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12 Tips for Navigating Your Way to Affordable Car Rentals

Car Rental Deals and Tips

Renting a car doesn't have to be scary!

After you turn 21-years-old, the novelty of notable birthdays seems to slip away. From then on, it's just the decades that matter, right? But wait, don't forget the all important 25th birthday! The year when you can officially rent a car. While this probably isn't something you'll be waking up at the crack of dawn to go do,  it's an important milestone that can make your travels much easier. Here are our 12 tips to make your car rental experience as blissful as blowing out your birthday candles:

1. Know Before You Go. The old stigma that you have to be 25 to rent a car is actually false. Many rental car agencies like Avis will rent to people under 25 -- but it'll cost you. Most up-charges range between an extra $15-$25 per day, depending on the car company and state in which you rent. Make sure to call or check online when renting the car to confirm you can rent underage and to find out what your fee will be.

2. Price Compare! We say this again and again, and it seems like obvious advice, but you'd be surprised how much money it can save you. Check sites like Kayak or Expedia that aggregate many companies into one search engine, saving you time and making comparisons a cinch. Sites like Hotwire.com and Priceline.com are also great options if you don't care which company you go through.

3. Beware of taxes and fees. Think you found an awesome deal? Make sure it's really as great as it looks by checking out the company's most likely hidden taxes and fees. That $15 per day rental could end up looking more like $25 per day come checkout.

4. Book your car ahead of time. Besides avoiding the headache of not having a car when you arrive at your destination, many car companies offer a discounted rate when booking online and paying up front. This is also a sneaky way to snag free upgrades. If you booked a compact car beforehand and they are out of compact cars that day, you'll be entitled to an upgrade to the next car level for the lower price you paid!

5. Take advantage of coupons! There is almost always a coupon out there for car rentals. Especially if you're picking one up in a major city with many options to choose from, taking a look at who's got the best coupon on the market well worth your time. Check out these car rental coupons going on now:

7% off Thrifty Car Rental
Enterprise: Car Rentals From $10/Day

6. Do you need that extra? Sure a GPS and satellite radio sounds good on your computer screen, but is it going to feel good when it empties an extra $20+ dollars per day from your pocket? Borrow a GPS from someone at home, use your smart phone, or try good old fashioned maps (just not while you're driving, we care about you)! It'll help give you that good old fashioned that road-trip feel. Many new cars also come with a USB port where you can simply plug your iPod in with the same cord you use at home.

7. Check in ahead of time. Most rental companies allow you to check in online to make your pick-up even faster. Once you confirm your reservation, you can simply head to a kiosk, swipe your credit card and drivers license and be on your way!

8. To Insure or Not to Insure. Do you already have auto insurance or use a major credit card? You're probably already covered. Review your auto policy or call your insurance company to make sure before you reserve your rental. Same goes with credit cards. Many automatically insure your car rental when you pay with the card. Again, make sure to review your policy or call. And remember, though your American Express or Visa card may cover your car rental insurance, it won't cover that Ford Mustang you decided to get at the last minute. Credit card companies don't usually cover luxury cars.

9. Ask for discounts! The first question you ask before handing over your credit card should be -- Do you offer any discounts? Military, AAA, corporate, airline...tons of associations get price breaks, and all you have to do is ask!

10. Avoid the airport when you can. Sometimes convenience can definitely outweigh price, but it definitely pays not to pick up your car at the airport. If you can get an airport or hotel shuttle or take public transportation to your destination and then pick up your car at the city center instead of the airport, you will save what is often referred to as an "airport fee." Most times you can even return the car at the airport without the fee!

11. Fill up on gas. Prepaid gas plans are almost never cheaper, so fill up on your way back to the drop-off location. But, never fill your tank at the gas station closest to the return spot. Gas stations closer to the airport and near car rental places are generally more expensive because there is a greater demand. There are also lots of great Apps you can download and websites you can visit to find the cheapest gas in the area like GasBuddy and GasPriceWatch.com.

12. Be safe when renting a car. This may not sound like a money saving tip, but it is. Lock your car and don't leave valuables out. Especially in large cities, car thieves and burglars look for that GPS left on the dashboard or the duffel bag in the backseat as a reason to break in. The last thing you want to pay for is broken windows.

Happy renting BradsDealers! Have a great strategy on saving money while renting a car? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Tessa McLean

19 Responses to “12 Tips for Navigating Your Way to Affordable Car Rentals”

  1. Daeyl says:

    Make sure that your insurance company covers the car being out of service should damage occur. I got relatively cheap coverage through State Farm before I left…

  2. t.m. says:

    Be careful of Dollar Car rental. I booked a car three weeks in advance to be picked up at the San Antonio, Tx. airport site. I got to the counter about 15 minutes early only to be told that the car was being cleaned and would take about one hour. After a long flight I didn’t want to wait. I rented a compact which I was told would be a Kia Soul,Dollar offered a Dodge Charger at an upgraded price as the only car that was available NOW. This was the first time I had to pay for an upgrade, usually an upgrade is offered at no additional cost. SO, BE AWARE OF DOLLAR CAR RENTALS.

  3. Deborah says:

    Another tip besides reserving in advance: shop the price when you get to the car rental counters–the competitors may have had higher online prices when you reserved, but ended up with excess inventory when you arrive. Just wave your confirmation page as you walk by and sing out, “Can you beat $x for a compact?”

  4. Nancy Reid says:

    Be careful renting a car in Houston they have taxes and fees that are shocking when you get your final bill!

  5. » Five Things to Never Buy When Traveling » Edward Antrobus says:

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  6. Saundra says:

    I only wanted 12 Tips for car rental, why did I get 12 other copy of information. Your Website needs some work.

  7. Linda says:

    Please take the few extra minutes to walk around the rental car to look for any dents/dings/scratches and then take a quick picture of them before you pull out! Yes, a picture is still worth a lot of $$ saved since you did not put any of the above onto the rental.

  8. Edward Antrobus says:

    The first time I rented a car, it was from Dollar and the hidden costs DOUBLED the bill when it came time to pay. They did upgrade us from the compact to midsize because they lost the key for the compact!

    The second time I rented a car, it was from Budget and they upgraded us from the compact to midsize just because we had a new agent that was still learning the system and took longer to get us on our way. :)

  9. Tammy says:

    My husband commutes (he works in Dallas, we live north of Houston), he works for an airline so he flies stand-by for free, but the airport he has to fly in to is over an hour south of where we live. We have found that it’s cheaper to rent an economy car rather than burning fuel in my Jeep Commander for two round trips. Carrentals.com is where we have found the best deals. Strangely enough, the prices go down the later in the weeek it gets. We usually reserve on either Wednesday or Thursday for the weekend. Also, play around with the pick-up and drop off times. If I enter pick up at 4:30 pm Friday and drop off 5 pm Sunday, the overall price is usually less than picking up at 5 and dropping off at 5. And do make sure to look at the total price for the duration, not just the daily rate – those fees and taxes will make a seemingly great deal not so great!

  10. Julie says:

    In addition to Linda’s advice: Be sure to check the windshield
    also!! The last rental I had was chipped in the upper middle-hidden from the driver by the rear view mirror. It must be marked on the rental agreement diagram.
    As for insurance, my policy provides coverage for an accident-but I weigh whether I want to pay my $500 deductible or pay $15ish per day to let the rental company pay for it.

  11. Linda says:

    The rental car companies have no control over taxes. Yes, they can almost double the cost of the rental. Make sure to read the terms and conditions on the website. There may be rules and regulations you are not aware of that will increase the amount of rental or disqualify you completely. Also be aware that many insurance companies do not pay for loss of use or depreciated value if any damage does happen to the vehicle and that the claim will be on your driving record. That means that your rates may increase or the insurance company may cancel you completely. Weigh all options before declining CDW.

  12. [...] 3. Choosing the Right Moving Truck. If you’re renting a truck to move yourself, make sure you shop around for the best deals. Budget Truck Rental (get 20% off your rental here) and U-Haul are the most common, but look for smaller companies in your city as well. Don’t forget to beware of hidden fees. A lot of the same rules apply for renting a car, so check those out here. [...]

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