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Car rentals can be confusing and frustrating at the best of times, but lately renting a car has become a full-blown headache. Many locations are experiencing a pronounced shortage of vehicles, and rates are sky high – as much as $300 per day or more.
We’ll try to ease the pain a bit by showing you the best (and easiest!) ways to save money on every car rental. We’ll also point out how to avoid unnecessary fees and charges for things you may not really need. You could save hundreds of dollars on your next car rental by using these tips, so keep them in mind the next time you plan a road trip – and happy motoring!
1. Use car rental aggregator sites to determine a baseline price
Comparison or aggregator websites are a good way to quickly save on car rentals. You can see a variety of vehicle options from a variety of rental companies along with the price ranges for each. You can also filter the search for one-way rentals, underage drivers, and more.
Two aggregator sites that consistently offer good rates are AirportRentalCars.com and RentalCars.com. You can also check well-known travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz, or Hotwire.
One downside to using an aggregator site for car rental is that it’s introducing a third party into the transaction. 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).
2. Take advantage of car rental company deals and special offers
Another way to make sure you’re getting the lowest price on car rentals is to check for current coupons and promotions on the rental agencies’ websites. You can often use these codes on car rental aggregator websites as well.
Major car rental company current deals / special offers:
3. Use a corporate, business, or employer discount
The cheapest car rental rates are often corporate, small business, and non-profit discounts. These discounted rates are usually available to all employees on official company business, and sometimes to employees traveling for personal or leisure purposes. It’s worth checking with your employer to see if they have any active car rental discount codes.
In addition to discounted rates, business and corporate car rentals often include additional perks like free additional drivers, unlimited mileage, free underage drivers, free rental days, and more.
4. Use a club or other organization discount
Clubs and other organizations like AAA, AARP, and others offer another potential way to save on car rentals. Depending on the group, the discounts can be quite substantial.
Check with your organization’s website or membership department to see if they have 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.
Below are a few examples of organizations that offer car rental discounts as a perk of membership. 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 your group’s website.
AAA – American Automobile Association
AAA’s official car rental partner is Hertz.
Dollar and Thrifty also offer AAA discounts.
Find the correct AAA code for your local chapter for Hertz, Dollar or Thrifty.
More information about AAA car rental discounts.
AARP – American Association of Retired Persons
AARP offers discounts on car rental from Avis (use AWD number A359807), Budget (use BCD number Y508501), and Zipcar.
More information about AARP car rental discounts.
Alamo: use contract ID 7014627
Avis: use AWD number A108326
Budget: use BCD number W852802
Enterprise: use customer number CSTCUPG
USAA – United Services Automobile Association
Avis: use AWD number A177232
Budget: use BCD number Y126501
Enterprise: click here to reserve vehicle
Hertz: use CDP number 77694
5. Re-check the rate and re-book if necessary
Rates may decrease after the reservation is made, so you can ensure the lowest price on your car rental by quickly checking the rates every couple of days or so and re-booking if the rate has gone down.
Tips on rebooking: 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 prior to making the new one.
Finally, don’t rebook on the same day as your reservation! Car rental companies are notorious for taking a reservation online the same day you plan to pick up the car, only to tell you once you show up that there are no vehicles available.
6. Use a car-sharing service
You can often get a better deal on a more flexible car rental by using a car-sharing service like Zipcar. With these types of services, you rent cars from individuals rather than corporations. You can even rent cars by the hour for as little as $10.
7. Be wary of prepaid car rentals
Despite the apparent savings they offer, prepaid car rentals aren’t 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.
8. 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 some that do:
Fox – scroll down to “Hot Deals”, then click “View All”
9. Don’t prepay for gas
Prepaying for gas or allowing the rental company to charge you for gas used is ALWAYS more expensive than filling the tank yourself. Bring the car back with the gas at the same level as when you picked up. If possible, rent a vehicle with a full gas tank. When you return it, it will be a lot easier to fill the gas tank to the top than to estimate how many gallons it will take to fill the tank to, say, halfway. But don’t worry if you overfill it a bit – you’re still likely to come out ahead.
10. Skip the insurance coverage
Many credit cards, even those that don’t accrue miles or other travel rewards, offer car rental insurance benefits. Check the benefits offered with your current cards – you might be surprised to find or two that cover car rental liability and collision insurance. Some cover windshield damage on rental cars as well.
Even if you don’t have a credit card that covers car rental insurance, many auto insurance policies do offer this coverage, especially those with full collision and liability riders. If you’re not sure if your current auto insurance policy also covers rental cars, it’s definitely worth a look before you shell out for expensive loss damage waivers or collision damage waivers from the rental company.
11. Bring your own child car seat – or buy one
Many rental companies charge between $10 and $15 per day for child car seats. If you can’t bring one with you, it may be more cost effective to buy a used one or even a new one, then sell it on a site like Craigslist, 5 Miles, or Facebook Marketplace.
12. Document all damage prior to leaving the lot
Make sure to check the car thoroughly for damage prior to leaving the lot. Take a moment to walk around the car, looking for dents, scratches, chips in the glass, etc. Photograph any damage as well as pointing it out to the customer service representative and having them document it on the rental agreement. This will prevent the rental company being able to charge you later for pre-existing damage.
13. Watch out for frequent flyer mile fees
Most car rental companies allow you to earn frequent flyer miles by renting a car – but some charge a fee for this privilege. If you’re determined to get the cheapest car rental possible, check the rental agreement for this fee and if necessary, skip the mileage earnings.
14. Skip the GPS add-on
If you have an Android or iPhone, you don’t need to rent a GPS. Your phone will connect via cable or Bluetooth to the vehicle’s display screen. You can use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to navigate. Make sure to allow a few moments to become familiar with the controls and display before driving away.
15. Avoid weekend rentals
Weekend car rentals are nearly always more expensive than weekday rentals. If your schedule is flexible enough to allow you to avoid weekend rentals and rent during the week instead, you could save a bundle.
16. Avoid the additional driver fee
If you need to add an extra driver to your car rental, you can save some money if you’re able to avoid paying an additional driver fee. Spouses and business associates are free with many companies and in certain states. Avis also waives the fee for the renter’s friends and extended family members.
17. Pay cash for tolls
If you use the toll transponder or pass included with the rental car, you’ll be charged a convenience fee on top of the toll charge. Pay cash for road tolls or bring your own toll transponder if you have one.
18. Rent at a neighborhood location
Car rentals at off-airport locations are often cheaper than at the airport. Neighborhood locations can also be a lot faster to get in and out of. If you’re looking to save the most money possible on your car rental, always search nearby locations in addition to those at the airport. If you reserve a car with at an off-airport location, Enterprise will pick you up.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
- You might also like:
- Check out our car rental deals and discounts
- 12 ways to save on Enterprise car rental
- How to get government car rental discounts
- How to rent a car with a debit card
- How to avoid additional driver fees on car rentals
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