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Phoenix is the most expensive place in the nation to rent a car because of taxes

by Max Jarman and Jodie Snyder Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006 at 9:49 AM

Taxes in Phoenix and Arizona make Arizona one of the most expensive places in the nation to rent a car. The government theives at Sky Harbor Airport will shake you down for .80 to a day for a car rental

Sky Harbor Airport costly for car rentals

Renters in the nation's third-busiest car-rental market are paying some of the highest fees.

A recent USA Today survey of car-rental taxes and fees at 25 large U.S. airports found that such add-ons at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were the fourth highest, making up 29 percent of the average car-rental bill.

Only renters at Kansas City, Mo., Seattle-Tacoma and Houston Bush Intercontinental airports paid more. Renters in San Diego, Los Angeles, St. Louis and San Francisco paid the lowest.

Sky Harbor spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher attributed the high fees to charges that help pay for University of Phoenix Stadium and the airport's new 0 million car-rental facility. In general, customers pay a state licensing fee, and those who rent in Phoenix get hit with taxes totaling 10.1 percent to Phoenix, the state and Maricopa County.

If they rent at the airport, it's even steeper. Travelers pay a special .50 per day surcharge for the facility and up to 11.11 percent of their bill to reimburse the car-rental company for the cost of leasing space there. USA Today found that the charges increased the cost of a five-day full-sized rental from Enterprise's Sky Harbor location by about , to 8 from 0.

People working in the Valley travel industry say they are aware of the higher rates but say that it hasn't slowed the tide of tourists.

"People say, 'I could buy a car for what they are charging,' " said Erik Dahl, a travel consultant with Your Travel Center, a travel agency affiliated with Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Dahl, who specializes in arranging rental-car services, says he hears complaints about the high rates every other day.

Frances Rodriguez of San Jose said her family shopped around for rates when they had to make a last-minute trip to Phoenix for a funeral.

After making some calls, they were able to get a car for five days for 0."Other (car-rental) places were more expensive," she said.

At the Arizona Office of Tourism, they get about 30 complaint letters a year from people who have visited the state; about 10 of them are about high car-rental rates, spokeswoman Jacki Mieler said.

The rental-car agencies have not generally opposed fees that relate to the rental but have take a united stand against special unrelated excise taxes, such as the stadium fee.

"Our customers want to know why they are being asked to pay for something that has nothing to do with their car rental," said Laura Bryant, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Rent-A-Car. There are 86 taxes added to car-rental bills nationwide, and 48 under consideration that have nothing to do with the rental, Bryant said.

Last month, Enterprise sent a letter to Ted Ferris, president and CEO of the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, calling the stadium excise tax arbitrary and unjustified. The agency cited a study of the 2005 car-rental excise tax in Kansas City that showed that airport rentals had declined as people chose not to rent a car.

But in Phoenix, where public transportation options are more limited than some other cities, passing up a rental car may not been an option, particularly for business travelers on a schedule. The need for a vehicle has made Sky Harbor the third-busiest rental-car market in the country, behind Orlando and Los Angeles.

Ostreicher acknowledged that the Sky Harbor fees, which add .80 to a per day rental, prompt some people to go off-site to rent vehicles.

But she noted that the airport is still the most convenient place to rent a vehicle for people flying into Phoenix.

"Most people are willing to pay a little more for the convenience," Ostreicher said.

And some, like Todd Tucker, of Spokane, Wash., who returned his car after three days in Phoenix, didn't mind the rates that much. "I travel quite a bit and this really doesn't seem out of line," he said.

Reach the reporter at max USA Today contributed to this article.

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