As part of my other job, I chair a business called Luxury Explorer, which aims to become ‘The World Atlas of Luxury Travel’. Part of this role is to be an aesthetic adventurer who ‘luxe-trots’ his way around the world, deciding which hotels are good enough to be part of the brand.
The brand’s goal is to become the most trusted collection of luxury hotels for people who, like me, have a penchant for non-formulaic luxury with a perfect sense of place and style.
Shortly, I’m off to revisit some of my favourites in France (to check they are still up to scratch) and need to book a car that will help make the getting there as much fun as the being there. I’m flying into Toulouse, where I want to pick up a car, and travelling on to Hotel de la Cité within the fortified walls of Carcasonne.
From there I’ll drive southeast to Aix-en-Provence, stopping at Oustau de Baumaniere to enjoy a double Michelin-starred lunch, and then on to stay at the outstanding Villa Gallici.
The next day it’s off to St Tropez for an off-season stay at Villa Marie, overlooking the vineyards and beaches of still the grooviest village in France, before pointing the car east for consecutive nights at film-star-glamorous Cap Estel, the exquisite Château Eza in Eze, and the final night at Le Saint Paul in St-Paul-de-Vence.
I’ll drop off the car at Nice Cote d’Azur Airport at the end of my tour, having clocked-up 24 hotel stars (there is no five-star denomination for hotels in France, so four-star luxe is the highest rating), plus at least a dozen Michelin stars, if you count lunch at Alain Ducasse in Monaco on the penultimate day.
For this trip I need a car with style to make the most of the experience, maybe a Cabriolet? How easy will that be to book online and which website will provide me with a five-star experience?
Peter Matthews is managing director of Nucleus
Having tried every major car-hire company over the years, Hertz remains my favoured brand, even though the No1 Club Gold Executive Platinum Business Class pick-up isn’t as fast as it should be. When I’ve swapped, they’ve just been worse.
‘Busy’ with a capital ‘B’. I can tell it’s Hertz from the yellow, black and grey, but it’s a design mish-mash. I’m drawn to the Valentine’s promotion, which features a couple embracing on a gondola. Car hire. Venice? Interfaces and dropdowns are out of the Microsoft beginner’s kit. The brand experience is missing.
My tests could have been on a bad day, but all the inputs and results took too long. We all expect snappy responses and I got the equivalent of nailing a Twingo’s accelerator on the final ascent of Mont Ventoux. I entered ‘Toulouse’ as my start point. I entered ‘Nice Cote d’Azur Airport’ in the drop-off field and got no result. I shortened it to ‘Nice’, and one of the results was ‘Nice Cote d’Azur Airport’. If the results aren’t what you want, there’s no way of going back one step…
I liked the choice. Hertz offered me Green or Prestige Collections as well as cars for proles. However, with an Audi A4 Cabriolet at £2,000.42, a Mercedes E220d CDi looked a bargain at £999.79. I fancied an eco-luxe tour, but the Prius I chose couldn’t be quoted… My bargain was a BMW 320d for £135.62, cheaper than a mid-size Green Collection at £189.14, with the small Green Collection being the most expensive at £192.81! Extras are easy to add, but the last time I added Hertz NeverLost was the only time I was.
Well, the full-size Green Collection car was an absolute bargain at £22.50 per day, so Hertz would definitely get my booking, but if I hadn’t already been an advocate, the overall experience might well have put me off.
Revenue generation: 20/25
Part of the Avis Europe company and licensee of the Avis Budget group car hire giant. Avis snapped up the Budget brand in 2003.
Red and white, clean, clear and crisp, if a little characterless. The promotional panels add some interest, though, and it all looks quite professional and reassuring. Better, in my experience, than the physical journey.
Compared to Hertz, this site is fast. The basic search and results are clear, but the choice of cars available at Toulouse is disappointing. Extras, such as baby seats and snow chains, are easy to add, in the same vein as EasyJet. Check out is simple.
There’s a compelling offer from Avis Preferred, promising to give you your keys in three minutes…. Do I believe it? Not on past experience. The proposition includes a Sat Nav with every Audi and a Prestige Collection saving 15% when booked online, including Aston Martins and Porsches. This link takes me off to another site and I have to input all my details again – only to find the range is only available in the UK. The most enticing result for my trip is a large, Comfort class car ,which includes a VW Passat or an Audi A4. Neither are large in my book, but the prices are okay; £281.77 now (with no refunds), or £306.54 if you pay later. But watch out, vehicle damage cover excesses are €1,300 and for theft €1,600!
Simple to use, with good prices; why wouldn’t you book online? (Well, you might want to watch out for the small print).
Revenue generation: 22/25
Founded nearly 50 years ago in Paris, Europcar is owned by Eurazeo after Volkswagen sold the company in 2006. Europcar operates in 143 countries.
Very green – and I don’t mean environmentally sensitive. It’s a particularly unnatural, unappealing green; let’s call it Euro-corporate-green. There are lots of boxes with equal-emphasis bold type that cancel each other out because, visually, there’s no rhythm or variation in the design. Ski seems to dominate the photographic content at the moment.
There are three bands of what looks like navigation – but one is a strapline, the middle is the key navigation and the third, navigation for corporate Euro-corporate-bods. You have to select which country you want to hire in, before you can select a pick-up point. Leisure users have the same interface as Trucks and Special Cars. Massive dropdowns (including every location in France, of which there are many) are the only way to select your pick-up and return sites. This is pretty basic – and not at all pretty on the eye.
I click Special Cars and choose an Audi A4 Cabriolet and find the cost is €1,916.59 for four days. I realise that I got one of my dates wrong, but there’s no easy way back – then I see a button ‘Modify Booking’ and find it’s only for existing bookings. I find ‘New Request’, which does take me back to my initial inputs. Put off by the cost of the Audi, I try a Volkswagen EOS Cabriolet and get a quote for €1,307.18 for the five days or a Renault Megane Cabriolet for €789.31. I try a tin-top Mercedes C220 CDI and at £236.36, it looks much better value. Why are Cabriolets so expensive to hire?
Simple check out – once you’ve got the hang of it and aren’t put off by the colour.
Revenue generation: 18/25