As we find ourselves smack-dab in the middle of summer and at the height of vacation season, searching for great deals on any travel accommodations will only become tougher as the dog days of summer rapidly approach.
Often one of the more frustrating aspects of travel planning, rental cars and the means by which you secure them can dig deep into your wallet if you're not careful.
From finding the right rewards programs, to the rental agency’s location, to prepaying for your rental, there are a multitude of ways you can save money on your next car rental.
Utilizing these 10 easy tips and tricks will go a long way towards putting money back in your pocket that most travelers unwittingly surrender when renting a car.
- Join a rental car loyalty rewards program. It’s easy, it’s typically free, and you can’t complain when you’re getting free upgrades or avoiding waiting in lines. Whether they’re storing your rental preferences, guaranteeing vehicle availability with two hours notice, or earning rewards points you can redeem on free rentals or upgrades, there’s no reason to not join a program. Also, in the interest of securing more business most loyalty programs will offer to carry over your status from any other program. If you’re able to secure elite status within one program you’ll likely be able to transfer that status to others. Don’t be afraid to take check out small-business benefits programs like Hertz Business Rewards or Avis Corporate Rewards, as they offer 25% or more off every rental; just make sure that you register yourself as a sole proprietorship.
- Utilize coupons for even greater savings. Before you set out in search of your rental car, look for the best coupons and deals you can apply to your rental. In addition to any discounts you may be afforded for having frequent flier status with one of the rental car company’s affiliates, you can also combine coupon codes to double down on your savings. Whether you’re finishing up your reservation online or over the phone, make sure to include any coupon codes you may have. By doing so, you can often save anywhere from 25% to 50% on your rate, double the number of miles or rewards points you receive, or even get one free rental day. Here are some coupons and deals the team at BradsDeals found for Hertz, Avis, National, Budget, and Dollar to help you save even more when you book your next rental car.
- Use an online deal aggregator. Sites like CarRentals.com and Kayak.com all afford you the opportunity to find great deals on rental cars from a multitude of providers using a variety of metrics to find the right deal for you. Make sure not to overlook off-brand rental car agencies like Fox Rent A Car, as you may be able to save anywhere from 10% to 50% off of what you would pay with bigger brands. Which leads to our next point...
- Prepay to save upwards of 20%. This is especially true if you use opaque travel websites like Priceline and Hotwire, services that allow you to pay upfront but don’t let you know the details of which agency you’re renting from. But by using CarRentals.com, we found a prepaid-only special on a 4-day standard rental car for $12.35 a day with Advantage Rent-A-Car out of SFO. Compare that to $62.99 a day with Thrifty for a non-prepaid 4-day standard rental out of SFO over the same weekend. After taxes and fees, you’re either paying $82.61 with Advantage or $274.01 with Thrifty. That’s a potential savings of $191.39 just for prepaying with an off-brand agency.
- Don’t rent at the airport. If you’re willing to take the time to put some distance between yourself and the airport, renting from an offsite agency or through your hotel can help you avoid airport concession fees, which are often as high as 10% to 30% of your entire rental car fee. Although going offsite may prove to be a slight inconvenience, mapping out your route via complimentary bus service, public transportation, or even a quick taxi ride before you begin your trip will go a long way on saving you time and money.
- Check with frequent flier programs and credit card companies for partner benefits. In many cases, memberships with frequent flier programs and using certain credit cards will not only provide additional insurance coverage but they’ll regularly waive some fees and and offer additional discounts. On top of that, you can also earn miles just for renting a car. For example, if you’re a United Mileage Plus member and use Hertz, you can earn 75 miles per rental day and an additional 50 miles per rental day if you’re an elite member. That means you can garner up to 500 extra frequent flier miles over the course of four day rental.
- Avoid signing along the dotted line for insurance. Although optional in most states, additional insurance, like Loss Damage Waivers and Personal Effects Coverage, can account for an additional $20 to $40 per day on your rental fee. Before you go signing off on any insurance that the rental car company may be offering, make sure to check with your existing policy, AAA, and even your credit card companies to see if they already provide additional rental car coverage.
- Make your reservation longer than you anticipate needing the car. Simply tacking on an extra couple hours or a day to your reservation can lower your base rate, even though you ultimately plan on returning the car earlier than you've arranged. The system will often discount your rate, especially if you can extend your reservation into Fridays or Saturdays to utilize weekend rates. On top of that, some rental companies will give you a prorated refund for an early return. Be careful, though, as some rental companies, like Hertz and National, charge early return fees. Make sure you ask the rental car company for clarity or check the terms and conditions of any rental agreement before confirming any rental.
- Look out for and avoid sneaky fees. Top off the gas tank before you return your car or you’ll be charged for a two to three-times the price of a full tank, regardless of how much gas was in the car when you dropped it off. Inspect your car for any dings and damage before pulling off the lot. I like to snap a couple pictures on my phone of the front, back, and sides of the vehicle, leaving little doubt as to the condition the car was in before I stepped foot in it. If you’re behind schedule when it comes time to return the car, call the agency you’re returning the vehicle to and ask if it will be cheaper to pay late fees or extend your rental. Always check for fees tied to GPS, electronic toll collection systems, and car seats. If you can manage to bring any of these items with you, you’ll save a lot in little fees that can add up quickly.
- Ask yourself: How much I really want or need to get out of my rental? Before you book your rental car, take inventory of what you’ll actually be using the car for and consider it’s utility. How many miles do you anticipate putting into it? Do you need any extra room for kids? Is there any reason you’ll need all that extra trunk space? Do you really need the sports car or premium SUV? Pick the car that suits your needs. If you’re on a quick business trip where your car will only serve as a means of transportation from your hotel to the office or meetings? Pick a compact. Planning on packing the kids in for a road trip to grandma and grandpa’s place? Grab a roomier van or SUV. At some point in the rental process you’ll be forced to endure an agent’s attempts at up-selling any and all premium cars, packages, and the aforementioned additional insurance. By knowing exactly what you want you’ll be able to quickly and efficiently choose your car and gracefully decline any agent’s pursuit of an up-sell.
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