Renting a car is the cheapest way to have fun when you travel because you are not dependent on cabs, which are very expensive especially in big towns and you also save money on gas instead of driving your own car to the place you want to travel. Rented cars usually are well maintained which means you will almost never have any trouble with breakdowns and since the car is not yours, the risk of theft is almost discarded because the rental company takes care of the matter and you lose no money.
Whenever possible we try to take our car. Our most recent two vacations involved driving instead of flying. We went to Savannah, GA and Orlando, FL from our South Florida residence. This fall we are planning to visit great Smoky mountains by car. So, whenever possible we try to avoid flights. That saves us money, gives us joy of long drive with scenic beauty. Whenever needed we stop the car, take pictures, give rest to body, etc.
Now there is situation, like travelling to Chicago, I can’t think of driving there. And when I take a flight, I need to book a car. This article talks about some techniques to save money on your next car rental.
Few ways to save money on car rental
1. Always, shop around to see which car rental company has the best deal for you. Do not rely on big brands alone because since they spend so much money on marketing and advertisements, their prices are usually higher than a smaller less popular car rental company.
Make use of your AARP membership or AAA subscription. Even your professional affiliation might come in handy. Your frequent flyer status might bring you better deal as well.
2. Rent a small car instead of a big one. Sure, you can rent a Ferrari but what for do you need such an expensive car when you can drive a smaller car that costs about ten times less and can take you to the same places at the same speed.
3. Compare the rates online. Check online websites to see which company has the best rates for the location you plan to go. Usually the more populated a town is, the more expensive the rental cars are but there are always smaller companies that have better prices and they usually do not appear on TV so forget about brands and Google the best deals.
4. Look for flight+car deals. If you are going to travel by plane, ask your travel company if they have a deal with car rental companies. Sometimes when you travel by plane and rent a car as well, you can get a nice discount. There are agencies and websites that keep track of car rental prices and they are updated every hour so check the rates often to see if you are lucky enough to find a last day deal.
5. Avoid airport rental booking, if possible. If you cannot rent a car with your traveling agency before travelling, then do not try to rent a car near the airport or even inside it. Often the rates at the terminal are generally higher than at the city booking centers. Catch a bus or share a ride whenever possible. When you reach your destination find a car rental dealer.
6. Weekend rates are usually lower because there are fewer people renting a car. Most people who rent a car do it for business reasons and during the weekend, few people are doing business. Weekends are the perfect place to rent the car especially when you are in a small town where people go to the big city to enjoy their weekends.
7. Check the gas price and see if you can bring back the car full. Usually car rental companies charge more if you bring the tank empty but if you can pre-order a filled tank and bring back the car with the tank full, using a credit card that has a gas discount you will save money.
8. Try to rent the car with a credit card that has a discount for such transactions. These days credit cards have discounts for almost everything and you just need to check Google to see if you can apply for a credit card fast enough to use it to rent the car. Most issuing companies, like AMEX and Visa offer insurance and theft protection as well.
9. Check the insurance. Insurance is included with the rental at a little extra cost but, usually only basic insurance. If you believe, you are going to have trouble because you are not lucky, just upgrade the insurance policy to cover extra costs that you might have.
10. Use online price bidding process. I highlighted it in red as this is my personal favorite way towards lower rate. I booked many rentals through Priceline bidding process. My strategy is to start with a very low per day bid and gradually increase one dollar a day, till the price is accepted as Priceline won’t let you bid twice a day without changing price and city or dates. Most of the times I got the confirmation within the first week itself. My favorite price to start is $13 (lucky for me 😉 ) on the first day.
I never paid more than $20 a day on a car rental. Your mileage may vary depending on the location and the season you are travelling out. My friends told me about Hotwire as well. I never tried there though.
One more pointer, often I noticed abnormally low bids getting accepted just the day before the travel or on the day of travel. A case of unused inventory, seems like.
11. If you are going to stay in a hotel, check if you can get a discount for that package. Often hotel+car+flight package deals are worth looking for as compared to booking them separately.
12. Try to get the corporate rate. Check with your HR department or your manager if your employer has a discounted rental rate with rental agencies. When I was working for IBM, I made a full use of Hertz Club 1 Program. IBM employees get free upgrade to Gold card status at hertz. I rented cars at 30 – 50 % cheaper rate compared to market price by showing my IBM employee badge.
Your employer might have a similar or better contract. Make use of it, if you can!
13. See if they have a referral program. If you bring a friend/colleague with you and he rents another car, you may get a discount. You both can share the saving.
14. Try to make the trip during the low season when people usually do not rent cars too much, such as the winter when everyone is working and not on vacations. I am not asking you to go skiing in summer. But whenever makes sense, like visiting NYC, I will avoid Christmas and new year time.
15. Sometimes, the price is negotiable; all you have to do is to try your luck. Go for smaller sizes, older models, use discount codes. If all else fail, walkout pretending to go to the next rental car agency, you might get a call back. If you don’t you can always go back and ask for the last negotiated price. No harm, right? Just lower your ego A bit.
Ask for “deal of the day” or “upgrade of the day”, it’s your money, right? No body would want you to save money except you! Go for it.
16. See if you can reduce your price by limiting the number of miles, you will drive. Sometimes rental rates have an upper cap on the miles you can drive at that rate. Always keep an eye on your miles. If you think total miles allowed on your contract is not enough, negotiate at the time of booking.
On the other side, if you think you don’t really need unlimited miles, try to negotiate lower rate by limiting number of miles you can drive.
17. Take your personal auto insurance proof with you. I always refuse to take additional insurance from the rental agency. I do book using AMEX or Visa which provides secondary insurance protection as well.
Do make sure your personal auto insurance does cover the rental car insurance too. I don’t want to make you bankrupt by ill advising!
18. If you are going with family and friends, try to fit them in the same car to avoid having to rent a second car. Do keep an eye on the safety and the law though. I wouldn’t pitch for this item much. But, always two couples can rent one car, instead of two cars, right? Provided they have the same travel plan.
19. Take care of the car well because if you damage the car, the price will be several times higher to pay the repairs. Inspect well before taking the car out, make sure the dents and scratches are duly noted.
20. Deliver the car back right on time. A few minutes later may force you to pay an extra day. When I book I put a time of return later than the flight departure time to be on safe side. If my flight departs at 4 PM, I would book a car till 5 PM of that day.
21. Do the math when taking airline miles on a car rental. Sometimes there is a “fee” for it, which is basically selling the miles to you rather than giving them as a bonus. Be sure you value the miles highly enough to make it worth the fee.
Renting a car is always a good idea when you go on vacations when you have no time to drive down there and you do not want to use public transports once you are there.
With a small cheap car the gas consumption will be minimal giving you peace of mind and total control over your expenses and allows you to focus on having fun instead of worrying about your car safety and about complying with the laws of the state where you are enjoying your vacations or business trip.