the gap between the two groups to 2 points from its greatest difference of 21 points in 2010.


    • Overall satisfaction is highest among customers in Gen Y — those born between 1977 and 1994 — at 780, compared with an average of 775 among all other generational groups combined. That finding counters the prevailing assumption that younger customers are more demanding and harder to satisfy than those who are older.

    • In the business segment, satisfaction is highest among Gen Y customers at 788. In the leisure/personal segment, satisfaction is highest among Boomer (born 1946-1964) and Gen X (1965-1976) customers at 778 each.

    • Business customers demonstrate higher levels of both loyalty and advocacy, as 36 percent say they “definitely will” rent from the same brand again and 32 percent “definitely will” recommend the rental car brand. In comparison, 26 percent of leisure/personal customers say they “definitely will” rent from the same rental car brand and 27 percent “definitely will” recommend the brand to family and friends.

    • When selecting a business rental car company, 15 percent of customers make their choice on price alone, while 10 percent indicate they don’t consider price at all.

    • Overall satisfaction among the 19 percent of customers who are “price buyers” — those who select their rental car brand primarily for a lower price — is 740, compared with 844 among those who choose their brand based on features and benefits.