Although it’s usually a breeze to book a rental car online, it’s not always easy to know when you're getting a great deal or whether you’re getting taken for a ride. There are some factors to consider that will help you find great deals on rental cars.
Be Prepared to Research
Like anything in life, you will get out of the car rental process what you put into it. If you’re in a rush and only check one or two websites, you are not going to find the best deals. Before you book, check out the major travel discount sites—such as Expedia, Kayak, Hotwire, CarRentals.com, RentalCars.com etc. –as well as the websites of different car rental companies. Enterprise, Hertz, National, Avis, Budget, Dollar, and Thrifty are notable national rental companies and a good place to get started.
To get the best deal on a rental car, look for economy models, not luxe ones.
Book Early for Holidays—or Avoid Them
If you’re booking a rental car to drive around during the holidays while visiting family and friends, then try to book as early as possible to avoid paying more as the demand rises. If you are simply planning a vacation for yourself, you can save money by not booking during the busiest and most costly times of the year, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Be Aware of Hidden Fees
If you don’t book directly through the rental car company website, you might not be quoted a price that includes standard fees, such as the added driver fee or minor driver fee. Make sure you know what those costs are and keep them in mind when comparing quotes so that you’re looking at apples to apples, not oranges. Before you sign for the car, be sure to read the entire rental contract and look out for hidden fees related to prepaid fuel or toll transponders.
Back Away From the Airport
We can almost guarantee that a rental car location close to the airport will have the highest prices in town. It might seem convenient to book a rental car you can pick up at the airport, but you’ll often save money by looking at a location closer to your hotel or where you will be staying, even if you have to take a taxi, an Uber, a Lyft, or another ride-hailing service into the suburbs to get there. In some cases, rental companies will pass along the fees that airports charge them, sometimes called airport concession fees, concession recovery fees, or facility charges on your bill.
You will likely pay $20 or more per day for a car rented from the airport than you would for a car from a different location.
Think About Discounts
Are you a member of AAA, AARP, BJs, Costco, USAA or another national club? Have a frequent flier mileage number? You probably have a car rental discount available that you haven’t even considered. These discount codes won’t save you a ton, but they can shave a few dollars off of your daily bill.
If you need to book a hotel, car, and a flight, you can do some comparison shopping to see if you can save money by bundling your car with either of those other travel expenses. Sometimes, you can, and other times, you won’t, but it never hurts to check.
Skip the Insurance If You Can
If you book your rental with a credit card, you will more likely than not be covered in the event of an accident—just make sure to read the fine print. The same could apply to your usual car insurance policy. Either way, make sure you know the details before you get to the car rental company. Otherwise, the agent will try to sell you additional insurance that you may or may not need.
Refuel on Your Own
It might be tempting to avoid the hassle of filling up your rental car’s gas tank, but rolling up with just fumes in the tank is a great way to pay a huge rate per gallon, and sometimes, pay additional fees.