Renting a car should be a straightforward process. But as you likely know, it is rarely that simple. When you go to rent a car, there are suddenly many different options thrown at you. Should you buy insurance? Do you need extras like GPS or roadside assistance? And if you aren’t a seasoned traveler, how can you know what represents a good rate? Below we’ll go over 11 tips for the cheapest way to rent a car.
1. Take Advantage of Aggregate Sites
Websites such as Kayak, Hipmunk, and Expedia are a good place to start when renting a car. These sites will allow you to get a sense of typical car rental rates and what price points will represent a value. Even if you do not end up renting a car through one of these aggregators, they will provide you with a valuable baseline.
2. Leave No Stone Unturned
You may think that websites such as Priceline and Hotwire are gimmicky or a waste of time, but you might be surprised at what you find. These sites take what is referred to as “stressed inventory” and offer much lower rates than usual. If a rental car company feels that a vehicle will not be rented on a certain day, time, or location, they will offer it at a cut-rate deal to a company such as Priceline or Hotwire. The downside of these sites is that you know the price and the car, but you do not know the rental car company until after you have booked.
Leaving no stone unturned also means looking directly at the rental car website. While aggregator sites can often offer the cheapest rates, always make sure to compare quotes before booking. There are times when the car rental company is actually offering a lower rate.
3. Cancel and Re-Book When Rates Drop
This will require some extra work on your part, but it can be well worth your time. Unless you book rental cars all the time, it could be difficult to know what exactly represents a valuable rate.
But you can generally cancel a rental car reservation at any time without a penalty. Of course, check first to make sure this is the case with each company you rent from. The idea is that you rent multiple cars and cancel and re-book if you see prices fall. You will have to be checking daily to see where rates are going, but this can be the best way to ensure that you are getting the lowest rate.
4. Pay for Your Car Up Front
Some car rental companies will offer a discount as much as 35% off if you pay at the time of booking rather than when you pick the car up. Examples of this are companies such as Avis, which advertises 30% off, and Budget, which offers up to 35% off.
5. Try a Discount Brand
Even with the examples of Budget and Avis above offering big savings if you pay upfront, a discount brand may still be the cheapest option. At the end of the day, is there really a reason to pay more to rent from a company such as Hertz? If you are not a rewards member, the answer is likely no. Make sure you check out every brand, including Alamo, Advantage, Dollar Rental, and Thrifty. You will likely save at least $5 per day by going with a discount brand.
6. Try to Not Pick Up at the Airport
If you can manage to not pick up your car at the airport, you can save as much as 10% of your car rental prices. Airports will make you pay a surcharge, such as a “facility charge” or a “recovery fee.” They know it is most convenient for you to pick up at the airport, and they make you pay for it. Compare prices at rental locations in the city you’re traveling to and see if the cost of taking a taxi there is worth the money you will save on the rental.
7. Take Advantage of Memberships
You may currently be a member of a company that offers rental car discounts. Do you have a Costco membership? If so, you may not need to look anywhere else to find the cheapest rate. Costco rental car rates consistently beat the competition. Another membership that offers rental car discounts is AAA.
Frequent flier programs also often have relationships with rental car companies. American Airlines AAdvantage members, for example, can receive 35% off Avis and Budget.
8. Book an Economy Car and Hope for an Upgrade
It goes without saying that you should opt for an economy car if you are trying to save as much money as possible on your rental. But another advantage of booking an economy car is the possibility of an upgrade. As the cheapest options, economy cars are the most likely to be rented. When you arrive, it’s possible that all of the economy cars are already off the lot, leaving you with a nice little upgrade.
9. Do Not Add a Driver
If you are traveling with your family, you might be tempted to add a driver so that both you and your spouse can drive the car and still be insured. But that luxury may cost you $10 per day at a minimum. Some rental car companies let you get around this if the additional driver is your spouse and has the same address. But even if it’s not your spouse, some memberships, such as AAA, Costco, USAA, and AARP, offer an additional driver for free.
10. Do Not Buy the Insurance
It’s likely that your current car insurance will cover your car rental. When you see the option to add insurance, ignore it, as long as you’ve confirmed that you are covered. It can be tempting to add insurance for those just-in-case situations, but it’s likely an unnecessary expense.
11. Ignore the Extras
Rental companies love it when you add items such as satellite radio, roadside assistance, and GPS navigation. It may seem obvious to ignore these extras if you’re looking to save money, but this is simply a friendly reminder.