Review of "Alamo National"
RIP Jessica - hopefully now that justice has been done your friends and family can start to move on and remember the good times.
***Background***Our honeymoon adventure could only be done if we had a reliable car to drive round a total of four different States in the USA. Luckily our travel agent was able to arrange all this for us and suggested that we go with a company called Alamo. I had vaguely heard of them but since I have never had to hire a car before, I was a bit in the dark so advice was gratefully accepted.
We reckoned that we would only need a compact car, since there was only the two of us and that this would be sufficient for our luggage requirements too. We were told it would be a comfortable car with all the basics that you get over there such as full air conditioning, CD player and automatic transmission.***The Company***
Alamo do have a website, where you can book directly from, so I did have a wee look before we went to see what they offer. I found out that they do car hire in countries all over the world with various pick up/drop off points in major cities, including central locations and airports.They have a wide range of cars available, which differs depending on which country you are in at the time. There are also different packages available but it was recommended that we sign up for the gold package, which means that we could both drive the car fully insured and covered for any legal expenses that occurred for any accidents. It also meant that we got a free tank of petrol too although as we found out, gas is somewhat cheaper over in the USA and a gallon will only cost you around £1.50 at the moment as opposed to spending around 94p per litre. Thanks to Torr in the comments for putting me right on the fact that a gallon over there is only 3.8 litres as opposed to 4.5 litres over here. It is still quite a saving though.
The only thing that costs extra is the optional roadside service, which we took out when we arrived at our pick up point in San Francisco. This cost us the equivalent of roughly £2.50 a day for 13 days hire but it was worth it for the peace of mind if anything should go wrong.We arranged to drop off our car at Los Angeles International Airport at 3pm as our flight was at 6pm from that location.
***The Pick Up Point***We have never been to San Francisco before and we weren't aware that there were three central pick up points available. Staying in Union Square, we were directed to the one allocated for that area, which was on Bush Street. Now on the map it looks like a gentle stroll a couple of blocks away from the square but in reality, those couple of blocks are up very steep hills and even with the wheels on our luggage we found it hard going and had to stop a couple of times on the way up.
Finally we found the place and were stunned to see quite a long queue winding it's way out of the office doors that they shared with National Car Hire. The office was situated in a valet car parking facility and was dark and fume filled as cars made there way up and down the ramps. It also felt quite cold in the area too and we were glad to have jackets handy after the warm morning temperatures which were already hitting the low 80s.Realising that we were not going to go anywhere for quite some time, we discussed our journey and talked about what we hoped to see as we headed through Yosemite and on to Mammoth Lakes. Two hours later we were still waiting and we couldn't figure out what was taking so long. By this time we were starting to get a bit peckish and we were pleased we had thought to buy some drinks.
Finally we reached the front of the queue, exhausted by standing so long, as there were no seats available for waiting. We immediately asked why it had taken so long when we were supposed to have a car at 10am, only to be told that this happened all the time. They apologised and I have to say the man on the desk was working extremely hard but the problem was quite simply, that most people drop off cars at the airport and it takes quite some time to get them back into town and cleaned before they can be hired out again. Most people were picking up 4 x 4s and it was another 20 minutes before we were finally told that they had a car waiting for us downstairs.We were starting to worry a little bit, as we knew we had a long drive ahead of us so we went gratefully underground to the parking area for the hire cars. Ours was just being washed and polished and it wasn't long before we were handed the keys.
At last, we could start our journey on the open roads, or so we thought. We weren't shown how to operate any of the functions in the car and with it being an automatic, my bloke started to check it all out. Everything seemed fine until he looked for the lever to pull his seat forward like I had done when I jumped in the passenger side. When he couldn't find a lever, he asked how it worked and was grumpily told that there was a button, as it was electronic. Despite pressing the button, nothing happened and there was no way that he could drive it safely with the position it was in.After much deliberation between staff members, they didn't seem to have any back up plans, we were told that another compact was due in soon. After another half hour I lost it a little bit and said that it wasn't good enough and that if they didn't hurry up and get us a car within the next ten minutes, we were going to demand compensation. At the threat of this they immediately got on the phone and told us that there was a car available at another site in the city.
This was a relief especially after saying that they would drive us over there too. After all we had been standing waiting for nearly 3 hours by this time and we knew our destination of Mammoth Lakes would not be reached. The only good thing was that we had not booked our accommodation ahead of time so didn't lose any money there.The other office we were taken to was on Folsom & 3rd Streets. We were directed into a comfortable office and asked to sit down. This office was much nicer and we noticed straight away that we were the only people there. We were informed that as there had been such delays and because we were on our honeymoon, they would give us an upgrade to a full size car, which had more features and would be more comfortable for us.
The staff in this office explained that all the travel companies sent their clients to the office in Bush Street for 10am and it was always chaotic there. They said that the offices on both Folsom and O'Farrell Street were always quieter and they had more cars available because of this.It seems really stupid to me that the company does not let the travel agencies know of this, especially when the other offices were both within easy walking distances of Union Square and did not have any big hills to climb up either.
Anyway, we were finally escorted to our car and given the keys. We were then asked if there was anything we needed to know and the gentleman gave us clear directions to the Bay Bridge as well as maps for San Diego and LA, which we would need when in those cities.***The Car***
We couldn't have asked for a better car. Driving around in a Pontiac Grand Prix was amazing and it coped with both city roads and small dirt tracks extremely well. We tested it to the max going up steep and curvy mountains and found that it didn't falter at all.The car was fully automatic, with cruise control for helping keep at the speed limits on the freeways. It had all the safety equipment you need including air bags and power locking windows and doors. As soon as the car was taken out of park (our version would be handbrake off), the doors locked so no one could try to get into the car.
The car was extremely comfortable with loads of legroom and soft leather seats. The only problem with leather seats of course, is when it gets too hot and you are wearing shorts but that's another story. Air conditioning was great and well needed as the temperatures soared to 116 degrees in some areas of Death Valley and Vegas. Of course it didn't help when you couldn't park the car in the shade and getting in it felt like an oven but then again that can't be helped and once we had the engine on, the beauty of good air-con was certainly felt.As for mileage, it seemed to work out pretty well. The computerised system told us that we were getting on average 38 miles to the gallon and that was often on slower roads so we were quite happy with that especially as it was only costing us around £20 to fill up. So much cheaper than over here. The computer also told us when gas was getting low and how many miles we should have left before we ran dry. This was really useful as some of the places we visited were quite remote.
I didn't drive the car, mainly because my hubby wouldn't budge out of the driving seat, he loved the car so much. He did say it was very easy to drive what with the cruise control and automatic transmission. The only thing that got him to start with was positioning in the road but with a left hand drive it does take a bit of getting used to.***The Drop Off***
By the time we dropped the car off we had done around 2800 miles in total and of course the amount didn't matter at all as we had unlimited mileage on our package.Finding the Alamo drop off point at LAX was very easy. We had the map of course but as we reached the airport area, there were clear signs for the various car hire sites. Sadly they didn't let us keep the car as a wedding gift so I wasn't able to have it shipped over. We said goodbye to it reluctantly as we took the luggage out. Following a quick check for any damage and a quick signature from us, we left it behind.
Alamo offer a shuttle bus service to the terminal you need for your flight so there is no struggling with luggage and trying to find a taxi. The driver on the bus was extremely helpful and made sure he lifted everyone's luggage on and off, as well as giving a reassuring arm for those that were in need of extra assistance.***My Thoughts***
Although we had a big delay at the start of our dealings with Alamo, I have to say that they did treat us quite well in the end and the upgrade was most welcome and the Pontiac was much more comfortable than the Chevrolet we were first given.I can't help but feeling that there is obviously a big gap in communications between travel agencies and the company and the staff working at the Bush Street office deserve a medal for some of the abuse they had to take when they were obviously working very hard on the phones to get cars brought over. If only we had known about the other sites in advance, we would have been able to get on the road sooner.
Luckily this slightly shaky start didn't ruin our plans too much, although we did have to spend a night in the car that first night, as we arrived in the town too late to get accommodation. However, it was quite a comfortable car to sleep in and we felt very safe in it. The heated seats meant that if we got a bit chilly in the night, we could warm up quickly and in the morning it was all worth it when we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over Mono Lake at Lee Vining, a little bit short of our original destination of Mammoth Lakes. We also saw a wonderful sunset in Yosemite so we reckon that fate was looking after us too.***The Price***
Our hire costs were included in the total cost of the holiday but I have been looking online and doing a similar price check to give you all an idea of it. For 13 days hire with the gold package, picking up in San Francisco and dropping off at LAX, a compact car would cost around £260. If we had booked the full size model like the Pontiac we were given it would have been about another £70 so we did get quite a good deal in the end.With the website you can choose to pay in GBP or in the currency of the country you are picking up the car in. It is worth remembering that depending on the rates at the time of booking, you may be cheaper buying from abroad. As some credit cards such as the Post Office one, don't charge commission it might be worthwhile doing this. It would certainly have saved us a bit at the time when the dollar was reaching $2 for every £1.
Product Information : Alamo National
Manufacturer's product description
Listed on Ciao since: 04/09/2007