Car rental money saving tips range from deal screening and car insurance avoidance to the selection of small automobiles and attention to the fine prints on rental agreements. By applying these tips, you can save enough cash to make your trip, a success, not a tedious journey at the end of which you break your bank because of a whopping rental bill. Read the fine print carefully and ask the rental agent to clarify sections you don't understand. Here are 10 tips to help you get great car rental prices.
1. Use Comparison Sites
To save on car rental expense, use the top comparison sites like Kayak, Hotwire and Orbitz. Just so you know, these sites also handle other aspects of your trip, such as flight fare and hotel booking. So, when you book your flight with, say, Expedia, check out the linked car and hotel deals that usually are linked to the fare deal. Besides the three names mentioned, there are several companies and online travel agencies that provide the same comparison tool. So, the choice is yours to make, but try to compare prices with a minimum of three agencies, and on different cars, so you have a better idea of car rental price ranges for your preferred destination, date, and vehicle.
2. Determine How Many Drivers You Need
Figure out whether you would be driving the vehicle yourself or whether a second or third driver should be listed in the rental contract. If you will be accompanied by other drivers, I'd recommend you book in advance rather than sign up when you collect the automobile. That way, you can save some cash. I also suggest you find a deal that includes more than one driver, typically by browsing the comparison sites that I mentioned earlier.
3. Think of Distance
You should factor distance into the rental equation as you search for the most affordable car rental deal. If you know you would be covering a long stretch during your trip, say you are planning a forest-bound expedition, you would save more money by opting for unlimited mileage. This is very important because car rental companies often charge a hefty rate per extra mile, and your overall tab could be substantial if you don't sign up for the unlimited mileage option.
4. Consider Insurance Coverage Limits
When renting a car, your insurance policy typically may cover a specific geographic span or country. So, if you plan to drive across several countries, make sure your policy covers you in the specific locations you are headed to. For example, if you rent a car in France and plan to drive it to Spain and then Portugal before coming back to France, ask your insurance agent to confirm that you are covered in all three countries.
5. Special Offers
Be on the lookout for interesting, unique deals that car rental agencies periodically offer. Think outward, that is, toward the place you are headed and where you will need the car. For example, if you are flying to Belgium in three days, start poring over the websites of major agencies like Hertz, Alamo and Budget. As I'm writing this, there is a great deal on Hertz.com that offers a daily rate of $15 on small and medium-sized family cars, and the promo is valid for 30 days. This is the kind of deal you should seek when travelling; in this case, for example, the average rental price for a similarly sized car typically hovers around $50, so getting it at $15 is a gift – no, a steal worth $35 in savings per day. So, the bottom line is: Always go in the "Special Offers" section on a rental agency's website to see what's out there.
6. Think Small
When searching for a rental car, I always prefer the smallest cars – unless, of course in my wildest dreams, I have my favorite basketball or football team on board. So I would recommend you also go small. Car rental agencies typically categorize vehicles by size, rental price, gas consumption and a jumble of criteria that range from family collection and prestige collection to "green" cars and vans. Don't worry about labels; just ask for an economy car, or even better and simpler, a small car. Unlike a larger automobile, a tight-spaced vehicle most likely would give you a financial break – thanks to its brake system, among other things – because its gas consumption is lower and the daily insurance is lower, which invariably would reduce your overall rental tab.
7. Don't Take the Insurance
If possible, don't accept the insurance rate proposed on the rental contract. The daily premium often can go as high as 25% of the rental price, and if you use the car long enough, that's quite some extra cash you could put to good use elsewhere. Unless you are a new driver or don't trust your own driving abilities, you should decline the insurance proposal or stick with basic coverage. I can hear you say that traffic accidents happen to experienced drivers, too, and that is true. But the probability of you getting involved in an accident during a 7-day trip might not be that high, depending on where you are headed. Plus, even if you get the overseas insurance, the local provider may not easily dole out the required amount to repair the vehicle, and you may find yourself entangled in so much paperwork that you would rather pay the mechanic's bill and just get it over with. Finally, check with your insurance agent to see whether your current coverage provider can give you temporary insurance during the time you are overseas, and if yes, what the terms and conditions would be.
8. Don't Rent at the Airport
Believe it or not, there's an airport surcharge on all car rental transactions that take place on the airport's premises. Besides, the rental agencies sublease space with the port authority, an expensive agreement because real estate around any airport or port is typically pricey. So the agencies pass those high costs on to you, the driver looking to rent a car. The third reason why you should stay away from airport rentals is the law of supply and demand. Because many foreigners pass through airports, the demand for rental cars is higher than the supply, and that imbalance pushes prices upward. Rather than renting a car at the airport, take a cab or make an arrangement with a shuttle bus operator.
That said, you should do the math of renting in or outside the airport. It definitely would be cheaper to rent outside the airport, but you have to factor in the cost of taxi or bus downtown to collect the car. This could be a hassle if you have family and luggage with you.
9. Read the Fine Print... And Then Read Them Again
A few weeks ago, I took the time to attentively read the fine print you typically find on a car rental agreement. The exercise took me close to four hours, and that is excluding the extra time I spent poring over a legal dictionary to understand the often complicated terminology that often surrounds the agreement. If you have time, I would suggest that you read the terms and conditions to be clear on your responsibilities and the agency's. Understanding the fine print will help you determine whether the agency is the right one for you, whether the car is perfect as is, and whether you consent to the specified liability responsibilities if an accident should happen.
10. Charge the Rental Price on Your Card
Check with your credit card company to explore available rewards options because you actually could save money by charging your rental bill on your card and accumulate points. These points ultimately could be converted into rewards dollars or other incentives like free bag checking, VIP service at airport, or exclusive limousine service. So chances are, you may not even need to rent a car at the airport if you have enough points to qualify to limousine service. Rental car rewards vary by card companies, so talk to your card provider to learn more about things like availability, eligibility, restrictions and costs. For example, if you have 20,000 points that already have accrued on your card, and the point equivalent for your rental bill is 15,000, you would get the car free of charge and would still possess 5,000 rewards points on your card, which, of course, you can use for future rentals.
By doing your homework and using innovative techniques, you can save money on your automobile rental. Don't forget to charge the bill on your credit card to build up points that would prove useful in the future. Also, read the rental agreement's disclosures, try not to rent at the airport and stay away from the rental insurance found on the agreement.