Before we left for Panama, we ordered a rental car through Thrifty for three weeks. We got a small Toyota Yaris for a great price – $437 for 3 weeks, which includes picking it up in Panama City and dropping it off in David (a $150 charge). (Note: There wasn’t an option to drop off in David on their website, so I had to call Thrifty to make the reservation, but got the same price.)
But among all the other papers I printed for our trip, I forgot to print our car rental reservation. Big mistake. We did call and confirm a few days prior, however. I was also prepared for an additional insurance charge, which Anne from the Embera Indian tour told us they try to tack on. When we got to the counter, the customer in front of us had been fighting with the guy at the counter for 30 minutes trying to get the “mandatory” insurance removed. He finally signed a waiver and went on his way, still feeling like he was ripped off.
When I got to the counter, sure enough, they wanted to charge us an extra $250 for “mandatory” insurance as well. He said it was mandatory in all of Panama. They also wanted to add an extra $150 to drop it off in another city, which was already included in the $437 price I had received (although I couldn’t prove it to him because I forgot to print the paper). So they wanted about $850, more than twice what we had been told when we made our reservation. I also felt like we were being taken advantage of.
I fought (through Jen, my lovely and patient interpreter) with the guy at the counter for 30 minutes myself and he kept insisting that the insurance was mandatory, even though we were covered by our American Express card (and the guy before wasn’t even). He told us that if I walked away to get another quote he wouldn’t hold our reservation – at this point we had to either accept, or cancel. I was fed up with this guy, so I left Jen at the counter to go get a quote from Budget, who’s price wasn’t much better, but at least they spelled out the prices of with full insurance, minimal insurance, or no insurance, to prove that it wasn’t mandatory.
So I came back and had Budget’s quote to prove that the insurance isn’t mandatory and that I wanted it removed. He finally gave me a waiver, which I signed. But he still made me pay the extra $150 to drop it off in another city. So rather than paying the $815 they wanted, we ended up paying about $650, still $200 more than the price we signed up for, but it beat Budget’s over-the-counter price by about $150. I pity the guy in line behind us. But at least he knew what he was up against.
Fortunately, the guy before us has rented from other companies here, and said he only has had this problem with Thrifty, so I think that’s the last time I’ll order through Thrifty internationally. I doubt my reserved price would have been honored even if I had printed out my confirmation.
But at least we have a car now. It’s nice to be out on our own. We had to ask directions a couple times (once at Subway by the Albrook airport, and once at the Miraflores locks), but we made it to El Valle, about a 90 minute drive from Panama City. I think next time we’ll get something a little larger, though. The Yaris barely holds our luggage. One bag has to go in the back seat with the girls. It’s also doesn’t have a lot of power to go up the hills, but at least it’s a stick shift. And it’s much better than taking taxis and buses!