12 Surprising Ways to Cut Rental Car Expenses

Photo (cc) by Seth W.

Planning to hit the road in the near future? A rental car may be in those plans, but don’t let the hidden costs wreak havoc on your wallet.

When I reserved my first rental car seven years ago, the price on the computer screen seemed almost too good to be true, only $75 for the entire weekend. It wasn’t until I reached the counter that I realized it pays to do your homework. After all the add-ons were applied, the final bill exceeded $150.

Because I have since learned how to do my homework, I was able to slash the cost of subsequent car rentals in half.

Here’s a video we did a while back with some ways to cut rental car expenses. Check it out, then read on for more.

Now, here are some additional ways to cut rental car expenses:

1. Don’t limit yourself to big chains

When most consumers think of car rentals, the big chains like Budget, Enterprise and Hertz come to mind. That doesn’t mean they’re the cheapest options out there. Says The New York Times:

Look beyond Avis, Hertz and other big national chains to independent agencies like Payless and Fox Rent a Car. Because of lower operating costs, their cars, which can be found at websites like CarRentals.com and CarRentalExpress.com, typically cost 15 to 30 percent less than rentals from mainstream agencies.

2. Look at the weekend and weekly rates

Don’t just look at the daily rate. See what the company charges for a weekend or a week. It could be a substantial savings.

Bankrate wrote:

Some rental car companies offer rock-bottom rates on the weekends, as much as 50 percent lower than the daily rates offered during the week. And don’t overlook specials on weekly rates. Daily rental rates are so expensive that renting a car for five days (and paying the daily rate multiplied by five) could be more expensive than the weekly rental rate.

3. Shop around

Use comparison sites to see which company is offering the best deal, but confirm that the quotes are all-inclusive and reflect rates plus taxes and fees. A few sites to check out:

  • Expedia.
  • Orbitz.
  • Travelocity.
  • CarRentals.com.
  • AutoSlash.com.

Another option: Use Hotwire or Priceline to name your own price.

4. Lock in your rate early

Rental prices can rise as demand increases closer to the rental date, so you might benefit by booking early to lock in a lower rate. A deposit isn’t required to make a reservation online, and you may be able to cancel and re-book if you find a better deal elsewhere without incurring a penalty. Check the requirements before you book.

5. Skip the airport

Renting at the airport is convenient for passengers traveling by air, but you’ll usually pay a higher price. “On average, renting at the airport adds 10 percent to your overall rental fee, and 20 percent in Europe,” ABC News said.

If your hotel has a shuttle, consider being picked up from the airport and dropped off at the hotel, then catching a cab or bus to retrieve a rental car at a free-standing location. Or check with the rental car company to see if they’ll pick you up at the hotel.

6. Consider package deals

Taking a vacation? An all-inclusive package that covers airfare and lodging may yield a lower rate on the price of a rental car.

7. Pick up and return at the same location

To avoid paying a transfer free, make arrangements to pick up and return the vehicle at the same location. Even if the two locations are a few miles apart, expect to fork over a hefty fee to cover the expenses incurred to drive the rental back to its original location.

8. Upgrade at pickup

Has the guy at the counter ever tried to throw in an upgrade offer at the last minute? More than likely the rate he quotes you will be much lower than what’s online because of slow demand. And if you desire a larger car but the representative doesn’t make an offer, simply ask. I’ve successfully secured an upgrade on several occasions for just a few dollars more than what I was initially slated to pay.

9. Choose insurance coverage wisely

Rental car companies make a handsome sum of cash when you buy the insurance coverage they offer. It sometimes exceeds the cost of the rental, especially when coupled with an underage fee.

According to Esurance, most rental car companies offer these coverage options at the counter:

  • Loss-damage waiver — $9 to $19 per day.
  • Liability coverage — $7 to $14 per day.
  • Personal accident coverage — $1 to $5 per day.
  • Personal effects coverage — $1 to $4 per day.

Despite the cost, these plans may be very enticing and give you peace of mind, but check with your car insurance provider first to see if you need them. Also, check with your credit card company to see if it provides insurance coverage when you use it to rent a car. (See: “The Best Credit Cards to Use When You Rent a Car.”)

10. Inquire about prepayments

When reserving a rental car online, a deposit isn’t necessary. But if you decide to pay in full, you may be able to save a substantial amount of money. These prepayment discounts generally range from 10 to 35 percent.

The only catch is that you’re locked in and could incur a fee of $5 to the full cost of the rental if you cancel.

11. Use discount codes

We’re all about getting the biggest bang for your buck, and car rentals are no exception. Says AARP:

All sorts of organizations offer car rental discounts. You can get a special rate if you’re a member of AARP, AAA, USAA and Costco, to name just a few. Couponing sites like Retail MeNot.com and RentalCodes.com often advertise deals. You can also find discounts with an Internet search: Just enter the name of the car rental company and the words “discount code” or “coupon” and you’ll get a list of deals the company provides.

12. Rent directly from the owner

No desire to deal with rental car companies? Renting from private owners using sites such as RelayRides.com or Flightcar.com may be an option. Says ABC News:

RelayRides.com lets you rent directly from a car owner. It’s like VRBO for cars. Flightcar.com is trying a different tack on the direct rental idea. People parking at the airport rent their vehicle out to other travelers. If you’re the car owner, not only do you avoid parking fees, you can make up to $20 a day.

There are no guarantees on the condition of the vehicle you’ll be driving, but the rates are much cheaper.

What tips have you used to save money on rentals? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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