Driving can be the essential component that makes travel easy and seamless, whether the trip is a cross-country getaway or a short staycation. Rental cars offer travelers great flexibility in getting from point A to point B without breaking the bank. Book an SUV and traverse rugged mountain terrain or reserve a sleek sports car for zipping up and down the coast—either way, it’s possible to get a great deal on rentals with smart pre-planning and inside knowledge.
1. Take Advantage of Special Rates
What many people don’t realize is that they’re often entitled to discounted auto rental rates simply by the nature of their jobs or due to special circumstances. Beyond the military discount frequently offered to active service members and veterans, teachers, government personnel and retired individuals are among those that can cash in on rental companies’ benefits programs. Students who do their homework and research companies’ policies can take advantage of deals that waive the young renter fee for the under-25 age group. Additionally, auto clubs typically have partnerships with companies to provide extra perks, such as AAA’s relationship with Hertz that awards members complimentary days and upgrades. For those who are members of warehouse clubs like BJ’s and Costco, freebies are also in the cards—exclusive coupons provide percentage discounts and member rates on rental cars at multiple companies. Finally, group rates are usually available to large parties, offering everything from discounted daily or weekly rates and unlimited mileage to 24-hour roadside assistance.
2. Search Online for Deals and Discounts
It may be common knowledge that shopping around can offer the best rates on rental cars, but knowing where to look is the most important step in finding an extreme deal. For those who don’t qualify for special member rates, coupon websites are often a great place to start searching for discounts available to the public. Sites like RetailMeNot.com and CouponCabin.com are gold mines of freebies and discounts—on any given day, find promotional codes for 10 or 20 percent off, free weekend rates, upgrades and more offered by major rental car companies and travel reservation websites. Travelers who don’t have a preference on the rental company can take advantage of online booking sites like Hotwire, which has a Hot Rates program offering steep bargains on rental cars from major brands revealed only after booking.
3. Avoid Airport Rental Agencies
Cut back on unnecessary rental car expenses by avoiding airport pick-up and drop-off locations. Airport-based companies pay concession fees to airports, and as a result these locations tack on an additional surcharge to cover a portion of their costs. In most cases, it’s best for the budget to avoid cost-prohibitive airport agencies in favor of local rental lots—those away from major tourist hubs like airports. Alternate means of transportation to get those rental lots can include a free shuttle to a hotel’s car rental desk or booking with a company that offers complimentary pick-up or drop-off services. Though it may not be the most convenient way to travel, avoiding airport agencies typically saves a significant portion of the car rental budget, particularly on short trips.
4. Opt for Weekly Rates to Cut Back on Daily Costs
One of the best ways to save money on a rental car is to be flexible with reservation dates. Keeping a car longer can often be cheaper than reserving a two-day rental and returning it on a weekend. Weekly rates offer a sizeable discount over daily rates, even if renters keep the car over a weekend. For a majority of companies, weekly rates kick in after the fifth day, so reserving the car early for the lower rate and letting it sit in the driveway for a day can actually save money. Try different combinations—like renting on a Thursday and returning it on a Monday—to find one that yields the lowest rate. Patience is key in this process, but for those who get stuck, a friendly phone call to a local desk agent may help in figuring out the logistics.
5. Decline Insurance (in most cases)
Rental car companies are known for their sales pitches during booking—everything from upgrades to gas mileage is offered, with clerks detailing worst-case scenarios for unsuspecting renters. One of the largest profits for rental car companies, however, comes from insurance fees, so before stepping up to the desk, be aware of what’s really needed. In many cases, existing coverage will actually extend to rental cars. Auto insurance that carries comprehensive and liability insurance typically extends to rental cars, as does coverage on rented cars with a similar value to a personal car. Credit cards can help cover any gaps in personal auto policies, providing great secondary coverage. Before renting any car, it’s important to first call an insurance agent to make sure every base is covered.
From special rates and discounts to trimming extra fees, there’s an area where everyone can save on renting a car. With a little research, travelers will be able to get the best deal on four wheels and take off on the right road to a cost-friendly vacation.