Despite consolidation in the car rental market, consumers have yet to be hit by huge price increases. While there are fewer cars to rent, most travelers can still find the cars they need at prices they can afford. With a little advanced planning, travelers can turn a major expense into a relative bargain.
To get the most out of your travel dollars, use the following 10 tips to save money on your next car rental.
1) Even if you have a reservation, don’t stop looking. Since most car rental companies don’t charge change or cancellation fees, don’t stop looking for a better deal until you find yourself at the car rental counter. As you find cheaper prices, make new reservations and cancel the old ones.
2) Use car rental search engines. Websites like Expedia, Hotwire, and Kayak are great sources for cheap cars. Use them to compare rates side-by-side. After you’ve found a few potential rentals, check rental company websites to see if any additional conditions (like mileage restrictions) apply. While you’re there, take the opportunity to look for a hotel coupon.
3) Look for coupons. Both paper and electronic coupons can save you money on rental cars. The Entertainment Book, a city based hotel coupon discount publication, is a great resource for upgrade coupons. Sites like Retailmenot.com can provide up to the minute promo codes for discount offers.
4) Rent away from the airport. Airport rentals typically involve additional fees which can dramatically increase the cost of your car rental. Consider renting from local outlets near the airport to save money, especially on longer term rentals. Some car rental agencies, like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, have weekend specials that cost a fraction of what you can find at the airport.
5) Don’t over-insure. Before you buy insurance from a car rental company, check with your insurance agent. Combined with programs offered by your credit card company, you may have enough coverage to waive the myriad of insurance options at the rental counter. If you are renting a car for longer than two weeks, keep in mind that many credit card companies have limits on the length of time they offer coverage. In addition, insurance carriers and credit card companies may restrict the type of vehicle they will insure and won’t pay for damage caused by off-road use.
6) Don’t use the refuel option. While car rental companies generally charge a fair price for fuel, you probably won’t use all the fuel you buy. You’ll be better off filling up before you head back to the car lot.
7) Bring your own gadgets. With the price of electronics continuing to fall, a GPS will pay for itself in less than 10 rentals. If you are tight on space and regularly use a navigation device, consider getting a smart phone with that functionality. To avoid taking your eyes off the road, make sure to buy one that gives audible directions.
8) Don’t forget about reward points. Most major car rental companies offer reward programs that can ease the cost of rentals. If you travel a lot, consider pairing your hotel and airline reward cards with your car rental program
Like most things in life, there’s a tradeoff between convenience and cost. The easier it is to do, the more it will cost. To avoid unexpected charges, give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. Agents can easily detect impatience or uncertainty if you arrive at the counter in a panic and take advantage of your distress to sell you stuff you don’t need. Determine in advance what you plan to spend and stick to it. Put the money you save toward a nice dinner or a day at the spa.