In the spring, many bird species migrate from their warm-weather summer habitats to the North. Ditto lots of rental cars: This year, four of the six biggest names in car rentals are offering special one-way rates to travelers who will pick up cars in Florida (and Arizona) and drop them off as far north as Maine or Minnesota. But the deals differ significantly among the various companies.
Alamo and National (stablemates in the Enterprise empire) offer the same deal. Rates are $19.95 per day for economy through full-size cars, plus the usual laundry list of extra taxes and fees. Keep the car one to 21 days. Pick up March 25 to May 31 at airport locations in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Miami, Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa and West Palm Beach. Pick up April 25 to May 31 from Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Orlando and Sanford. Return the vehicle at a participating location outside of the state of Florida, except Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Puerto Rico and Washington. Reserve at www.alamo.com, 877-222-9075, www.nationalcar.com, 877-222-9058.
Avis offers two deals:
*From Florida, rates are $19.99 per day plus extras for compact through intermediate SUV cars. Keep the car one to four days. Pick up April 1 to June 30 at airport locations at Clearwater, Dania, Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Melbourne, Miami, Sarasota and Tampa. Return at dozens of locations in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee. Reserve at www.avis.com, 800-230-4898.
*From Arizona, rates are $16 to $22 dollars per day plus extras for compact through intermediate SUV cars; $59 a day for vans and large SUVs. Keep the car one to seven days. Pick up March 27 to May 31 at airport and city locations in Arizona. Return to a participating location in Arizona, California, and Nevada.
Hertz's deal is similar. Rates are $5 a day for economy and compact cars; they vary for larger cars. Keep the car up to 14 days. Pick up April 24 to June 12 at any Florida location. Return at corporate locations in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin. Reserve at www.hertz.com, 800-654-3131.
Although these annual migrations have been around for many years, taking advantage of them has become easier due to the widespread availability of low one-way airfares fares on such airlines as JetBlue and Southwest. And, if you have the time, you can find plenty of interesting places to stop along the way in the South and Southeast. Golf at Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach, historical cities of Charleston and Richmond, great scenery in the Smoky Mountains and along the Blue Ridge Parkway, key Civil War battlegrounds in the Washington and Richmond areas, Colonial Williamsburg, theme parks -- something for just about any taste. In the West, check out the Grand Canyon and other Arizona National Parks or Los Angeles and the Pacific Coast Highway.
If you like the idea, take a close look at the differences among these programs to determine which is best for you. The Alamo/National combo is obviously best if you're interested in a trip lasting as long as three weeks. Hertz isn't bad, with a 14-day maximum. Avis, on the other hand, limits your trip to four days in the East and seven in the West.
Keep in mind that the base rate is only a starting point for what you'll actually pay. Just about every location piles on a variety of taxes and fees. If you have a choice, you might prefer to pick up your car at an off-airport location, such as is available through Avis and Hertz. Airport rentals tend to pile more extras onto rental cars than city locations. But you can't avoid lots of state and local taxes, as well as charges the rental companies add as extras that they should really include in the base rates.
Still, these are great rates for one-way rentals. Give them a look.