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USA TODAY - Car-sharing service Zipcar said today it's expanding operations to many major airports, opening new options for travelers who need to get around on the ground.
Zipcar, which was acquired by Avis Budget Group in March, will begin renting cars at airports in Los Angeles; San Jose, Calif.; Atlanta; Austin; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Palm Beach, Fla.; and Toronto.
It began renting cars at the three biggest New York-area airports - LaGuardia, JFK and Newark - last month. The service has a total of about 10,000 vehicles at the 11 airports, 20 cities and more than 300 universities.
Unlike traditional airport rentals of brands such as Avis and Hertz, Zipcar requires customers to pay membership fees and the cost of a rental.
Zipcar, which has many college students and city dwellers without cars as members, is "targeting a different type" of renter at airports and not competing with the traditional airport auto-rental companies, says Zipcar spokeswoman Karen Drake.
Zipcars can be rented by members 21 and older - unlike traditional airport rental companies, which often require renters to be at least 25.
Drake says the service's expansion into airports is aimed at both business and leisure travelers.
"For the past decade, Zipcar has been delivering on our brand promise of 'wheels when you want them' to members where they live and work," says Zipcar President Mark Norman. "Now Zipcars are available for members where they travel."
Zipcar's vehicles can be rented by the hour, which can attract airport passengers with delayed flights looking to get away from an airport for a few hours, Drake says.
The hourly rate at airports is $9-$12, depending on airport, vehicle type and membership plan.
A USA TODAY check of Zipcar's daily rates shows they could be a cost-saving option for airport renters - particularly for those who book multiple rentals annually.
A new individual Zipcar renter, who must pay a $25 application fee and a $60 annual fee, can rent a Honda Civic for one day on May 21 at New York's JFK airport for $89, plus a tax of about $18, according to a Zipcar telephone reservations agent.
The car can be used for 180 miles without an additional charge, and the gas tank does not need to be refilled.
Renting a subcompact car such as a Hyundai Accent from Avis at that airport on the same day, the cheapest online price for the rental, taxes and fees was $121.89 - about $15 more than the daily Zipcar rate. The Avis rental has unlimited mileage, but renters need to fill the gas tank before returning the vehicle, which could cost $40 or more.
Auto rental consultant Neil Abrams of Abrams Consulting Group in Purchase, N.Y., says there's "always a risk" that Zipcar could attract customers away from discount rental car brands such as Avis Budget Group's Budget Rent A Car, but Zipcar's customer demographic is much different.
Zipcar's service appeals to "younger, tech-savvy, more-educated professionals - the Facebook/Twitter generation - who see car-sharing as part of a larger cultural and environmental movement" that believes in sharing resources, he says.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)