A recent one-night stopover in Los Angeles at a humdrum LAX hotel and without a rental car taught me two valuable lessons:  I don’t need a gaudy Hollywoodland palace in which to lay my head at night, and there are times when I can eschew driving myself around L.A.

A week before my trip I glanced at my hotel reservation and suddenly thought that $199 for one night at the LAX Hilton (plus tax and parking, and breakfast extra) was more than I cared to pay. Online, I soon found the Hampton Inn LAX El Segundo at just $89 per night, including continental breakfast, so I booked it and cancelled the fancy Hilton.

At the same time, I noticed that I had a Hertz car reserved for 24 hours at LAX.  The sheer rental car logistics, which I have experienced a hundred times at LAX over the decades, made me tired just thinking about it:

Wait for the Hertz bus on the curb with my luggage after locating where it stops by my airline’s terminal.

Stuff into the always-crowded bus and carefully watch my luggage on the rack.

Wait for the bus to stop at every LAX airline terminal.

Endure the bus as it lurches over to the big Hertz rental facility north of the airport.

Find my car—never quite what I want—and check it out for damage before accepting it.

Drive to the Hertz gate bottleneck and wait in a long queue to get out because there are never enough gate staff.

Crawl through LAX north-to-south traffic to the hotel in El Segundo.

Later, undergo the stressful drive to my meeting in Long Beach on always-maddening and slow  I-405.

Find a parking place.

Drive back to my hotel and find parking again.

Next morning leave extra early to find a gas station and fill up.

Creep through LAX traffic back to the Hertz lot.

Get a receipt and wince that the forgettable plain-Jane car cost $139 for one day after all the local and state taxes and special airport fees are lumped into the basic cost

Run for the Hertz courtesy bus back to the airport (the bus doors invariably close as I walk up).

Stuff onto the crowded bus again.

Crawl through traffic back to LAX, watching my luggage like a hawk as people get off.

Stop at every airline until my stop.

No, I thought, not this time, not for just one day.  I would use Uber or Lyft and avoid the tiresomeness and cost of the rental car process. It would also be easier and, according to my calculations, cheaper than renting a car.

When my plane touched down, I called the Hampton for a shuttle bus.  The hotel staffer was polite and crisp in directing me to a certain curb and said it would be there in “about 12 minutes.”

Hotel shuttles are always later than advertised, but I didn’t argue. So I was bug-eyed when the bus arrived in 11 minutes and even more surprised when the driver rushed off the bus smiling and efficiently stowed my bags before leaping back into the driver’s seat.

In no time we had reached the modern but modest Hampton Inn LAX El Segundo, which hardly looked like a hotel at all from the street.  The property is nestled between  a nondescript commercial building and  the “105 Parking” garage (long-term, off-airport parking) with which it shares the shuttle services.

Smiling front desk staff let me check in early at noon. The room was sunny, comfortable, quiet, and with all the usual stuff: free Wi-Fi, big-screen TV, etc.  The Hampton breakfast the next morning was the same old boring continental offering of every inexpensive hotel in America, but for $89, it was a great deal. The only glitch was having my sleep interrupted at 12:30 AM by a woman talking loudly on phone next door. I eventually had to shout at her through the connecting doors to keep it down. She did.

My experience using Lyft to and from Long Beach was excellent. Somehow, I had earned a discount of 50% each way, which brought the one-way price to $15. I had competent drivers and quick 30-minute trips. Even tipping each driver $5, my total fares came to $40—a bargain anywhere!  Even had I not qualified for the half-off discount, the total would have been $70, which is half what I would have paid to Hertz—and totally stress-free. I will positively be using Lyft (and Uber) on future Los Angeles trips to avoid LAX rental cars whenever possible.

Returning to the airport after checking out—I will definitely go back to that Hampton—the “105 Parking” shuttle driver was just as upbeat and efficient as the driver the day before.  He briskly helped everyone with luggage, and he was dead on time, which I always appreciate.

LAX is usually a zoo just because it’s LAX. Even granting that reality, Delta’s Terminal 3 (originally TWA) is cramped and worn out. The security screen was a rat’s maze with no room to move even in the hard-to-find TSA Pre line. Everything felt totally makeshift.

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No place to sit while waiting at Delta’s LAX Terminal 3

Terminal 3 gates in the ancient circular rotunda offered no seats or room to breathe.   I like standing before boarding, true especially that morning as I was on the nonstop to RDU, a long flight, but the lack of seating was inexcusable.  A long line for the sole women’s toilet never seem to shorten. Delta promises a multi-billion dollar makeover of terminals 2 and 3 to commence this year (2018).  It’s desperately needed.

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The long line for the women’s toilet snaked out into the rotunda at Delta’s LAX Terminal 3

All in, I think I spent $172 for the day and night, including lodging, Lyft, tips, and meals.  Even better, I didn’t have to rent a car, find parking, or drive it through L.A. congestion.  All good and a blueprint for future trips.

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