I drove home from JFK, because the alternative was staying overnight in New York and waking up at 4:30 to get an early morning flight to BWI, fetching the train from BWI . . . and to hell with it, I'll rent a car.
At the National office at JFK I ran into a woman who was furious because National wouldn't take her debit card; they only accept credit cards. I sympathized because this had happened to me once on a trip to New York, at Budget; luckily, my mother had lent her credit card, going down on the rental as a second driver. The person in New York was not so lucky.
Returning the car at Union Station, I ran into another furious woman having the same problem.
I haven't been able to figure out why they don't accept debit cards, since presumably they could put a hold for the amount of the advance authorization they usually get on credit cards, but the fact is that at least in New York and Washington, they apparently don't. If you're planning to rent a car in the near future, don't show up with just a debit card in your wallet, or you'll be walking to your next destination.
Update In the comments, Freddie makes an interesting suggestion: having a credit card at least indicates that you have good credit: i.e., are not a total deadbeat who will abscond with the car. I never thought about it as a signalling mechanism, but this seems very plausible.
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