Do you need a rental car for your next trip?
The good news is, there are lots of ways to avoid paying too much. In this post, I'm sharing my top tips for finding the BEST rental car prices and deals.
Do you REALLY need a rental car?
There are some places where you need your own vehicle, and others where a rental is just more trouble than it's worth. Hotels often charge $15-$50 per night on top of rental and fuel costs, so it's worth considering all your options. Destinations where you probably don't need a rental include:
- Big cities with good public transit, like New York City or Washington D.C.
- Theme parks, resorts or beaches where you'll spend most of your trip in one place. Think Walt Disney World.
Alternatives to rental cars include public transportation, shuttles, ferries and taxi/Lyft/Uber. I have used all of these and they have all worked well for me. There is a wealth of information online that can help you compare rates for rentals vs. alternatives at your destination.
You may pay more if you book at the last minute, especially in popular destinations at peak times. You generally get the best rates and availability when you book a few weeks in advance.
Pay in advance
Major rental agencies like Budget and Hertz offer discounts of up to 35% when you pay for your car at the same time you book. Be sure to read the fine print because you may not get a full refund if you need to cancel. If the trip is a done deal, I have found this to be a great way to save on my rental cars.
When you pick up your car, the rental agent will ask if you want to pay extra for insurance on your vehicle. I believe in insurance, but beware of this upsell at the rental counter. Why? Because rental car coverage is probably included in your auto insurance policy. Some credit cards offer rental insurance as well.
Coverage may be limited through your auto insurance or credit card. Check your benefits or call your agent before your trip to confirm that your rental car is covered for your specific situation before you leave home. If it isn't, insurance offered by the rental agency may be a good idea.
Fill up before you return
Your rental car will have a full tank of fuel when you pick it up, and it is your responsibility to return it with a full tank. The rental agent will offer to waive this obligation, but be warned that the convenience fee is hefty. Give yourself enough time to fill up somewhere near the agency shortly before you return the car to avoid this charge.
Rent in 24-hour intervals
A rental car “day” is generally 24 hours from your pick up reservation. So, if you pick up your car at noon on Friday and drop it off by noon on Sunday, that's two days. If you want to drop off the car at 2 PM on Sunday because you have a later flight, you may be charged for a third full day.
Depending on your circumstances, it might be worth paying for an extra day rather than hang around the airport for too many hours. Just be aware that scheduling your pick up and drop off at the same time of day is an easy way to limit your rental fees.
Bring your own child safety seats
Rental agencies often charge extra for car seats and boosters. It's best to use them on the airplane too, so bring your own if you can.
Katie shares her tips for packing safety seats for babies and toddlers onto the airplane HERE.
Rent away from the airport
Renting a car at the airport is convenient, and often the best way to go for that reason alone. However, off-site rental lots often charge significantly less – even for the same agency.
Sites like RentalCars.com make it easy to search all the agencies at your destination. Do the math to find out if it's worth your while to take a taxi/Lyft/Uber to an agency near the airport, especially for longer rentals.
When we booked a rental car in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after a cruise, there was an $80 difference between renting at the airport and renting at Port Everglades for the same car and same days! We had to take a taxi one way anyway, and the short ride cost a lot less than $80.
Are your dates flexible?
Try searching alternate dates and hours if your schedule is flexible. You may find that rates are lower on weekends, or during other off-peak times and seasons.
There you go! I hope that these tips will help you keep rental car prices under control on your next trip.
Great tips on hiring a rental car. We recently hired a car in Guatemala and it was such the wrong thing to do! Not only did they not have the car we had requested but they were really unhelpful. As it turned out it would have been easier and quicker to just get tourist shuttles between destinations. So yes, research well before you go!
Sarah Ebner (@sarahjebner)
Such excellent tips. We always brought booster seats with us when the kids were small as it not only saved money, but meant we knew they would be safe. And you always need to read the small print! Research is key, isn’t it?
Great advice! We usually rent at the airport in the U.S., just out of convenience, but opt for non-airport rentals in Europe, since we typically hang out in our original destination city for a few days before hitting the road.