Hey there! Do you need a rental car for your next trip?
Honestly, I avoid renting a car if I have other transportation options like walking, public transportation, or Uber/Lyft. But sometimes renting a car is simply the easiest and best option.
My family loved driving around the Florida Keys, Nova Scotia, the Adirondacks, New England, and other amazing places. Renting a car made these trips possible.
But renting a car can be expensive. And rental agencies add so many fees and upsell options at the counter!
The good news is, there are lots of ways to avoid paying too much for your rental car. Keep reading to get my top tips for finding the BEST rental car prices and deals.
Do you REALLY need a rental car?
Hotels often charge $20-$100 per night to park a car, plus rental and fuel costs, so it's worth considering all your options before you book a car.
Destinations where you probably don't need a rental car 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, trains, 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.
Related: Tips for Using Uber/Lyft
Only book the days you need
Don't book a rental car for the whole trip if you don't need it for the whole trip. Even a couple of car-free days at the beginning or end of your trip could save you a lot of money.
When we visited New York, we used public transportation in New York City and then rented the car on the day we drove upstate to the Adirondacks. This saved us a week of rental fees, gas, parking, and the stress of driving a car around Manhattan.
Turo.com is like Airbnb for cars. You can rent from a person instead of a rental car agency. You may be able to find a better deal on Turo.
If you want to rent for a few weeks or have unusual requests, it may be easier to negotiate a better price or other details with an individual on Turo than with a big car rental agency.
My husband and daughter used Turo when they traveled to Los Angeles for the Taylor Swift concert in 2023. They got a better rate on a nicer car than the rental agencies were offering for the same dates. They rented from an All-Star-Host and everything went well.
Try a small agency
You might get better service and fewer fees from a small, local car rental agency. John from Australia shared this experience with me,
“I found a car hire place in London (an independent business) which was half the price of Budget, Avis, etc. He was fantastic. His service included pickup and collect car from Heathrow at no extra charge. Plus extra driver and other fees were non-existent.”
You generally get the best rates and availability when you book a few weeks or months in advance. You may pay more if you book at the last minute, especially in popular destinations at peak times.
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.
This happened to us in Louisville, Kentucky when we decided to fly home early. We pre-paid for a rental car for two days and then decided to skip that part of our trip. We paid rental car cancellation and flight change fees, but still saved money overall by cutting our vacation short.
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 value insurance, but this upsell may not be necessary 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.
I have declined rental car insurance in the past and never had a problem. But accidents happen and I like the idea of walking away with no hassle. So, I may buy the insurance in the future.
Related: Tips for Buying Travel Insurance
Choose one driver
My husband and I like to share driving duties on a road trip, but it usually costs extra for more than one driver to use the rental car. Choose one driver to avoid unnecessary fees.
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. Use the Gas Buddy app to find the best price on fuel near your rental agency.
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 4 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 hanging 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.
Are your dates flexible?
Try searching for 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.
Bring your own child safety seats
Rental agencies often charge extra for car seats and boosters. Bring your own if you can. Or if you are visiting someone at your destination, find out if they can help you borrow a good car seat.
Katie shares her tips for packing safety seats for babies and toddlers onto the airplane HERE.
Use your memberships
You may be able to save money on your rental car with your Costco, AAA, AARP, or other memberships. You may also be able to save money – perhaps indirectly with rewards points – if you book through your credit card travel or air miles portal.
Check your organization's website for details and quotes.
Rent away from the airport
Renting a car at the airport is convenient, and often a good option for that reason alone. However, off-site rental lots often charge significantly less – even for the same agency.
It's easy to search all the agencies at your destination. Do the math to find out if it's worth taking a taxi/Lyft/Uber to another location.
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 the same days.
Check neighboring states
If you'll be traveling across or near borders, check rental car prices in other states that you plan to visit – not just the one where your flight lands. Different states and countries have their own rules regarding rental car taxes and pricing.
John from Australia saved big by renting a car in Pennsylvania instead of New York. He writes,
“I once was renting a car in New York State for 4 weeks, but I found out that if I hired the same car from Pennsylvania from the same hire company I could save a massive $800.” He took a train from New York to Pennsylvania to get the car.
Plan for tolls
Find out if toll roads are common at your destination. If so, research the best ways to avoid and limit toll fees.
When we rented a car in Fort Lauderdale, Florida they offered a SunPass toll transponder as an upsell. There are almost no toll roads where we live and not knowing the area or our options, we agreed.
I've since learned that rental car companies charge you the maximum toll available, plus the daily transponder rental. And there are other ways to pay tolls that cost less.
Avoiding toll roads entirely is the least expensive option. Paying cash is next. Those usually work pretty well until you are in an unfamiliar place with many toll roads. That's when it pays to do a little research before you reach the car rental counter.
Take photos first
Inspect the car when you pick it up. Take photos of the inside and outside – and especially of any dents, scratches, stains, or damage that are already there when you arrive. This may save you from getting stuck with the repair bill when you drop off the car.
When my husband used Turo, he was required to take Before and After photos and upload them to the app as part of the rental process.
I hope that these tips will help you keep rental car prices under control on your next trip. If you have a question or rental car tip to share, please use the Comments below.