Now for part 3 of our traveling cheaply series: car rentals! If you haven’t already, check out part 1 on saving money on airfare, and part 2 on saving on your hotel stay.
Renting a car is something some travelers choose not to do. There are so many other convenient services out there like public transportation, calling an Uber/Lyft/cab, renting a bike, and other services that sway some the other way.
Yet, there are times when renting a car is something you just have to do. Maybe it’s the cheaper option, or maybe you have to drive a good hour or two from where you rented it to your destination.
Whatever your reason for needing to rent a car, I’ve got some tips to help with the cost of your next car rental!
Table of Contents
- 1 1. Rent away from the airport, if possible
- 2 2. Check out discount brands, but might not always be cheaper
- 3 3. Use your membership whenever possible for discounts
- 4 4. Rent economy, get a potential perk
- 5 5. Think twice about prepaid gas
- 6 6. Don’t purchase insurance from the rental company
- 7 7. Check out peer-to-peer car rental
- 8 8. Get a ballpark price before searching through individual companies
- 9 9. If you book in advance, check back often to get cheaper rate
- 10 10. Limited vs. unlimited miles
- 11 11. Call and ask for promotions
- 12 12. Pay up front for a discount
- 13 13. Finally, some websites to use to get a good deal
- 14 That’s it!
1. Rent away from the airport, if possible
You’ll need to do a little legwork on this, but you could save some serious cash here.
Because the need for a car rental at an airport is pretty high compared to rental locations away from the airport, the cost for a rental is significantly higher.
If you’re able, you can save quite a bit by picking up your rental away from the airport.
Now, the portion that requires legwork is comparing the cost of renting at the airport to renting offsite and taking transportation from the airport to that location.
At the time of posting this, I am looking at renting a car 6/22 – 6/26. If I pick up at the airport, the cost is $187.20. If I pick up at a location about 20 minutes away, the cost is $144.00. That cost savings could be a meal or two!
Check to see if your hotel offers a free shuttle to and from the airport, drop off your luggage in your hotel room, then walk to the closest car rental. That will maximize your savings!
2. Check out discount brands, but might not always be cheaper
When you hear “discount brands” for anything, you think you’re getting a pretty good deal on your purchase. I am always one to check multiple sites and look for online coupons before I make a purchase. I decided to check out some discount companies when searching for a car rental but came up surprised.
It wasn’t the cheapest option!
Mind you, that was one search. But the thing I want to drive home is that, even if you’re shopping a reputable discount brand, you should still shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal. In my case, Budget (one of the big-name car rental companies) actually came up with the best price! Even above the discount companies.
3. Use your membership whenever possible for discounts
You can score some major discounts by using different memberships when booking your next car rental. Here are some of the big ones:
- If you’re active duty or a veteran
- Government employee
As an example, comparing Costco against a big name rental company for the same type of car (economy) and same rental period landed me a $40 discount for a five-day rental. That’s with the discount the big-name rental company already offered for paying now instead of paying later!
If you have a membership or are a part of any of these organizations, be sure to use that to your advantage when booking your next car rental.
4. Rent economy, get a potential perk
Unless you have special circumstances, like you are traveling with a large family, chances are you typically book an economy car.
So do most others.
What happens when they rent out all of the economy cars and you show up for your rental? Well, it is industry standard for the company to upgrade you, at no cost. It’s important to stick up for yourself though. The customer service rep may try to sell you the upgrade first. Stand tall and let the rep know that you booked and confirmed at a certain price.
In that case, you will get an upgrade for economy cost!
5. Think twice about prepaid gas
Not having to worry about finding a gas station near the airport to fill up your tank is so handy. Especially since you have a million things running through your mind: airport security, getting to your gate, making sure you didn’t forget anything, etc.
But as handy as it is, it is not worth the extra costs you could be paying.
First, you are entrusting the rental company to fill the tank. They may not necessarily be writing down exactly how much they put in there while they are at the gas station. They could actually be using info found online as to how large the tank is, and go by that number. But what if your rental is a variation of what they found online? You could be paying for 25 gallons, but the rental may only hold 20 gallons.
The price per gallon that they charge could also be incorrect, or they could be using a price that is closest to the airport, which is typically inflated due to the convenience.
If you pump the gas yourself, you are in more control (in the driver’s seat… eh??) of how much you pay.
6. Don’t purchase insurance from the rental company
There are certain circumstances where you might want to purchase rental car insurance. But, more often than not, it might be an unnecessary expense.
Chances are, your personal car insurance plan will cover you in most incidents. Be sure to check out what your insurance plan covers before getting to the counter so you are confident you are properly covered.
What are some of the pieces of coverage you should look for in your plan? Liability coverage (you likely have this), comprehensive/collision coverage, and personal injury protection. These would offer a full-bodied protection for you.
Or, if you have used your credit card to book your rental, check on the company’s car rental auto coverage. Chances are, you are receiving protection from them as well.
7. Check out peer-to-peer car rental
Similar to AirBnB, but for vehicles, there are peer-to-peer sharing services for car rentals!
Using a website like Turo, you are able to rent a vehicle in over 5,500 cities in the USA, Canada, and the UK. Once you book the vehicle you want, you message the host to arrange a pick-up and drop-off of the vehicle. In some cases, the host can deliver the vehicle to you.
If you don’t want to deal with a host vehicle, they also have “Turo Go” vehicles available. You find your way to the vehicle and unlock it with the app to begin your journey!
8. Get a ballpark price before searching through individual companies
It’s always a good idea to understand a good price range before diving in, to ensure you’re getting a good cost.
I recommend going to an aggregator site, like Kayak, Priceline, or Expedia. Enter your dates of travel, where you want to pick up and drop off, and the type of car you want, then peruse through the list to see the prices you should expect when searching.
Using that info, you can either go to individual car rental companies’ websites to book and find the best deal or, if you don’t mind not knowing the company, book through Hotwire or name your own price on Priceline to snag even better deals.
9. If you book in advance, check back often to get cheaper rate
If you will be paying at the counter for your car rental, check back for cheaper rates until your trip. It’s super easy to cancel your existing reservation and book a new one, and it could be worth it to check back and get a cheaper rate!
10. Limited vs. unlimited miles
Another option to save some cash is it rental a car with limited mileage.
This really only works when you stick to the contract’s agreement on miles, which might not be as simple as coming back with less than their magic number.
Some rental companies give you an overall limit, but some may give you a limit per day instead of total. Be sure to look over the contract and ask any clarifying questions you want to be answered before renting the car.
11. Call and ask for promotions
I mentioned this one in part 2 of our series on getting cheaper rates on hotels, but it applies just as much on car rentals!
Check your aggregator sites first, but then give the individual companies a call to see if there are any promotions available for your reservation. There are some times when you can actually get a discount that’s not found online, or you could have the agent do the digging for you to find the best deal!
Like I mentioned in part 2: it sure doesn’t hurt to try.
12. Pay up front for a discount
If you want no frills but still get a good rate, consider the “pay up front” option when booking your rental.
When you are searching for your rental, there might be a “pay now” or “pay at the counter” option. The counter option is typically more expensive.
I like this option when I know I am going to be taking a trip (low to zero likelihood of switching my plans around), and the savings might be minimal if I keep checking back for lower rates until my trip. In that case, it wouldn’t necessarily be worth it to save a couple of bucks for the hassle.
13. Finally, some websites to use to get a good deal
- Car Rental Savers, CarRentals, and CRX (Car Rentals Express) are good ways to search multiple carriers for a rental car. I like that it gives you the opportunity to compare prices of different companies in one spot.
- AutoSlash is a good, free service that helps you find the best deal, even after you’ve already booked. You can either search for quotes on their website, or send your reservation info to them after you’ve made it, and they will watch for cheaper rates for you. How cool! Did I also mention that it’s free?
- I mentioned this in #7, but it’s good to check out Turo as well when you’re looking for the best rental rates. Turo is a peer-to-peer car rental service that allows people to rent out their vehicles to trusted renters. It’s a good way to book cheaper or make money on the side by renting out your vehicle!
- If you’re looking for a cheaper option, and especially if you just need something for a few hours or the day, check out Zipcar or getaround.
Have you used any of these tips to save yourself money on your car rental? Is there anything I left off the list that has saved you some money? Share your experience!