If you're heading to Florida and planning to rent a car, beware that you don't become a victim of highway robbery by the rental-car companies.
As toll booths go by the wayside to save on personnel costs, Florida is moving toward cashless tolls throughout the state. You may not even realize you're on a toll road, but you'll find out soon enough when charges appear on your credit card for your previous car rental in addition to the rental fees themselves.
Here's what happened to us after several recent trips to Miami. I discovered five charges, totalling $91.45 (U.S.) over three different rentals. No invoices or bills arrived in the mail.
After many hours of looking into the charges, I discovered how expensive a wrong turn can be. The first mystery charge was due to my husband taking a different exit than usual on the road from Miami airport. Unknowingly, he went through two separate tolls, each costing 70 cents. The amount we were billed was $26.15.
We had more charges of $65.30 for drives via the highway to meet relatives for dinner on two occasions.
Each company has its own scheme. Hertz, for example, allows you to opt into their PlatePass plan at $4.95 a day to a maximum of $24.75 per rental. (To be clear, this daily fee is for each day of the rental period, not the number of days you go through tolls.) Though it's not something customers are explicitly told, without opting in, by his going through a toll, my husband was automatically charged $1.40 (U.S.) in tolls, which isn't that much, but the $26.15 is a different story.
Avis's program, e-Toll, costs $3.95 (Canadian) a day for the length of the rental (with a maximum charge of $16.95 per month plus toll charges), while Thrifty and Dollar each charge $10.49 (U.S.) per day or $52.49 per week. If customers aren't enrolled, they will be charged an administrative fee of $15 per toll event plus actual toll costs (to a maximum admin fee of $105 per rental). In other states, the model is similar but the fees depend on the state you're driving in.
There is a solution, though. Executive director of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti says, "We have been trying to get the word out for tourists to purchase a portable SunPass transponder at a cost of $4.95." They're available at Florida supermarkets, pharmacies and turnpike stations. You download the app, put a small amount of funds in through your credit card and enter the rental-car licence plate. Pack it in your luggage whenever you travel to Florida and then you're only paying the tolls after that.
The kicker: "The entire amount of work to process the tolls amounts to two lines of computer script. Charging these amounts is a scam," says Jason Steele, senior points and miles correspondent at thePointsGuy.com.