Summer is upon us, and for many, that means summer vacation time! Time to get out of town, change your scenery, adjust your viewpoint. Time to – ugh – get a rental car.
Yep, time to delve into that dreaded black hole of car rental agencies. It can be daunting sorting through the menagerie of information. Too much information! Many a car renter will simply settle for that first “offer” that comes their way.
But don’t settle for more. Settle for less! Less rental rate fees, that is.
With a bit of diligence, patience, and empowering information, you can cut through the rental car black hole and rent a car at a fair and decent price. And to get you on the road faster, here’s ten tips to securing a lower rate for your next car rental.
10 Tips to Renting A Car for Less
1. Reserve early – And often! If you even think you are going to a highly visited tourist destination, book at least one car reservation as far in advance as possible, when the rates are typically lower. Unsure of exact dates? Reserve cars for two or three scenarios. Most car reservations can be cancelled without penalty, as long as you didn’t pre-pay. It’s the supply and demand rule. Book before everyone else, get the better rate.
2. Pre-pay the rate. It can be a good deal – if you are 100% certain of that rate and date. However, if you find a better rate closer to your travel date, you probably can’t switch without paying a penalty. Penalty fees can be from $10 to the full price of the reservation. Advice – make sure you know the cancellation policy before booking a pre-paid rate.
3. Know what to expect before you book. Get a feel for the general price range of different car options and agencies for your destination. Search general travel booking sites – they will provide you with a snapshot of expected car rental rates across several rental agencies. Favorite sites that are very helpful include
Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and CarRentals.com.
4. Check rates for off- name brands. Name brands may not have the best prices. Check the lesser known and smaller rental agencies such as E-Z Car Rental, Payless, and Fox Rent a Car. Websites like Car Rental Express might just offer a great deal for a car at your destination.
5. Consider renting at an off-airport car rental agency. They are often less expensive than picking up the car at the airport. Just do your homework if you are considering an off-airport rental, especially when traveling with family. How will you get there, and how much will that ride to the off-airport rental site cost you? Renting off-airport can be a great deal, or a great time-sucker.
6. Lock in lower rates by renting the car for a little longer than you need it. Sometimes adding just a few hours to the rental time frame can get you a lower rate. You can still return it at your planned time!
7. Keep checking rates right up to the rental date. Check rates often in the weeks prior to your departure. As the rental date gets closer, car rental rates will either go up – or go down. Especially if you are traveling off season or to a lesser traveled destination. Car rental agencies are there to make money. They would rather rent you a car for less than have that car sitting on their lot.
8. Register to receive a car rental agency’s promotional deals. Then track email offers right up to the minute you travel. You might just be able to cash in on a last minute special en-route! Found a better deal? Book it first – then cancel the other reservation, assuming you have a “no-fee” cancellation policy.
9. Don’t assume that rental rates increase by car category. If a car rental site has more cars in a higher category, they might just offer that car for about the same – sometime even less – than a lower category car. Just be sure to factor in gas prices, if that is a concern. Renting that mid-size SUV at the rate of an intermediate car may not be such a bargain if you end up spending twice as much on gas.
10. Check your hotel and airline reservations for “booking deals” – many times you will find coupons “attached” to your reservations for as much as 30% off a car rental. But don’t just assume this is the best rate. It may be. Or it may not. Back to #3, above. But in the meantime book that reservation just in case it is a good deal. Remember #1, above!
Bonus tip! It’s day-of and you have arrived at the car rental counter. Don’t forget to ask for any on-site deals or promotions before you check into your reservation! Sometimes the very very last minute deals are even better than what you already booked. If so, ask for your reservation to be switched to the better rate.
Are you a Mr. Rebates member? Make your car reservation through Mr. Rebates and receive an additional rebate after you complete the car rental.
Car Rental Coupons
Don’t forget to search the internet for car rental coupons before you book. There are several ways to do this. You can simply google “car rental coupons” and up will pop sites offering rental coupons. You can search a preferred car rental agency for coupons specific to that brand. You can search travel websites for deals. Or, you can take the easy route, and check these three sites for rental coupons.
- RentalCarMomma.com is an easy to use site for finding car rental coupon codes, and one of my favorites. They have all the biggies, and typically some of the best deals out there.
- AutoSlash.com applies coupons and discounts, and tracks rental price changes right up to the pickup date. It also re-books your reservation automatically if they have a better deal. Just be aware that many of the larger agencies don’t list their cars with AutoSlash.
- Mr. Rebates lists recent deals for car rental agency partners. Query Car Rental in the search for a list of these partners. When you find the deal, click through Mr. Rebates and get an additional savings!
A few words about Hotwire.com – Many people swear that the best rates for renting cars are through Hotwire. Others simply swear about Hotwire. I have to admit I have mixed feelings. Yes, you can get a good deal. But is it the best deal? Maybe. Maybe not. Here’s the catch – you typically have to pay upfront, locking you into that reservation at that rate. Out of curiosity, I’ve watched Hotwire rates during previous rentals. When initially booking, Hotwire had the best price. However, I opted to book elsewhere for a reservation with no cancellation penalty. It was $20 more than the Hotwire rental, but I took a chance it would go down as we got closer to the rental date. It did. I paid $20 less than the Hotwire deal. But in another case, the Hotwire price did remain the best price. Your call here.
And about Priceline.com – much the same as Hotwire.com. You can name your own price. You might get it. Or not. But if you choose to go this route, you will be locked into that reservation. Priceline rental cars are non-refundable, non-transferable and non-changeable even if the reservation is not used.
Armed with these tips, don’t resign yourself to booking that first car rental fare you find! More isn’t always better. With a little work, less will be best!
How do you shop for rental cars? Do you find it complicated to find the best deals? Or are you a “deal-finder” always watching for the prices to drop? Let us know in the Comments section below. Share your car rental tips.
Learn more about Mr. Rebates at Save More With Mr. Rebates.
“Dog in Car” by NikoMC (Flickr)
“Low Prices Ahead” from AutoSlash.com (website)
“Pigmobile” by Loco Steve (Flickr)