Let’s visit a popular U.S. National Park in peak season at the last minute! Yeah, that sounds like our travel style. And that’s how our conversation started two weeks back when we decided we had to see the Death Valley Superbloom.
All advance reservations for park accommodations were full. We could try our luck at a first-come first-served campsite, but we didn’t really feel up to tent camping this trip. So we decided to try something new: the rental campervan.
Despite paying more than we should have (no thanks to Escape), we had a good time on our trip. Want to know what the campervan life is like? Keep reading to find out! (More on why we don’t recommend Escape Campervans, too.)
We’d booked a “Mavericks” van at the last minute and were picking our van up in the late afternoon. We had our choice of two vans and selected the one named “Dadio” painted with geometric shapes and jazz-themed designs.
Over the course of our 3-day trip, we noted several really great things about the van:
- New linens — or at least they seemed to be! The blanket was thick enough to keep us warm at night, and it was covered with a fresh duvet. The pillows were comfortable, too. I can’t say I didn’t sleep totally soundly in this van!
- Solar Battery powered refrigerator and light — The fridge was awesome to have. It’s small, but way better than dealing with a cooler, and it kept our stuff cold! The light was bright and handy for seeing at night without running the interior van lights.
- The A/C worked great and kept us nice and cool the whole time.
- Stove, utensils, and complimentary propane tanks were all handy.
- The inside table was convenient to have, though we could only comfortably sit on one side of it (more on that below).
- Having a sink inside was super handy, too.
View photos and a full list of Mavericks features on Escape’s website.
Our van was clearly old, though, with 186K miles on it (eesh!), and we had a few small issues with it:
- Our van lacked the mechanism that holds in the used sink water, leaving the used water reservoir in constant drain mode. That meant our greywater dripped under the rear of the van whenever we used the sink. U.S. campgrounds typically don’t support the free flowing of greywater wherever your vehicle is parked, so this wasn’t ideal.
- Our van lacked the pullout tabletop for the camp stove at the van’s rear that most Escape vans are equipped with. We were provided with a packable picnic table free of charge, but setting it up was a pain in the ass compared to their standard pullout design.
- The wooden interior accessories were old and worn in our van. The wooden box that serves as a bench behind the driver/passenger seats was broken (the wood was warped and the screws stripped), so it was impossible to sit on that bench without risking falling in.
- About 30 miles out at the start of our trip, our tire pressure indicator lit up so we had to stop at a gas station to buy a pressure gauge. The tire pressure was nearly 20 PSI too high on the rear tires — an easy fix since we were in a convenient location when it happened.
Escape’s customer service gets a big thumbs DOWN. Here’s (the short version) why:
The information we got online and in our booking confirmation email contradicted the rental policy Escape (Los Angeles) actually practices, and as a result we ended up paying a grand total of $601.43 for our 3-day trip to Death Valley. It was management we were disappointed with. The girl who greeted us and walked us through our rental was pleasant and professional. But when we emailed Escape to request a partial refund due to the contradictory information we’d received, their mistake was shrugged off and we were ignored.
You can read more about my frustrations with Escape’s poor customer service at the bottom of this post, but since our experience was otherwise positive, I’ll save that ’til the end.
Extra mileage was a bit costly, though not unexpected because it was stated clearly in our rental quote. Just make sure you have a good idea of how far you’ll be driving before you make your booking so you can estimate how much you’ll pay for extra miles.
Helpful Tip: You may be better off extending a short trip for a better daily rate and 100 extra miles for each additional day.
If you’re booking a 7-day or longer trip, you can pay $19/day for unlimited miles. Otherwise, you’ll pay $0.25 per mile beyond your 100/mile per day allotment.
We drove from Los Angeles to Death Valley National Park and back (~300 miles each way) for the Superbloom, with a considerable amount of driving around the park each day we spent there. Our grand total for mileage was 965 — Death Valley is big! — and we paid $141.25 for the 565 miles beyond 400. (We’d extended our 3-day rental by an extra day so our now 4-day booking included 400 miles.)
Our Issues with Escape Campervan’s Online Booking and Customer Service
Below is a detailed account of our booking frustrations and our denied/ignored refund request.
Not planning to book an Escape van? Skip this part, and check out our March 2016 Death Valley Superbloom photos instead. But if you are planning to book with Escape, the information below should be helpful for avoiding the issues we encountered.
We booked our Escape Mavericks van online just a few hours before we went to pick it up. It was $107/day (plus tax). We planned to leave for Death Valley in the early morning from Simi Valley on March 8th, so we picked up our van in Los Angeles around 4pm the day before (March 7th). We planned to return it at 4pm on March 10th. Paying for three days, our total would be around $350 including tax.
When we went to pick it up, the problems began…
Issue #1: The Escape website booking page and email confirmation we received contradicted the actual rental location’s policy for the return time of the van. We’d booked a 3-day rental with a return time of 4pm online (confirmation page screenshot of an identical booking). We also received an email confirming it. But we were told at pick up that the van was due back by 10am. It’d cost us an extra day to return at 4pm.
They didn’t even acknowledge we’d booked a 4pm return time — We noticed the return time discrepancy when signing our rental papers at the very end of the rental process.
Issue #2: Once on location for pickup, there was no mention when we were inquiring about our 4pm return time that a 4-day rental rate is $87 rather than $107 per day… Since I was inquiring about returning my van at 4pm, why wasn’t I offered the option to modify my rental to a 4-day one?
Note: If the online booking system had worked according to the policy they practice, my 4pm to 4pm rental request should have generated a 4-day quote at $87/day instead of a 3-day quote at $107/day. Escape staff should have at least offered to adjust my rental to a 4-day one. With the lower rate, my subtotal would be just $27 more than my original quote — and I’d get 100 extra miles for that added day.
Issue #3: Their website’s FAQ page says you can pay $19/day for unlimited miles, but you’ll find out at pick-up that this deal’s reserved for 7-day+ customers only. (Our online quote DID say 0.25 per mile over the 100/day limit, so I can’t complain about this one. I DO however wish somebody would have told me that a 7-day rental would cost me just $399 — with 100 miles/day — so I’d get a better deal booking for longer.)
Note: If we’d planned better, we could have paid $505.61 ($399 base rate + $66.25 extra mileage + $40.36 tax) for a 7-day rental rather than the $601.43 ($103/day *3 + $87/day *1 + $141.25 extra mileage + $52.18 tax) we paid for our 4-day rental. Lesson learned.
While no one was explicitly rude to us, I feel that Escape as a whole is unapologetically unclear about their rental rates and policies. I think this completely contradicts their so-called “No Hidden Costs” policy. There was helpful information that Escape staff withheld from us while carrying out our rental (e.g. a lower daily rate would apply for a 4-day rental than for a 3-day rental). But even more troubling was my brief email interaction with Andrew (who is listed as the “Business Owner” on Yelp) regarding our refund request.
A Denied Refund Request
The day after we returned our van, we called Escape to request a partial refund. We were told to send an email to [email protected]. In our email, we requested a refund for the extra day charge of $87+tax because the information online was misleading and we didn’t find out that the return time would be different from what we’d booked until we were about to drive away with the van. Andrew responded the same day and cited the fact that the company had sent us a separate email with a 10am time (which we didn’t receive before we’d left to pick up our van and didn’t open until after we’d picked up our rental) and the fact that this policy is written in their Terms and Conditions (fine print reached via hyperlink at the bottom of the confirmation email) as his reason to not honor our request. In response to Andrew’s email, we further explained our frustration. It went something like this:
Even though the 10am return policy is mentioned in Escape’s detailed Terms and Conditions, that policy blatantly contradicted the return times shown on the website’s booking page and the first confirmation email we received. That’s a problem I would hope Escape would acknowledge and make right by providing us a partial refund.
No such luck. Our second email to Andrew was completely ignored. (It’s now been over 10 days since we sent that second email.)
Since this whole debacle, I’ve noticed that the online booking inquiry page now notes a minimum rental length requirement of 7 days for both van types (previously only the Ventura required a 7-day rental). Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but hopefully it’s evidence that they’re actually attempting to fix the problems with their online booking page.
So Do We Recommend Escape Campervans?
In short, no. I can’t recommend a company that provides poor customer service. It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever book with Escape again.
But I will say this: there seems to be no perfect campervan rental company in the Los Angeles area. Escape has relatively high ratings compared with its competitors on Yelp — a 4.5 star average vs. Jucy’s 4 stars.
Maybe we were just unlucky in our experience, but we certainly learned from it, and I hope you can, too. If you approach the rental process with all the knowledge we didn’t have before, you’re probably in for a more enjoyable (and more affordable) rental. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you. 😉