Rental Cars: 5 Tips for a Better Deal

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Renting a car might be getting pricier soon, but you can still save money if you know where to look – and what to say.

Along with airfare and hotel, renting a car is one of the Big Three expenses when you travel. But while everyone talks about how to find cheap fares and cheap rooms, no one talks with the same fervor about how to find the best wheels deals.

That’s going to become more important real soon, as Hertz and Avis fight this month to take over Dollar/Thrifty – which will mean less competition and higher prices. As I mention in the video above, there are five easy and not-often-talked-about ways to save on a rental car. Here are some more details…

Rent near the airport, not at the airport.

Airport rental agencies will charge you around $10-15 just for the convenience of getting off the plane and into a car. While rental agencies near the airport won’t charge you that fee, you may have to take a cab that will cost more than that. But some close-to-the-airport places run their own shuttle service. How do you find these places? Just Google the rental company. For instance, “Hertz Miami airport” shows you a map of the airport – and another Hertz 10 blocks away.

Rent by the hour.

You can use a car-sharing service in cities big (San Francisco) and medium (Burlington, VT) for as little as $7 an hour. Here’s a list of many of them.

Ask and you might receive.

Like I explained in the video, I reserve a car before I fly upon arrival at my destination city simply stroll up to competing counters at the airport and ask if I can get a better deal.  It’s worked more times than you might think. I’ve gotten a Mustang convertible from one company for the same price as the sub-compact I’d reserved from another. I’ve also gotten price breaks.

And speaking of asking, asking for a free upgrade never hurts. It’s amazing what a nice smile, some kind words and a simple request can do – at the airline ticket counter, at a hotel check-in and at the rental car counter.  Try it sometime.

Conduct an online discount coupon search.

Just Google “car rental discount coupons” and you’ll get oodles of results that look like this. With all these coupons online, there’s no reason to pay retail.

Brag about your friends.

Membership has its privileges when it comes to car rentals. Organizations that you’d expect to offer discounts – like AAA, which also allows you to reserve a car online –  is just the start. Trade organizations ranging from journalists to wedding planners also get discounts. If you’re booking online, you can even use a website that reveals those organization’s car-rental discount codes – but don’t lie about your membership, because you might be asked to produce proof when you pick up the car.

Then there’s the standard rental car advice, which is pretty well known but worth repeating: shop around for prices by searching the  websites of the major players (Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, Budget, Dollar/Thrifty), fill up the tank when you return the car, and check your credit card coverage and car insurance because you might not need the expensive insurance from the rental agency.

Stacy Johnson

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