Shuttle bus or terminal pickup pros and cons – how to choose your best car rental?

When booking your holiday car, in most major tourist destination, you will be asked to choose between pick-up at the terminal or alternatively go by shuttle bus /courtesy bus to an off- site supplier.

In the airport terminal or close by, you can be pretty sure to find Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, Sixt Car Hire, Europcar and Budget.

In the Enterprise office, very frequently you will also find the Alamo and National outlets which are Enterprise owned. Europcar will market Keddy By Europcar on its main airport premises, and Avis and Budget are also likely to be found in the same office. Avis owned Payless will, frequently, be off-site and usually with cheaper cars. In Lisbon Airport, customers at Payless are in fact served at the Avis-Budget counter at the terminal, but Payless cars, mostly being cheaper to rent than Avis and even Budget, typically have a  limit on free mileage.

Hertz shuttle bus Porto Airport
Hertz Shuttle bus in Porto Airport – courtesy shuttle very common i.e. in Portugal, on the Island of Mallorca and in America

Depending on the airport, a wide range of less well known car hire brands may have resorted to have office and parking at off-site premises (outside the airport area). In Lisbon Airport, the Car Rental Centre is an integral part of the airport with parking for on-site suppliers very close to the arrival terminal. In Porto Airport, quite unusually, all customers are offered shuttle service (or you can choose to walk the short distance).

The reason for car hire companies to conduct their business off-site is cost. Having offices and parking at the terminal is subject to (sometimes steep) rent payable to the airport owner or facility management company. Smaller and local rental car services, rarely will have the volume to support offices and parking in expensive locations.

Below we look at the pros and cons of going with a free shuttle bus to collect your rental car. Depending on your priorities, the best car rental can be either type.

Lisbon Airport Enterprise drop off zone
Lisbon Airport LIS – Guerin/Enterprise drop-off in the on-site Car Rental Centre

How to choose your best car rental – where to pick-up your car?
When choosing the best car rental offer in Majorca Airport, Malaga Airport or in Lisbon Airport, we recommend paying attention to the pick-up location of the car.

Car hire offers
Estate car hire cheapest off-site in Lisbon (using free shuttle bus service), but this is not always the case

A third option is ’Meet & Greet’ which can be with parking just outside the terminal, but also can require a short trip with the rental company representative to reach an off-site parking.

For best value car rental, always check for lowest car hire rates

Free shuttle bus service – how does it work?
Courtesy shuttle or free shuttle bus to the hire car premises work both ways - at pick-up when arriving to collect your car as well as on drop-off of the vehicle at the end of the rental.

Since any off-site rental location will be outside the airport area, extra time must be calculated to complete pick-up as well as drop-off. Adding 1 hour should give you sufficient time. In some airports, shuttle time can be very short indeed; Porto Airport in Northern Portugal being a good example for the majority of rental companies. They are in walking distance basically.

More likely, in the average airport, you are in the shuttle bus for 5-15 minutes to arrive at the car hire company premises. Before leaving the airport, there will be a waiting time of up to 30 minutes in the airport. If lucky, the shuttle bus leaves within a few minutes. Total time for the whole procedure will usually be between 30 and 60 minutes.

Interrent Lisbon Airport drop off
Drop-off/checkin early morning at Interrent off-site Lisbon Airport location. ©

On return of your vehicle, to be in time for your flight, calculate 1 hour for drop-off of your vehicle in an off-site location.

The 1 hour rule also applies to pick-up of your vehicle at most off-site location. However, with no flight to reach, the experience is more relaxed. Shuttle time is usually around 10 min after spending 10-30 minutes waiting for the shuttle to depart. In the shuttle bus, you are likely to be one of 5-10-15 customers, so expect a little queueing time also to do the paperwork before you are handed the key to your rental car.

In some airports, shuttle busses move non-stop, but more likely there is a 20 min or 30 min. schedule – both ways.

It is worth noting that shuttle bus service at car hire companies in the USA work very efficiently indeed. In some US airports, all car rental customers will need a short shuttle trip to the car rental centre disregarding choice of rental company.

Pros and cons – what are the advantages and drawbacks choosing best car rental with shuttle service to an off-site location?
Pickup and drop-off with free shuttle bus service has its advantages:

Often cheaper or much cheaper rental cars available off-site compared to cars placed at the terminal.

  • No extra airport charge for parking in the airport location (only applies in some airports) – this cost will sometimes be charged to the customer (see T&C’s). Increasingly, car rental companies are including the charge in the total rates.
  • Frequently more scope for the customer to check the car properly for dents and scratches before checking out – and also more scope to speak with the right person at check-in (drop-off) – see also: Always check for dents and scratches.
  • No difference in choice of cars – off-site locations rental cars are, generally, the same as the standard cars available at the terminal location in the airport.

Drawbacks when renting a car off-site – transport to and from rental parking with shuttle bus:

  • Off-site car rental using shuttle bus takes more time; at pick-up and at drop-off. Please see the 1-hour rule above.
  • It is extremely inconvenient to spend time in transport with young children and/or a considerable amount of luggage in a shuttle bus.
  • Customers with walking difficulties or other physical handicaps may find the shuttle bus experience rather daunting.
  • It may be slightly more difficult to return your rental car to the off-site location as sign posting always is better to the airport – remember to activate your GPS and ask in advance if you are not sure how to find the location.
  • Most find it more difficult to schedule arrival to the airport in an optimal way when returning the car to the off-site location. There will be several ’unknowns’ like shuttle transport time, navigation to off-site parking and drop-off-waiting time (before the shuttle leaves).

Example of free shuttle bus service in Copenhagen Airport.

Shuttle bus or terminal pickup pros and cons – how to choose your best car rental?
Article: Shuttle bus or terminal pickup pros and cons – how to choose your best car rental?
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