While making plans for our trip to Panama in November, I ran into some unwelcome surprises with regard to a couple of the plan’s components.
Surprise #1: Rental Car
When I did my initial searches for rental cars in Panama, I was getting some absolutely amazing prices. For an Economy or Compact car, I was getting rates like $5 – $9 a day. I thought, “This is GREAT!” I could rent a mid-sized SUV for a daily rate in the upper teens. What a deal! However, before I booked, I thought I’d better do a little more research – seemed a little too good.
Sure enough, I found quite a few accounts online from tourists and expats who rented cars in Panama and had a “grand total” price quote printed from their online reservation. They found out their rate quote was, in fact, correct. HOWEVER, it didn’t happen to include the various insurance require BY LAW in Panama. That includes supplemental personal liability coverage and the good ‘ole collision damage coverage. Together, these coverages can add $25-$30 or more per day to the quoted rate. There are also at least 3-4 more optional coverages offered.
When we rent a car, we always decline the collision coverage, because it’s provided by our credit card company. However, that’s always an optional coverage – in Panama it’s not. It’s possible to get them to waive the collision coverage if you are able to prove to them that your credit card coverage is good in Panama – and they are not going to just take your word for it. I read accounts from people who had a half hour argument with the rental car counter rep, trying to convince them of the credit card coverage.
To find out what they WILL accept as proof, I went into the fine print of the online rental agreement. Here’s what one major rental car company says in the Terms and Conditions:
If you wish to rely on your own insurance to cover our vehicle then the renter must provide “Written Proof” from an insurance company or Credit Card company, specifically stating coverage effective in the country of Panama, for the specific vehicle and for the duration of the term of the rental agreement. If such “proof” is not verifiable or is invalid then it would be necessary to purchase... [coverage from the rental car company].
How many people know in advance what specific vehicle they will be renting? I called our credit card company and they referred me to the online benefits description for our card, which cites the collision damage coverage. The rep said I could print that and take it with me. However, when I looked it up, it says the coverage is good in the U.S. and “many other countries.” I don’t think that’s going to work. The rep told me they can also mail a letter to me (only to my mailing address) that explains the coverage as well. I have asked them to do so. Our friends who are staying at our house will need to scan the letter and email it to me. Simple, huh?
I’m going to be prepared for a debate at the counter but we’ll hopefully get past that hurdle. That doesn’t, however, get me past the mandatory supplemental liability coverage. The credit card doesn’t cover that. With that coverage included, our quoted daily rate of about $9/day will jump to closer to $30/day. That’s not horrible, but I’ve gotten rental cars in Hawaii for lower rates than that.
Surprise #2: Airline Tickets
As I noted in the previous post (Plans for Panama), I found one airline that has flights from San Jose, CR, to David, Panama. This is very close to our destination of Boquete. The flights are $125 per person, each way – a $250 round trip. A little expensive for a one hour flight but it looked like our best option.
For some reason, when I tried to use the airline’s web site to book the tickets, it kept giving me an error message and wouldn’t let me make the purchase online. I called the Air Panama office in San Jose and they had me send them my info, so they could make the reservation. However, they wouldn’t take payment over the phone and I wasn’t going to send them my credit card info via email. We were planning to go into San Jose for some other business in a few days, so I told them I’d come by the office and pay in person. I sent the information and the Air Panama rep sent me an email to confirm the dates, passenger info, and price. Amazingly, the round-trip price had jumped from $250 to $357! Again, this is a one hour flight. I replied back to confirm that was the correct price. The rep said it was and explained that the quoted web fare didn’t include taxes. That amounts to a tax of about 43%! Our round trip for two would be over $700.
I started looking for other options.
By the time we took our trip into San Jose, I really hadn’t found any other options, except taking the bus. We were just going to suck it up and pay the expensive airfare. On the way to our first stop in San Jose (not the Air Panama office) we were very surprised to run into the leader of the relocation tour we had taken when we first got to Costa Rica. We stopped an chatted for a while and we explained about the expensive airfare. He suggested we take the bus and said it would be fine – and much cheaper. Hmmm, maybe we should consider it...
We got directions to the bus depot where the Panama bus departs. We walked there and checked into schedules and pricing. It turns out the bus to David, Panama is only $42 each way. It takes about 9 hours, allowing for about 2 hours for the border crossing, and it does make a few stops (rest stops, meal).
After debating the pros & cons and checking our options with the hotel we had booked in Boquete, we decided to take the bus. It’s a long ride but we’ll get to see new parts of the country. We’re telling ourselves it will be an adventure. I think that’s a safe bet...
We made some other adjustments to our itinerary, to accommodate the extra time we would be taking traveling to and from Panama and the not-so-convenient schedule of the bus. I’ll cover those in a separate post.
Posted by Mark