8 Steps to Cheaper Car Rental: Get the Best Rate Every Time You Rent

Use This Guide to Quickly Find the Best Deal on Your Rental

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How to Get the Cheapest Car Rental Rate

This guide is intended for those who just want the cheapest car rental rate and don’t care which agency it’s from.  If you’re interested in how to get the cheapest car rental rate from a specific company, see this article instead.

1. Use aggregator sites to determine a baseline price

Use comparison sites to figure out what sort of rates are available and from which companies.  Some examples of aggregator sites that offer pretty good rates are AirportRentalCars.com, CarRentals.com, CarRentalSavers, RentalCars.com, and VroomVroomVroom.  These sites tend to show the same or similar rates, so you can search just 2 or 3 of them if you’re short on time, but keep in mind that taking the time to search them all can sometimes pay off with a much cheaper rate.  Before you book, make sure you can cancel the reservation without penalty (a clue here is if you are asked for a credit card number or just your name and email).

You’ll probably see that the cheapest rates are usually offered by discount rental companies like Payless or Fox.  If you’re willing to accept the possibility that the vehicle may be a bit older and/or higher mileage than you might get elsewhere, and that the customer service may be hit or miss, you can get a really great deal.

If you do choose to go with a discount car rental company, beware of the upsell!  It sometimes seems that with discount rentals, the customer service agent’s main job is to try to sell you extra insurance, GPS, and other add-ons.  The upsell will usually come at you pretty hard – be prepared for it, stand firm, and say no to all the bells and whistles.  Also – thoroughly document any prior damage to the vehicle before you accept it, preferably with photographic evidence, as some discount company rental locations have a reputation for trying to charge customers for prior damage.

2. Take advantage of coupons and promotional offers

Based on your rental dates, location, and vehicle needs, the rate information from the aggregator sites in step 1 above should suggest which rental companies are currently offering the best rates.  Use the links below to find current deals from those companies, then search for your rental directly on the rental company’s site and compare the rate to the best rate you got from your aggregator site search.  You can often use coupons or promo codes obtained from car rental company websites on car rental aggregator websites as well.

Major car rental company current deals / special offers:

If you want to spend more time looking for better deals than those available straight from the company, you can easily find retail coupon websites with a simple web search (e.g., ” Enterprise coupons”, “Avis weekend rental coupons”, etc.). Most have some sort of voting system that gives you some idea of how well each code or coupon works.  Examples of these sites include RetailMeNot, Coupons.com, etc.

There are also deal threads for various car rental companies on sites like Flyertalk, FatWallet, and SlickDeals.  These forums can yield some amazing deals, but care must be taken because some of the strategies provided violate rental terms or policies.  A prime example is using a corporate code from a company you don’t work for.

3. Take advantage of employment discounts

The biggest rate cuts offered by car rental companies are often corporate, small business, and non-profit discounts. These discounts are usually available to all employees on official company business, and sometimes to employees traveling for personal or leisure purposes as well.  Check with your employer to see if there is an active account with your preferred rental company and to obtain the required discount codes.  For large employers, the benefits department will most likely have this information.

Business, corporate, and non-profit account benefits vary by car rental agency and sometimes by rental volume, but often feature additional perks like free additional drivers, unlimited mileage, free underage drivers, free rental days, and more.

If your employer doesn’t have a business account with your preferred car rental company, signing up is free and takes just a few minutes for small businesses and non-profits with relatively uncomplicated rental needs.  For help deciding on a car rental business program, this article describing and comparing the top 7 car rental business plans has more information on this topic.

For government rentals, see this article instead.

4. Take advantage of organizational discounts

Clubs and other organizations may offer car rental discounts, which can often be quite substantial.

Check with your organization’s website or membership department to see if there is an existing account with your favorite car rental company.  Even small clubs and organizations are eligible for accounts with most rental companies, so if your organization (or even its individual members) rent cars fairly often, it’s worth it to recommend it to whoever makes such decisions.  For more information, see this article about the top 7 car rental business/organization plans.

Below are a few examples of organizations that offer car rental discounts as a perk of membership, which should help to give you some idea of the different types of organizational discounts.  There are lots more, so if you belong to any clubs, professional organizations, sports associations, etc., be sure to check out the car rental discounts that might be available to you.  The fastest way to find out about car rental discounts is to visit the organization’s website.

  • AARP – American Association of Retired Persons
    • AARP offers discounts on car rental from Avis (use AWD number A359807), Budget (use BCD number Y508501), Payless (use promo code KW47RY), and Zipcar.
    • More information about AARP car rental discounts.
  • Amateur Softball Association
    • Enterprise: use discount code NA51AS9
    • Hertz: use discount code (CDP number) 93614
  • American Association for Justice
    • Budget: use BCD number T505800
  • Costco
    • Alamo: use contract ID 7014627
    • Avis: use AWD number A108326
    • Budget: use BCD number W852802
    • Enterprise: use customer number CSTCUPG

5. Check and re-check the rate, re-book if necessary

Unlike typical airfare, car rental rates often go down after the reservation is made.  Whenever possible, check the rates at least every 2 weeks if not more often and re-book your vehicle if the rate has gone down.   You can often save a significant amount of money this way.  Always check the rate the day before the rental is to start, as current rental vehicle inventory and distribution may favor a lower price on your reservation.

If you have an account with the car rental company’s website or loyalty program, don’t log in when searching for rates and making the new reservation.  You may need to clear your browser’s cookies between consecutive searches.  To avoid complications, don’t forget to cancel the previous reservation.

Be wary of prepaid rentals

Despite the apparent savings they offer, prepaid car rentals are not recommended for rentals that are more than a day or two away, because rental rates often go down between the time the reservation is made and the rental is to begin.  Since prepaid rentals incur fees for cancellations, you won’t be able to take advantage if the rate on your current reservation decreases – or if you are, the savings won’t be as great.

6. Look for last minute deals

If you’re checking rates a day or two before your rental is to begin, or if you need a vehicle tomorrow or the next couple of days and haven’t yet made a reservation, last minute car rental deals can sometimes offer some real savings.

Not all rental companies offer last minute specials as such.  Here are the companies that currently offer last minute deals:

7. Bid on Priceline

Once you’ve found the best rate for your rental using the steps above, use the Name Your Own Price feature on Priceline to bid for your vehicle.  Use the “Winning Bids” tool to see recent winning bids in your rental city, which, along with the best rate information you already found, will help you determine the amount to bid.  Of course, you should always place a bid that’s lower than the best rate you found.

8. Consider using a car-sharing, ride-sharing, or chauffeured car service

Car and limo services and car-sharing services rates are often competitive with car rental rates, especially if you’re renting higher end vehicles like SUVs or premium cars.  As an added benefit, you get to skip the hassle of picking up, returning, and parking the vehicle.  Plus, who doesn’t like to get dropped off for their meeting in a town car?  Below are some coupons offered by some of your partners in case you want to try it out:

Car and limo service promo codes:

Ride-sharing and car sharing service coupons:

The tips and strategies in this article should help you to get a better deal on your next car rental.  If you have any tips of your own to share or have questions or comments about the information in this article, we’d love to hear from you.  If we publish your question or comment, please let us know if you’d like us to credit you publicly.

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