Car Rental – Using a rental car as your airport shuttle


Maybe the next time you need a lift to an airport you should rent a car instead of taking a shuttle.

I am a believer in using the Chico airport as much as possible and one of my fondest hopes for transportation in the area is to see additional air service in Chico.

But that may be a long way off. In the meantime the reality is that most people use the Sacramento airport as their main domestic departure point. And in the case of international travel many others start their trip from San Francisco.

The advantages of using a rental car to get to another airport from Chico can include both cost and flexibility.

While the examples Im going to use are for Chico travelers, the concept is the same no matter where you live. If you need to get to an airport it may be both less expensive and more convenient to rent a car one-way instead of using shuttle services.

It you are returning back to the same airport it can be cost effective to use two one-way car rentals when you are going to be away for a long time. Airport parking costs add up very quickly. Furthermore, if you own a nice vehicle you won’t have to worry about leaving it unattended at an airport parking facility. (Note that car rental rates one-way to Chico may be higher than from Chico.)

Lets look at examples for both Sacramento (SMF) and San Francisco (SFO).

Sacramento (SMF):

For comparisons sake, one-way rates on the local shuttle service range from $48 for one person to $34 per person for a party of four.

Like hotel rooms and airline fares, rental car rates are a moving target. You cant use these rates as anything more than a one-time snapshot.

The prices below were obtained on 14 January from the websites of the respective car rental companies. The rental period was 24 hours: Chico pick-up was on Friday, 20 February at 10 a.m., for SMF drop-off the next day by 10:00 a.m. Prices do include tax but do not include fuel, optional insurance or other extras. On the other hand they also do not reflect possible discounts such as for AAA members.

Budget: $50.40 (economy car such as Hyundai Accent)
Avis: $51.47 (economy car such as Chevy Aveo)
Hertz: $71.08 (economy car such as Hyundai Accent)

Enterprise allows drop-offs at Sacramento airport for a $50 extra charge above the base rental fee. Rentals must be confirmed over the phone.

San Francisco (SFO):

There isnt any shuttle service to SFO from the Chico area.

I used the same criteria and sources for obtaining rates from Chico to SFO.

Rates for Budget and Hertz came out the same for an SFO drop-off as for Sacramento but were higher for Avis at $128.37 for an economy car.

Enterprise has a prohibitively high drop-off charge for SFO.

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4 Responses to Car Rental – Using a rental car as your airport shuttle

  1. Quentin--The Uncomfortable Truth says:

    My girlfriend did this just yesterday!!!
    Great idea!
    She got a Dodge Caravan from Budget for 29.95 w/ free miles–they needed to get it back to the airport. Drank a lot of gas, though . . .8 bucks worth to SMF.
    Still $37 v. $60?

  2. Sean Baber says:

    Another great tip. I like to use Orbitz for a quick comparison of car rental rates. Did Chico lose the grant money to add air service? I haven’t heard any news in quite some time.

  3. Greg Fischer says:

    Hi, Sean:

    No, I believe the money is still there. Between the incredible spike (and then drop) in the price of fuel on the one hand, and the freefalling economy on the other, the airlines are just kind of shellshocked. I read little about cities such as Chico getting any new service from network carriers.

    Orbitz (and the other all-purpose websites) are probably a good place to do a general search for car rates. You may need to go to the car rental company’s own site to check for discounts such as AAA since each company tends to have its own way of flagging those. If all else fails, call!

  4. Greg Fischer says:

    Hi, Quentin:

    Good for your girlfriend!

    I’ve suggested the car rental approach to friends using both SMF and SFO and they’ve loved it, too.

    In addition to the cost savings what I like is the flexibility of having the vehicle for up to 24 hours, being able to load it with luggage, and being able to go on your schedule and not the shuttle’s schedule.

    Couple of other things to know for SMF.

    Unless you’re traveling by yourself it’s simplest to drop everyone off at the terminal with the luggage while the driver returns the car. That way he/she doesn’t have to lug the bags into the car rental shuttle back to the terminal.

    Also remember there’s an ARCO station to fill up the rental car just as you enter the airport from I-5.

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