Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Renting a car while on vacation often adds value and freedom of travel. There is nothing better than exploring an area on your own terms and on your own time, but sometimes car rentals can be a bit of a hassle and the costs can add up quickly.
We'd rather you spend your hard earned money on experiences rather than on unnecessary costs and fees associated with car rental so we put the top tips to save on car rentals.
Tip #1 Book the Smallest Car Possible In the United States and Canada travellers prefer larger cars and car rental agencies know this so many of their vehicles on their lots are mid to large sized. If you have reserved a compact or subcompact rental, chances are it may not be on the lot when you get there – but don't worry. The rental car agency will always offer you a free upgrade to an available automobile on the lot. You'll get a larger, more luxurious vehicle as a result – at no additional costs.
Tip #2 Decline Extra Coverage Insurance is where car rentals make a lot of profit on and you are not obligated to purchase any additional coverage as long as you have your own insurance. Most insurance policies cover you for car rentals but it is best to check with them first. Most major credit card companies also cover the driver when one uses the credit card to reserve. There are also a host of car rental insurance policies you can buy online at a fraction of the cost as at the rental counter.
When you decline the offers, you will probably be pressured by the sales person, but remain bland and nonchalant. Simply decline, say no and do not seem interested in the very least about their horror stories and anxiety inducing tales.
Tip #3 Rent Longer for Shorter If you need a rental car for a day or just a few, quickly check to see what the rate is and then come back and see what the rate would be for example, an entire week. Sometimes the weekly rate is cheaper than renting for the days you need the rental, for a few days.
It is better to leave the car sit in a parking lot, unused and save a few bucks.
It also pays to try a number of combinations when you consider your rental period. You could get a better rate if you pick up the car on Thursday, even if you don't really need it until Friday. The Friday rental might come with a weekend surcharge, increasing the total cost to more than it would be with a weekday pickup.
Tip #4 Beware of Hidden Fees and Additional Taxes Taxes and additional fees can also quickly increase an advertised rental rate, so make sure you consider all charges when you comparison shop. While sales tax should be standard in a given location, some companies tack on energy surcharges, tire and battery recovery fees, and vehicle licensing fees.
Also check that you have declined and it is not listed as a sale for additional fees attached to upgrades such as GPS Navigation, Personal Item Protection, Roadside Assistance, Satellite Radio etc. Only choose the add on you need and make sure they aren't “automatically” included.
Tip #5 Look Online for Coupons Many rental car companies will release coupon codes to entice slow business months. Check online for rental car coupons from your desired rental car agency and apply them to your reservation. Some coupons offer 10-60% off the reservation fee.
Tip #6 Use Rental Car Finding Sites We found two sites that offer the easiest and best way to search all the rental car companies at once to find you the lowest price possible for your desired needs.
Tip #7 Avoid The Airport Yes, it's very convenient to rent a car from a location near to the airport that you just flew into, but expect to pay a premium price. Do yourself a favor and take the time to research rates before selecting a rental car. You will likely find that the rates for rental cars further from the airport are lower than those at the airport, and if you’re renting for a few days, it will be worth your while.
But how do you get yourself to these car rental locations off-site from the airport? A little secret is that many rental car companies like Discount Car & Truck Rentals offer free pick-up and drop-off as long as you schedule it ahead of time. Renting from the airport usually costs about 10-20% more than off site.
Sometimes, however, the convenience of an airport rental pick up and drop off outweighs any savings. Some rental car companies do not have a free shuttle and a taxi or Uber to and from the location sometimes adds up more than the cost at the airport itself. Take some time and do your research.
Tip #8 Fill up the Tank Yourself Always fill up the tank yourself at a gas station somewhat close, but not immediately near the airport. Gas stations near the airport will cost slightly more than those a little ways away.
Never leave the rental car company to fill up their own tank, as this will cost you a crazy amount. Also, decline their own prepaid gas option. The counter person will tell you the cost is lower than at the pumps, but this is usually a lie and the prepaid gas option is actually higher than at the pump.
Tip #9 Discounts
Check with the car rental agency if they offer AAA or CAA related discounts. Your credit card or bank may offer car rental discounts with specific agencies, which could save you 20% or more off their listed price. Also check your credit cards, frequent flyer clubs and memberships to see what discounts you may already been entitled to on car rentals.
When you book your hotel and your flight, make sure you check your email confirmations and of course your spam folder to see if you received any further correspondence. Sometimes hotels and flight operators may send you coupons of up to 30% off to entice you to rent a car through them.
Tip #10 Check & Record Make sure before you sign off on your vehicle you check for any damage inside and out of the vehicle. Take pictures and record a walk-around video with your smart phone. You do not want any unexpected fees when you return the vehicle. One time in Denver I rented a vehicle that was so nicked, scratched and damaged I circled the entire vehicle with remarks as I was not going to be liable for anything already on the beater.
Remember to leave your cookies when you browse the Internet and comparison shop and vacation plan. Cookies are designed to track you, and if the sites see that you are planning a vacation in Florida, for example, and you are not satisfied with prices, and leave their web site, they will often send you ads as a result, often times with lower prices than you expect.
We hope these tips on saving money on car rentals help you out in your travels. Until next time, happy motoring!
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Photo courtesy of Devon Janse van Rensburg