If you live in a big city or travel frequently, then you may be used to the car rental process.
Renting a car is a crap chute. Sometimes you can find a great deal last minute and sometimes you try to book ahead to be proactive and you can’t find anything remotely affordable. It’s not you, that’s just how car rental companies work.
Next time you go on a road trip out of the city or need something to run errands for the day, you should try to beat the rental system. In this post, we’re going to talk about the cheapest ways to rent a car, because renting a vehicle shouldn’t cost an arm and both legs.
The price that you see on the car rental website is just where it begins. Read on and you’ll see some tips and tricks that can help you cut the cost of a rental little by little. Let’s get down to business and save you some of your hard earned cash.
Finding out the Cheapest Ways to Rent a Car
There are loads of reasons why you might need to rent a car. Maybe you’re heading home for a visit with your parents, maybe you’re going out for a quick road trip with your friends, or maybe you just need something for the day to pick up a piece of furniture or get groceries.
Cars are expensive. As apartment rental prices skyrocket in the biggest cities, the feasibility of also owning a vehicle kind of goes out the window. It’s impossible to afford a car if you don’t also want to live in it.
It’s much more practical to rent a car when you need one. The problem is, even renting a car can be borderline unaffordable if you’re not making a ton of cash. Why should you pay hundreds of dollars for the use of a car for a few hours or days?
The rental price is just the beginning, too. You’ve got insurance add-ons, gas, and other hidden taxes and fees that make the cost of renting higher than it even looks on a website. Once you’re in the building, it’s inconvenient to turn around and walk out, so most people just accept their cruel, expensive fate.
There are ways to avoid paying too much for a rental car, though. If you’re diligent about doing your research, reading the fine print, and getting a little bit crafty, you can save yourself a lot of money. Let’s find out how.
1. Loyalty Rewards Programs and Coupons
If you’re a frequent car renter, you might already be aware of the various loyalty programs that you can sign up for with different rental companies. It doesn’t take long to do, it’s almost always free, and you get great perks. Sometimes you can get free upgrades, skip lines, and collect points for rewards down the road.
By becoming part of their loyalty programs, you’re telling a rental company that you’re exclusively using their service. The beauty of it, however, is that you can sign up with multiple rental places and collect points to redeem for free or discounted rentals and upgrades.
You don’t have to sign up for loyalty rewards programs to find discounts, though. As long as you’re up for it, some internet detective work will find you coupons for discounts and upgrades. Sometimes, you can even combine different coupons with your loyalty points and get even better discounts.
2. What Does Your Credit Card Do For You?
Along these same lines, if you’re a frequent traveler, then you should obtain a credit card that gives you travel perks when you use it. Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and most other major creditors will have travel cards that give you points towards discounted flights, hotels, and yep, car rentals when you charge something.
Take a look at your credit company’s website to find out which of their cards is best for getting travel deals and apply for it. This can be a lifesaver when you’re short on cash and need to book a rental or a flight.
3. Shop Around Online
There’s no shortage of online deal aggregators out there that can help you get the best deal on your car rental. Priceline.com, Kayak.com, and the aptly named CarRentals.com are all great options to shop around on.
While these sites can help you find the best deal, they do charge a fee for their service, so you should always peruse the actual rental companies as well. It’s much easier to compare prices on deal aggregators, though, and they might take into account a smaller car rental company that you wouldn’t have thought to look at.
Some rental companies are regional, so you can’t find them everywhere, but if they happen to be in your area, you can find better deals than with the big boys.
4. Always Read the Fine Print
Listen, car rental places are just trying to make a buck. Unfortunately for you, it’s really easy for them to disguise small (and sometimes large) fees in the fine print. Even the small fees, when added up, end up costing you a fortune, so you should always take a close look at what you’re signing up for.
All too often, you’ll see find a great deal online, only to get to the checkout, where the price has mysteriously skyrocketed. When you start to look at the taxes and other fees, then a $30 per day car can quickly become $50 per day. Don’t get seduced by what’s on the surface!
5. Travel a Bit Farther for Your Rental
If you’re flying in from out of town and need a car, the easiest thing for you to do is grab a rental from the airport, right? Be that as it may, there are extra fees for the convenience of renting at the airport. This “convenience fee”, as we’ll call it, drives the price of the rental up between 10% to 30% on average.
When possible, expand your search beyond the airport. If it’s easy and cheap to take a taxi or public transit to a rental that’s a bit farther away, you could end up saving yourself some dough by doing so.
6. Don’t Get Insurance If You Don’t Need It
The person at the kiosk will almost always try to get you to buy extra insurance for your rental. It’ll cost you $40 or so per day to get loss and damage waivers, which is a lot of extra money if you’re renting for a weekend or longer.
If you’ve got your own car insurance, an AAA membership, or a credit card that covers you, then you may not need their insurance. Of course, you shouldn’t assume that you don’t need it, so find out for sure if your credit card covers you before you politely decline their expensive insurance services.
7. Get Gas Yourself
Again, the rental company will sneak in a little tidbit letting you know that if you return the car without a full tank, that they’ll fill it themselves. You can also prepay for gas if you’re renting from the airport.
It sounds easy and nice enough, but if you take a look at how much they’re charging for gas, you’ll notice that it’s twice the price. For that reason, you should always decline the prepay option and fill up before you return the vehicle.
Another hack is to fill up away from airport locations since gas is more expensive. You can download an app called Gas Buddy that’ll tell you where the cheapest gas is, then use a credit card that gives you points for gas purchases. You’ll basically be making money on your rental.
8. Book Ahead and Rent for Longer Than You Think
You’ll notice online that when you’re perusing your car options, there’ll be a “prepay rate” and a “pay at the counter rate”. Always use the prepay rate when you can, because it’ll be several dollars per day cheaper than the alternative.
The other thing when you’re finalizing the booking is to either make sure that you’re on time returning the car or reserve it for a bit longer than you think. It’s best to look into the specific company’s policy on late fees and even early return fees.
Often, when you return something late, even if it’s an hour or two, you’ll get charged for a whole new day. Sometimes it’s cheaper to just book the extra day ahead of time and hope that they waive the fee when you return the car early.
9. Other Hidden Fees to Avoid
Some other things to keep in mind:
- Always return the car to the same location. Relocation fees are enormous.
- If you’re in your 20’s, find a friend that’s 25+ or you’ll pay a “young driver fee”.
- Don’t get a GPS. It’ll be an extra $10 per day and you can just use Google Maps.
- Make sure that you actually do the inspection before you get in the vehicle. You don’t want to get dinged with fees because you didn’t notice the dent on the bumper.
You’re Ready to Hit the Road
Now that you know the cheapest ways to rent a car, you’re ready to hit the road. Doing any one of these things can save you a little bit of money, but when you start adding them up, the total cost will be much lower than if you just storm into the rental office and take whatever car is available.
When you’re away from home, on vacation, or just going on a day trip out of town, you’re going to be spending some money to have a good time. By cutting out some of the car rental cost, you’ll have more money to spend on having fun.
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