6 Tips to Renting the Right Limousine

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In the mid-’90s, I rode in limousines nearly every month. That sounds impressive – until you learn I was friends with a limo driver.

I thought about Sam the other day, when I read that June was once again the top month for weddings in 2010, after dropping to fourth in 2009. (For reasons even the experts can’t fathom, in 2009 more weddings occurred in August, September, and October. But June 2010 accounted for nearly 16 percent of all weddings, good enough to be No. 1.)

Obviously, weddings are big business for limo drivers. So are proms and graduations, which usually occur in May and June. So early summer is peak season. Which means right now is off-season – and that can mean discounts. If you’ve ever thought about splurging on a limousine, here are some tips…

1. A limo makes a fine holiday gift

I once rented a limo for my wife, her two sisters, her niece, and her sister-in-law so they could get a massage at a local spa – it was my Christmas present for all of them. While it wasn’t cheap, once I subtracted what I would’ve spent on individual gifts, it wasn’t a financial bloodbath either – $400 for the limo, and $300 for the spa. That’s $140 per woman. And they talked about it right through the next Christmas.

I would’ve hired Sam, but he had moved by that time. Still, I took his advice and booked a limo for a special occasion I created, instead of a wedding or prom. Sam always said the most appreciative riders he ever drove were those who were surprised to see a limo pull up to their doorstep – or learned they were riding in a limo just hours or sometimes minutes beforehand.

2. Travel on a weekday

Weekends for limo drivers are like weekdays to us. Sam’s weekends were mostly Mondays and Tuesdays, unless rich people were flying into town for concerts or other special events. Sometimes he had convention clients who came in on Wednesdays, but as a sole proprietor (as opposed to driving for a company), he would offer deep discounts for weekday work.

3. Travel with five friends

Most limo services charge by car, not by person. And they offer six-passenger, eight-passenger, and/or 10-passenger cars. Since the six-passenger cars are cheaper, you’ll get the most for your money by filling one of those. You might also score some deals if you suggest you don’t mind an older vehicle if it means saving money – as long as it’s in good condition. (See below for checking on that.)

When I called several limo places for my wife’s Christmas present, some tried to cajole me into renting a Hummer limo, or an “extra-stretch” limo. I knew the prices would skyrocket, so I didn’t even let them quote me a price. A limo ride is special enough. I don’t need to double the price. Speaking of…

4. The price is not the price

When you book a flight, you’re not charged for the aviation fuel. But when you rent a limo, you pay for the gasoline. That’s why, when you call to reserve your limo, you’ll be asked, “Where exactly do you wanna go?” The limo service will estimate the miles and roll the fuel fee into its price quote.

Also expect to shell out for any parking and road tolls. Then there’s the gratuity for the driver, which is also included in your quote. But make sure you clearly ask, “Does that price include everything?” Reputable services or sole proprietors will be very clear about all their fees. Speaking of…

5. Look for signs of trouble

According to the USA Limo Guide, “The law requires all limousine rental companies to arrange for proper private hire insurance.” But “some companies evade insuring their vehicles and occupants as its an expensive overhead.”

And, of course, the chauffeurs need to have chauffeur’s licenses. Ask for proof of both. Other omens…

  • Avoid a limo company that requires more than a 50 percent deposit. For my wife’s present, one company demanded full payment in advance. I said thanks-but-no-thanks and hung up. USA Limo Guide says, “Generally, a deposit of 20-50 percent of the total rental fee is required by credit or debit card.”
  • Sam always insisted I ask about this scam: The limo shows up, and in the back are bottles of cheap champagne in ice buckets built into the passenger area – and you’re billed $50 per bottle. So I always ask if the limo comes “iced” (that’s the lingo, apparently) and I can bring my own bottles. The answer has always been, “Sure, you can put whatever’s legal in the coolers.”
  • Because limos are unnecessary luxuries, it’s quite common for customers to check out the cars before making a deposit. A reputable limo company will be glad to have you stop by to inspect its fleet – and pass what Sam always called “the look and smell test.” That’s right, smell. I’ll spare you the details, but Sam said the worst part of being a limo driver was cleaning up the back seats after a club-hopping rental. You want to make sure you’re not paying for the remnants of someone else’s good time.

6. Negotiate more than price

If you search limos.com – a meta-site for finding limos in your area – you’ll see something interesting. Most limo companies charge roughly the same hourly rate. The big differences? What kind of vehicle you desire and all the extras.

Before you call a limo company, email first and see what they offer. In fact, email several. That’s what I did – it was much easier than calling a half-dozen places. While the prices came back all within a $50 range, the perks and options are what made the difference in my decision.

For example, yesterday I emailed Millenium Limo in Miami and inquired about rates for a night on the town next week. I got a reply within the hour – and a lot of options. Did I want a white Hummer or a black-and-silver Bentley? Did I want to use a coupon for a “brand-new 12-passenger limo for six hours”? Did I want grapes and crackers for $39 or disposable cameras for $10 each?

Of course, being financially frugal and not at all ostentatious, when I rented that limo for my wife, I asked for the cleanest, oldest model that seated six. And I insisted on no extras, preferring to stock the limo myself for less.

But here’s a more recent example of using all this advice…

Today I called Feel Good Limo outside Scranton, Penn., to request a car for next Thursday night for five hours. A very pleasant woman quoted me a six-passenger car for five hours of bar-hopping at $295 – but that didn’t include gas and driver gratuity. With those included, the damage was $404. And I was allowed to bring my own bottles of alcohol to put in the iced-down coolers inside.

So that’s less than $81 an hour for me and five pals to tool around Scranton. While that’s not the cheapest night out – in Scranton or many other places – it’s an affordable splurge and can add up to a memorable experience. So when the time is right, try it some time.

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