One of the things I do nearly ever time I travel is to rent a car. It sounds like a good idea to get around town more easily wherever I’m visiting and sometimes it’s even an absolute necessity! But then I start to calculate the costs involved. That’s the catch for a frugal person like me, and that is when I begin to look for as many ways as possible to save on car rentals.
How to Save Money on Car Rentals
Here are some important points for any traveler to consider:
1. Do you absolutely need to rent?
With proper research, you may in fact find that your destination offers great public transportation, taxi service, and/or airport shuttle services. Make sure you calculate what those may cost you on your trip and compare it to the rental fees you find, as well as other rental costs like gasoline and parking. Also consider if you actually need a car for your entire stay. It may be more sensible to rent for a few days and do your travelling/sightseeing while you have the car, and then do your relaxation, beaching, and visiting with friends on days you do without a car. Do the math and you may see some great savings.
2. Avoid the airport rentals if you can to save
Car rental companies located at the airport are more convenient, but you’ll wind up paying 30-40% more for your rentals there. Take mass transit or a taxi to a local rental source (most cities have them close to the airports) and you’ll save a bundle. Just check the costs and locations online before you reserve to check the savings.
3. Don’t just stick with name brands
Just like the store brands will save you money in the supermarket, picking the local brands of car rental companies can save you significantly over the well known, nationally advertised brands. Just do your research in advance and check reviews to make sure the local company is reliable.
4. When you rent online, sometimes you can “trick” the rental company
When you check prices, remember that weekly rentals are normally cheaper per day than daily rentals, and weekend rates are even cheaper. If you need a car for a week and you add an extra few hours or a day to that (depending on when the weekend rates begin and end), you can fool some car rental company systems to change your rental rate to a weekend rate for the entire rental. Since you almost never have to pay up front for your car rental when you reserve it, you can return it when you want to and still have that bargain rate calculated on your bill. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and I’ve done it myself. Just check it on the reservation website to see if it works for you.
5. Never pay in advance for your rental—unless you’re certain they are “the one” and you get a discount
Rental companies would love your money up front to ensure that you’re really going to use them, and discounts for as much as 15-25% are the norm for doing so. If you’re certain you’ve found the right deal and they offer a discount for pre-payment, go ahead and lock it in.
6. When renting, always use some kind of discount
Use a coupon, a discount code, or discounts from AAA, AARP, or your credit card to save as much as 20-50% off your rental. There are also free upgrades and free days when you use them. Make sure you check and search every time. Discounts can often be stacked with codes and coupons, which sometimes doubles your savings.
7. Deny insurance coverage from your rental company
Insurance coverage can be more costly than the car rental itself. Check your regular auto insurance policy, as well as the credit card you’ll use, to see what is covered on rentals. In most cases you can avoid these fees and still be protected.
8. Say no to GPS fees if you have a smartphone
If you have a smartphone, use its GPS or map system and you’ll be fine. No need to pay extra for duplicate features.
9. Fill up where gas is the cheapest
Check sites and apps like GasBuddy.com to see if you can fill the car up cheaper locally than at the car rental facility. If you rent with a full tank from the rental company, it may be at a premium price. Return with the tank refilled and it will save you a fee.
10. Take photos of your rental with your phone camera
Both when you receive the car and when you return it. This protects you against any damage claims. Make sure any damages are noted on paper and signed off on before you drive away or you may be held responsible later.
11. Order a compact and ask for an upgrade
The compact/economy cars are the most ordered since they are always the cheapest. As a result, many times they run out and will have to offer you an upgrade. If they don’t offer one, ask. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have what you ordered. If you have a reservation, you shouldn’t have to wait once you’ve signed in. If you are waiting, it probably means they don’t have what you ordered and they’re waiting for a return. If this happens, always ask for an upgrade. Don’t wait more than a few minutes if this occurs.
Use the same thought process on a 2-door versus a 4-door, or a mid-size versus a full-size, etc.
12. Bundle up
If you’re booking your trip through a travel service like Expedia, BookingBuddy, or any other online service, bundle your car rental with your hotel and air package. It will be cheaper for your rental at the very least. Just make sure that the other parts of the bundle are just as much of a savings before you commit.
13. Waive the under-25 driver
Whenever possible, don’t sign up with an under-25 driver. You will pay a huge fee for that privilege. If you are the under-25 renter, sigh…good luck! The same is true for an additional driver add-on. If there’s a fee and it isn’t needed, just skip it.
14. Drive extremely cautiously in areas where you aren’t familiar
Tickets and/or accidents will drive your car rental costs through the roof (duh!) and as a tourist, there is no mercy shown to you.
15. Use AutoSlash
To check and review rental prices up to the minute. Prices can change at a moment’s notice, so look frequently. Since reservations online generally require no deposits or payments, you can change them at will to get the best prices.
Remember to do your homework in advance to get the best deals. Car rentals can drive the cost of your trip way up or it can just be a minor expense for a great convenience. If you do rent, be frugal and save the extra money for something really special.
What tricks have you learned when it comes to saving on your car rental costs?