Renting a car is a great option for traveling. In many cases, it’s much cheaper than using cabs, taking a train or flying. If you’re like most people, you’ve heard at least one person boast about getting a free upgrade on their car rental. But how did they do it? If you’re chasing after that elusive free upgrade, use these tips to improve your chances of scoring a better car on vacation.
Reserve the Cheapest Car
One of the oldest (and most reliable) tricks in the book when it comes to car rentals is to reserve the cheapest car available. In most cases, these are the vehicles that the car rental company rents out the most and, therefore, are more likely to run out of as customers arrive. If the car rental location you visit doesn’t have any more of the cheapest option on their lot, they still have to offer you a vehicle since you made a reservation. If this happens, you’ll get a free upgrade to a nicer and/or larger vehicle.
Arrive at a Strategic Time
Another way to increase your chances of being upgraded to a nicer car is to arrive to pick up your rental at a strategic time or day of the week. Generally, cars run out faster on Fridays when many people are beginning a vacation. Similarly, many cars are gone from the lot by the time early evening rolls around and the numbers continue to dwindle through the night. Holidays and popular events or conventions are, of course, a busy car rental time as well.
All this is to say that the more cars are gone from the lot, the greater the chances that there are no more cars left to match your reservation. If that’s the case, you’ll get a free upgrade on the spot.
Get a Membership
Many car rental companies offer a membership program. In addition to getting cheaper rental rates and faster service, members are also more likely to receive a free upgrade upon arrival. To increase your chances of getting an upgrade, make sure you mention that you’re a member and flash your loyalty card. Though an upgrade isn’t guaranteed, many car rental companies train employees to give extra attention and the highest caliber of service to a member, which definitely works in your favor.
Keep in mind that this is an upgrade strategy that should be reserved for frequent travelers. If you only rent a car once or twice a year, the cost of membership will likely outweigh the benefits.
Asking for an Upgrade
If all else fails, there’s no harm in asking for an upgrade. Doing so doesn’t usually result in a better vehicle, but in some cases you may be able to procure an upgrade from a helpful car rental company employee. Here are a few tips for requesting an upgrade:
- Get the manager’s name in advance. Call ahead and talk to the manager and ask about specials and discounts. Don’t be afraid to name-drop at the counter, but don’t be threatening about it either.
- Trying to negotiate when there are many people waiting at the counter can work in your favor. The employees may be more willing to strike a deal in the hopes of getting to other customers more quickly.
- Though the upgrade might not be totally free, ask about specials or discounts when you arrive. You may be able to get certain cars for a lower-than-normal price based on weather (like getting a convertible when it’s cold or rainy) or excess stock (like having too many sports cars on the lot).
Things to Avoid
Don’t forget that it’s important to consider the vehicle itself when you get an upgrade. Even if the rental rate is higher, that doesn’t mean that the car is necessarily a better vehicle for your trip. For example, an upgrade from a sedan to an SUV means more space, but also worse gas mileage – you’ll be paying more to fill up the tank throughout your trip. In addition, an upgrade from a minivan to a sports car won’t work for a large family. Keep these things in mind before accepting an upgrade that is offered.
Also, never agree to pay more because the car you originally reserved is not available on their lot. The company should either offer you a free upgrade or find a comparable car for you. If you don’t necessarily want the upgraded car that is offered (for example, if it will cost you more in gas), ask for a discount on your bill or request a different vehicle.
Getting an upgrade is sometimes as easy as reserving the cheapest car. Other times, you might have to do some negotiating to get one. Keep in mind that, unless the car rental company is out of the car you reserved, you aren’t entitled to an upgrade. Use the tips above and employ a friendly demeanor to see if you might get lucky with a better car on your vacation.