How to Find Affordable Car Rentals

Whether for work or pleasure, there are car rentals companies just waiting to serve you. Enterprise, Hertz, Avis, Alamo, National, and Budget are among the national brands to consider, along with smaller and regional brands such as Dollar, Thrifty, Payless and a handful of independent car rental companies. Finding affordable car rentals can take some work, so keep these tips in mind as you begin your research.

Affordable Car Rentals

1. Consider the Vehicle Needed

Before you begin shopping for a car rental, consider the type of vehicle needed. Know that car rental prices are based on vehicle size and type with a subcompact car such as the Nissan Versa Note costing the least and a luxury SUV such as the Lincoln Navigator usually costing you the most. You should also know that you may be offered a free upgrade especially if your vehicle type is not available. Accept the upgrade if you want, but also consider that you may be offered a less fuel-efficient model.

2. Use Internet Sites to Your Advantage

Consumers can compare rates between car rental companies by using travel sites such as Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, Kayak, and Travelocity. Compare the rates on these sites and then go directly to the car rental company pages to find the best rate. Rates may vary due to special arrangements travel sites make with one or more companies.

3. What Discounts May Apply

You may be entitled to discounts and not even know it. Most car rental companies automatically provide a rate reduction for AAA and AARP members. They also extend discounts to certain credit card holders, national clubs, and frequent flier program members. If you are not sure that you are due a discount, then just ask.

4. The Long and Short of Car Rentals

Consumers should know that car rental terms are sometimes cheaper for longer rental periods. For instance, if you need to rent a car for four or five days, you may pay more than the person that rents a car for a week. If you need a long-term rental, such as for a month, your daily rate may be the lowest available. For short term rentals, consider renting for a week and returning the car early to enjoy the lower rate.

5. Why Location Matters

Not all rental car locations are the same. For instance, if you rent your car from Hertz and are considering an airport location, then you will pay a higher rate than for a rental that is not at the airport. Airport vendors pay airport management high rent for the convenience of the location. That extra cost is passed on to consumers. If you are flying and need to rent a car upon arrival, take a shuttle bus or taxi to an off-airport location. Daily rate savings of $5 to $10 are possible off-site.

6. Fees, Taxes, Insurance, and Special Charges

That $24.99 daily rate quoted for a midsize sedan may sound too good to be true. Well, it may be true, but it can also come with other charges that can increase your final cost. Among the fees charged are airport concession, parking, reimbursement, and a drop-off fee if you are returning your vehicle to a different location. Be mindful that a peak season surcharge may be passed on to you, as well as regional, local, and state taxes. You’ll also be charged for car insurance, but you may be able to get this charge waived if your insurer covers car rentals. Special charges may also be added, including for a child’s safety seat or a ski rack. Make whatever special arrangements you need in advance and find out what fees apply.

7. Fill the Fuel Tank Before Returning

One of the most insidious charges car rental customers may face is when they return a car without first topping off the fuel tank. Take a few minutes to stop at a service station nearest the rental car outlet and fill the tank. If you do not, then you will be charged the rate the car rental company charges, which can cost two to three times per gallon the local pump rate.

Shop Around

Savvy consumers can save money on their car rental by shopping around and asking for discounts. If you aren’t finding a deal, contact the car rental company directly and ask for their best price. Loyalty can help you too, so if you are a regular user of one rental company, tap that loyalty to procure further discounts.

See AlsoCar Rental Primer: What You Need to Know

Devon Janse van Rensburg

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.