Renting a car can be a liberating experience when you’re exploring a new destination or simply need a temporary set of wheels. However, it’s no secret that rental car costs can add up quickly if you’re not careful. To help you get the most value for your money, this guide on rental car hacks will give you more money-saving strategies.
1. Compare Prices Across Rental Companies
Comparing prices is one of the fundamental ways to save on a rental car. You can use various online platforms to quickly compare quotes from different rental companies. Remember, prices can vary significantly, so don’t settle for the first option you find. Take your time and explore multiple sources, including rental company websites and third-party booking platforms. Keep in mind that rental costs can fluctuate, so it’s beneficial to start your research early and revisit it closer to your travel date.
2. Avoid Renting at the Airport
Renting a car directly from the airport can be incredibly convenient, but it often comes at a premium. Airports charge rental companies fees and taxes, which are then passed on to the customer. To save on these additional costs, consider renting from an off-airport location. Many rental companies offer shuttle services, making the process of getting to your car rental location hassle-free. While it may add a few minutes to your journey, the potential savings can be substantial, especially for longer rentals.
3. Utilize Discounts and Coupons
Always be on the lookout for discounts and coupons. Many rental companies offer special deals for members of organizations such as AAA, AARP, or frequent flyer programs. Check the websites of these organizations for rental car discounts. Additionally, you can find coupons and promo codes on various websites dedicated to aggregating travel deals. Sometimes, the discounts may only be a small percentage off, but these savings can accumulate into a substantial amount.
4. Book Early, But Check for Deals Later
Booking your rental car well in advance is generally a good practice, as it allows you to secure the vehicle you want and ensures you won’t be caught in a last-minute scramble. However, there’s another strategy that can work in your favor: keeping an eye out for last-minute deals. Rental companies sometimes offer steep discounts when they have excess inventory that they need to get rid of. Be prepared for limited availability, but if you’re flexible with your plans, this strategy can lead to significant savings.
5. Be Mindful of Rental Car Insurance
One of the most significant additional costs of renting a car is the insurance. Rental companies often offer insurance packages that can add up to a considerable expense. But before accepting these insurance options, review your own car insurance policy and the benefits of your credit card. Many credit cards provide rental car insurance as a cardholder benefit, and your existing car insurance policy may also cover rental cars. By understanding the insurance coverage you already have, you can often decline the costly insurance offered by the rental company, saving you a significant amount.
6. Choose the Right Size
Selecting the right size of car for your needs can save you money. Smaller cars are typically cheaper to rent and are more fuel-efficient, which can result in additional savings at the pump. Unless you truly need the extra space or features of a larger vehicle, opt for a compact or economy car. Not only will it be easier on your wallet in terms of the rental fee, but you’ll also spend less on fuel, making it a double win for your budget.
7. Fill Up the Tank Yourself
Rental companies often offer the convenience of prepaying for a tank of gas at the time of pickup. However, this convenience comes at a premium price, as the per-gallon rate is often higher than what you’d pay at a local gas station. To save money, choose the option to fill up the tank yourself before returning the car. If you have some extra time before your return, look for a nearby gas station to top off the tank and avoid those inflated fuel charges.
8. Return the Car on Time
Returning the rental car on time is more than just about punctuality; it can also save you from additional fees. Many rental companies have strict return policies and charge extra for late returns. These fees can quickly add up, potentially wiping out any initial savings you might have secured. To avoid these extra costs, plan your return time carefully and communicate any potential delays with the rental company as soon as possible.
9. Skip the Additional Driver Fee
If possible, designate only one driver for your rental car to avoid extra fees for additional drivers. Many rental companies charge additional driver fees, which can add up significantly, especially for longer rentals. However, some rental companies waive this fee for spouses or domestic partners. Always check the company’s policies regarding additional drivers and take advantage of any exceptions or promotions that can help you avoid this extra expense.
10. Check for Damage Before Leaving
Before you drive away with your rental car, it’s crucial to inspect it thoroughly for any existing damage. While rental companies usually document the car’s condition, taking your photos or videos can provide an extra layer of protection. If you find any dents, scratches, or other issues, be sure to bring them to the attention of the rental company and have them documented. This proactive step will ensure that you won’t be held responsible for pre-existing damage when you return the vehicle.
11. Prepay for Your Rental for More Discounts
When booking your rental car, many rental companies offer the option to prepay for your reservation. In exchange for your upfront commitment, they often provide more substantial discounts. This can be a win-win situation: you save money, and the rental company secures your business in advance. Be sure to check the terms and conditions of prepayment, as some reservations may be non-refundable.
12. Use Membership Programs for Additional Savings
Frequent travelers or members of specific organizations can leverage their memberships for extra savings. Car rental companies often have loyalty programs that offer benefits like express service, upgrades, and discounted rates. Additionally, various credit cards have partnerships with rental companies, allowing cardholders to access exclusive discounts and promotions. Always check with your memberships and credit card companies to explore any rental car benefits they offer.
13. Avoid One-Way Drop-Off Fees
If you’re planning a one-way trip and need to drop off your rental car at a different location than where you picked it up, you might encounter one-way drop-off fees. These fees can be substantial and put a dent in your budget. To avoid them, plan your trip in a way that allows you to return the car to its original location. Alternatively, look for rental companies that offer promotions or reduced fees for one-way rentals.
14. Keep an Eye on Toll Charges
Many rental cars are equipped with electronic toll transponders, which can make it convenient to pass through toll booths without stopping. However, this convenience often comes at a cost. Rental companies might charge a daily fee for the transponder, even if you don’t use it. To avoid this extra charge, inquire with the rental company about the transponder options and fees. You might opt to pay tolls manually during your trip or find alternative routes that don’t involve toll roads.
15. Take Advantage of Refueling Options
Rental car companies offer various refueling options when you return your vehicle. Some might ask you to bring the car back with a full tank of gas, while others allow you to return it without refilling, but at a higher per-gallon rate. To save money, be mindful of your vehicle’s fuel level and refill it yourself before returning it. If you’re running short on time or want to avoid the hassle, look for nearby gas stations close to the rental return location. This way, you can top off the tank at regular fuel prices and save on the rental company’s refueling fees.
16. Explore Discounts for Government and Military Personnel
If you’re a government employee or part of the military, you might be eligible for special discounts when renting a car. Rental companies often offer government and military rates, which can provide significant savings. Be sure to check the rental company’s website for information on these discounts and have the required identification or proof of eligibility with you when picking up your rental car.
17. Be Cautious with Additional Rental Car Equipment
While rental car companies offer various additional equipment and services, like GPS navigation systems, child car seats, and roadside assistance, they come with extra charges. Before adding these items to your reservation, consider whether you truly need them. You might find it more cost-effective to bring your GPS device or child car seat from home or rely on your existing roadside assistance coverage. Always compare the rental car company’s prices for these extras with alternatives you might have access to.
18. Utilize Free Cancellation Options
Life is unpredictable, and your travel plans might change at any moment. When booking your rental car, check the cancellation policy. Many rental companies offer free cancelation options up until the pickup time. Taking advantage of this can be a lifesaver if your plans shift unexpectedly. It’s always better to book with flexibility in mind, even if you’re confident in your travel dates.
19. Check for Seasonal and Destination-Specific Deals
Rental car prices can vary significantly depending on the season and location. Destinations with high tourist traffic often have higher rates during peak seasons. To save money, plan your trip during the off-peak season when rental car demand is lower. Additionally, some destinations may have specific deals or promotions, so it’s worth checking with local rental companies and tourism offices to find out if there are any regional discounts available.
20. Inquire About Long-Term Rental Discounts
If you’re planning an extended trip, you might be able to secure substantial discounts on your rental car. Rental companies often offer long-term rental deals for customers who need a vehicle for several weeks or even months. These extended rental options can provide excellent value, especially for travelers embarking on an extended road trip, relocating, or working remotely from a different location. Inquire with the rental company about their long-term rental options and associated discounts.
21. Rent Locally for Smaller Trips
For shorter trips within your own city or neighboring areas, consider renting from a local, non-chain rental company. These local businesses might offer competitive rates and personalized service, helping you save money while supporting local enterprises. Don’t forget to check online reviews and ratings to ensure you’re dealing with a reputable and trustworthy local rental provider.
22. Compare Inclusive and Exclusive Pricing
When booking your rental car, you might encounter options for inclusive or exclusive pricing. Inclusive pricing generally covers all expenses like taxes, fees, and insurance in one flat rate. Exclusive pricing might advertise a lower daily rate but then add these costs as additional fees. To avoid unexpected expenses, carefully review the rental terms and conditions to understand the full cost of your rental. In some cases, the inclusive pricing might be more cost-effective.
23. Take Advantage of Special Promotions
Rental car companies frequently run special promotions and deals, especially during holidays, seasonal shifts, or when they launch new vehicle models. Keep an eye on the websites and social media channels of rental car companies for announcements about these promotions. You can also subscribe to their newsletters to receive timely updates on any new deals. Being informed about these promotions can lead to significant savings on your rental car.
These rental car hacks are designed to save money while enjoying the convenience of a rental vehicle. By comparing prices, being mindful of additional costs, and taking advantage of discounts and promotions, you can maximize your savings without compromising on your travel experience. Remember, a little extra effort in researching your rental car options can go a long way in making your trip both enjoyable and budget-friendly. Safe travels!