Long-time readers know I detest driving, which can lead to funny situations like taking an Uber from Houston to Galveston, but due in large part to lifecycle effects I’ve recently found myself renting cars more and more. With newly limited vacation time (out of grad school) and increased income (thanks, Obama), it can make much more sense to rent a car than to rely on public transportation or put-upon relatives.
For reimbursed business travelers, car rentals can play an important role in a travel hacking practice, since they’re a bonus category on many credit cards (either as part of the “travel” category or as a bonus category in their own right), you can easily earn free rental days to use for personal travel, and the car rental agencies also partner with other loyalty programs like airlines, hotels, and Amtrak if you prefer those rewards.
But since I’m not a reimbursed business traveler, my focus is on keeping costs as low as possible. That’s where Autoslash is supposed to come in.
What is Autoslash?
Autoslash has gone through a number of iterations over the years. I believe they used to automatically rebook car rental reservations as lower rates became available, but lost the ability to do that some time ago, so now they offer two slightly different features:
“Get a Quote” allows you to submit a request for specific rental dates and times. A few hours after submitting a request, they e-mail a link to their results, which then send you to Priceline to complete the reservation.
“Track a Rental” allows you to submit existing reservation details, and Autoslash will send an e-mail if they detect lower prices. This feature works the same as “Get a Quote,” except that it will continue to monitor your reservation so if even lower rates become available you’ll be notified.
I’m not 100% sure if you book through a “Get a Quote” Priceline link if Autoslash automatically also creates a “Track a Rental” submission. I’m not sure about that because, as we’ll get to shortly, Autoslash has some shortcomings.
Rental #1: Minivan Success for Thanksgiving
Of my three recent experiences using Autoslash, this was by far the most successful: the system worked exactly as it was supposed to:
I submitted the dates and time I needed through the “Get a Quote” function, and received my quote an hour or so later.
I then pulled the corporate account number and coupon codes out of the Priceline reservation and plugged them into a new National Car Rental reservation, after clicking through to National from Lemoney, which offered the highest cashback earning rate (after applying my “Turbo Credits”).
I found the same rate and completed the reservation with National.
I then submitted my reservation details as a “Track a Rental” request to Autoslash, and a few hours after that they found an even lower rate, which I was able to use to rebook my rental.
This was Autoslash at its best: it found a low price for an oddball vehicle type I never would have thought to search for, found and applied a corporate code and a coupon code, and delivered a lower price than I would have found on my own.
Rental #2: Autoslash Errors over Christmas
If Rental #1 was an unqualified success, Rental #2 was a bust. The Autoslash e-mail linked to rates that weren’t available on Priceline or on National’s own site. I ended up copying over Autoslash’s rate codes to get the same rate available on Priceline, which was $50 or so higher than the rate Autoslash was advertising.
I then plugged the rate details into the “Track a Rental” feature, and quickly got another e-mail from Autoslash with the same advertised rate they couldn’t actually produce once I clicked through to Priceline!
So, I might have booked a better rate than I could have found on my own, but a higher rate than the one Autoslash was promoting. Call this one a wash.
Rental #3: Autoslash Breakdown for Halloween
This week we made a last minute decision to drive out to West Virginia for some birthday leafing, so I hopped onto Autoslash to see what our options were. A nearby hotel has a Hertz office, so I plugged in the address and our dates to see what was available.
A few hours later, I got the usual Autoslash e-mail, clicked through, and saw the only rental options were miles away. I tinkered with Priceline’s search options, and submitted another, even more specific Autoslash request, but simply couldn’t find our local Hertz office listed.
So, I headed over to the Hertz website, plugged in the same address, and was immediately informed that the local Hertz office is only open until noon on Sundays. Once I submitted a third Autoslash “Get a Quote” request with noon as the return time, I received another Autoslash quote I was able to successfully plug into the Hertz website, again after clicking through the Lemoney cashback portal.
Conclusion: all this is fine except…the Autoslash folks are weird jerks
If you’re bored by this point, that’s fine. I was bored by this point too: I hate driving, I hate renting cars, I hate the work that goes into hunting down discounts, and I hate the fact that I do it anyway because if I don’t I’ll feel like I got ripped off.
The most straightforward thing you can say about Autoslash is that it was supposed to solve that problem, and it doesn’t.
Using Autoslash made booking my rental cars take hours and hours longer than it would have otherwise. Thankfully, I have a travel hacking blog, so I get to write it up for the edification of my readers.
But if you don’t have a travel hacking blog, this is just work, and it’s not work that pays very well. And making it all even better, the Autoslash team themselves seem like total jerks. After spending hours figuring out why they weren’t returning rentals at my local Hertz office, I asked for help on Twitter, and they immediately replied:
“Shouldn't be any need to recreate our rates @ Hertz—you get the exact same rates and Gold bennies via our links to Priceline *and* you get to support a small bootstrapped startup that employs fellow @FlyerTalk members you prbly know personally. Pls don't steal use of our service!”
So I went from being pissed off by how bad their service was to being accused of “stealing” use of their service! Not a great look, as they say.
I’ll keep using Autoslash for my increasingly-frequent car rental needs, but it’s just one tool, and hopefully this post has spelled out some of the things you need to watch out for: advertised rates that aren’t actually available, Autoslash not knowing the working hours of local rental offices, and the amount of portal cashback you’re sacrificing by using their Priceline affiliate links. In other words, it’s not a tool you can rely on exclusively, but needs to be combined with your own outside research.
On that last point: if Autoslash worked consistently well, I wouldn’t mind giving up a few bucks in portal cashback by using their affiliate links. But the fact that they don’t work consistently well and fly to the attack against users who are troubleshooting their errors doesn’t exactly endear them to me.
If you’ve had better luck than me using Autoslash, feel free to sound off in the comments.