Finding cheap rental cars requires a good bit of legwork and can be time-consuming. With all the hidden fees and upsells, the price you see advertised doesn’t always resemble the price you pay at drop off. Here are our best tips for finding the cheapest way to rent cars.
Posted By Jerry Graham
Posted In Spend Less Money
Last Updated: 03/25/2022
14 Tips for Finding Cheap Rental Cars
Renting a car gives you the freedom to explore or get where you need to go on your own timetable. When you have a rental car, you’re not subject to someone else’s schedule. You won’t get stuck waiting around for a ride when you’re ready to go.
Unfortunately, renting a car can also be a confusing and frustrating experience. With so many options and hidden fees, you can never be sure you’re getting a good deal. The good news is there are ways to ensure you’re not overpaying on a car rental.
Finding the cheapest way to rent cars requires some legwork, but the savings are worth it whether you’re a frequent renter or you just need a rental car for a short business trip or a weekend rental. Here are our best tips for renting a car cheap:
1. Shop Online
Start your search for the lowest price on a rental car by looking at sites like Cheapcarrental.com, Kayak, and Priceline. These sites aggregate prices from the rental car companies and allow you to sort or filter based on your requirements.
2. Check Rental Car Company Websites
If you’re looking at rental car rates on a price comparison site, make sure you also check the rental car company’s website. Look for any current deals or coupon codes they advertise on their site. There may be an exclusive deal or special discount only available through the official site.
Using the “Pay Now” option on some car rental company websites can get you as much as a 30% discount as well. Read the terms, though, as pre-payments are usually non-refundable.
3. Check the Weekly and Daily Rates
Rental rates are generally lower if you book for 5 or more days when weekly rates kick in. If you need a car for 3 or 4 days, it could be cheaper to book for a week and return the car early.
If you do the math and find the weekly rate is cheaper before you book, review the rental agreement. Make sure there are no fees for early returns. Don’t let on you’ll be returning the car before the rental period is up or they might stick you with the higher rate.
4. Find a Discount You Qualify For
There are several ways you can get discount rental cars by virtue of a membership program or your employment. If you belong to any type of organization, see if you’re eligible for a car rental discount through your membership.
For example, the AAA discount on car rentals is up to 20% off the base rental price at Hertz, unlimited miles, and members can get the fee for drivers under 25 waived. AARP members can get 30% off rental car prices at Avis or Budget Rent A Car and 5% off a rental car from Payless Car Rental.
If you’re a Costco member, Costco Travel has rental car deals that are usually among the best available. In addition to the cheap car rentals, there is no additional driver fee or cancellation fee when booking through Costco Travel.
There are also special discounts and rental deals available to government employees, active-duty military personnel, and veterans. Check with your employer as you may be eligible for a corporate rate or there might be an employee discount program.
5. Use Credit Card Perks and Frequent Flier Programs
Frequent flyer programs and travel credit cards often have relationships with a rental agency or two. In addition to steep discounts, there might be additional perks like free upgrades, bonus points or airline miles, priority reservations, and more.
Another reason to check with your credit card issuer is the damage waiver. Damage waivers cover any liability if you get in an accident or your rental car is stolen.
You can buy a damage waiver with your rental for around $10 to $20 a day, but check with your credit card issuer first. Some credit cards include a primary collision damage waiver free if you pay for your car rental with the card. Having coverage from your credit card company means you won’t need to buy a damage waiver from the rental company, submit a claim with your personal car insurance provider, or pay out of pocket for any damage.
6. Rent Economy Cars
Economy cars are usually the cheapest option with the major car rental companies. Since they have the lowest price, that often means they have the highest demand. If the economy vehicle you booked is not available when you arrive for pickup, you can often get a free upgrade.
As long as an economy car is big enough for your needs, go with the economy class and you’ll usually get the cheapest rates.
7. Try Discount Car Rental Brands
Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz are not the only car rental companies. There are brands like Alamo, Budget, Dollar, or Thrifty and smaller discount brands like Advantage and Payless.
You can almost always find a lower rate from one of the discount brands. Rates are low compared to premium brands for a reason, though. They might have a smaller selection of cars, inconvenient pick up locations, or higher fees for add-ons.
Despite their flaws, the savings value brands offer can be significant. That makes them an alternative worth considering if you’re looking for the cheapest way to rent cars.
8. Rent a Car from Lyft
Ridesharing service provider Lyft offers rental cars through its app in several cities. Most rentals are fulfilled through a partnership with Sixt, but Lyft operates its own rental service in some places.
With Lyft, you get unlimited miles, no additional driver fees, and Lyft credits to get you to and from the pickup location. Prices range from average to much cheaper than traditional rental agencies so the app is worth checking.
9. Try a P2P Car Rental Service
Peer-to-peer rental services like Turo and Getaround have sprung up to disrupt the car rental business. Unlike traditional car rentals with a fleet of cars, you rent an individual’s personal vehicle. The P2P service acts as the middleman, similar to the way Airbnb facilitates lodging rentals.
The booking process is straightforward, convenient, and often cheaper. You can book your rental through a smartphone app then pick it up from the owner or a willing owner might deliver their car for an additional fee based on their availability. When you’re done, you return the car to the owner.
10.Don’t Pick Up Your Rental Car at the Airport
Picking up your rental car at the airport when you fly in is a convenient option, but convenience is expensive. Car rental companies pay a concession fee to the airport which they pass on to their customers. You can expect to pay $30 or so for the privilege of picking up your rental car at the airport.
You can avoid this fee by picking up your car at a different location. If the rental car company has an airport location, there could be other rental locations nearby. There might be a free shuttle service or public transportation available, but if you have to take an Uber or cab ride price it out and determine if the savings are worth it.
11. Stick to One Driver if Possible
If you’re taking a long road trip or doing a long-term rental, adding an extra driver might be necessary. Just know that an additional driver means an extra charge of around $10 to $15 per day. If your additional driver is under 25, you can expect an underage driver fee of $20 – $35 a day as well.
12. Skip the Extras
Car rental agents typically earn commissions on sales of add-ons like rental insurance, vehicle upgrades, satellite radio, roadside assistance, and prepaid gas. Even if the rental agent doesn’t earn extra money for upsells, you can bet they are trained to offer them. Most add-ons will be overpriced or unnecessary.
For example, you must return the car with a full tank of gas or face outrageous fees so the rental agency will offer you prepaid gas as a convenience. That might save you some time, but you will likely pay too much for it.
Use the GasBuddy website and compare local gas prices with the rate you’re getting from the rental car company. Unless you know you’ll be pushing the car back to the drop-off location with an empty gas tank, it’s probably not worth the cost.
13. Bring Your Own Insurance
If you have a car, your auto insurance policy probably also covers you driving a rental car. Many credit cards include basic insurance when you pay for the rental with the card. You can save $25 to $30 a day by declining the insurance offered by the rental company.
14. Don’t Rent a Car
The best way to save money on a rental car might be not renting one. Most major cities have public transportation options, walkable downtown areas, and are serviced by ridesharing apps. Depending on where you’re going and for how long, you might not really need it.
Before going through the car rental process, ask yourself:
- Does your destination have a robust public transportation system?
- Is the city walkable or are there bike-sharing services available?
- What sort of activities do you have planned that require driving?
- How much time will you spend in the car?
You might find free shuttles, public transport, and rideshare services are all you really need. If so, you’ll probably save a lot of money over renting a car, paying for parking, and topping off the gas tank.
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