Whether you’re heading out on vacation or your car is in the shop and you find yourself needing a rental, it pays to shop around for a rental car. The rental car industry is extremely competitive and prices can change dramatically from day to day, even from hour to hour.
Plan to get the best deal by planning ahead. If you wait until the last minute, for example heading to the airport rental counter after your plane has landed, you will be at the mercy of economics – supply and demand. Chances are you will pay full price and either have to wait for a car or settle for a car that doesn’t meet your needs.
Airport rental counters, while convenient, aren’t always the best option when traveling by plane. Many offsite rental companies have shuttle buses that will pick you up at the airport and take you to their office. Another idea is to consider taking the free hotel shuttle to the hotel and renting offsite. Many rental companies will deliver the car right to the hotel or come pick you up.
Depending on your destination, consider a package deal. Popular destinations such as California, Hawaii and Florida oftentimes have air, hotel and car rental packages that are tough to beat.
Never pay full price. Coupons and discounts are everywhere, internet prices can be lower still and calling around and asking for a better rate are just a few strategies you can use. Compare both the car rental company’s website and their rental office’s quoted prices. Once you have the best price either via coupon, web quote, discount from an affiliation or airline miles plans, ask if they have any other specials or can do even better. It never hurts to ask and you may get a free day or an upgrade merely by asking politely. Also, if you booked via the national 800#, call the local branch and see if they have any specials that may be better than what their national office offered you.
If you plan on renting for several days or more, ask for a weekly rate and compare. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper to pay the weekly rate than individual days. Many car rental companies will let you start the weekly rate at just three days. Find out the difference between weekday prices and weekend prices. If possible, try to strategize your pickup for a Thursday afternoon when the weekend price kicks in. By doing so, you could save close to 50 percent compared to picking up on a Wednesday.
Ask for a non-smoking car and increase your chances of getting an upgrade or a newer, cleaner model. Because non-smoking cars are in demand, chances are the car you’ve reserved may not be available in non-smoking and the rental company will be obligated to upgrade you to a higher model to accommodate your non-smoking request.
Double check your own auto insurance and major credit cards to see if you are covered while driving a rental car. If the credit card covers you, you must use the card to pay for the rental. If you are covered by either your auto insurance or credit card, decline the rental company’s insurance. Also, the Loss Damage Waiver or LDW also known in some states as the Collision Damage Waiver can usually be declined. It is a transferal of responsibility that transfers the liability from the renter to the company for any damage to the vehicle. In most cases, you’re better off taking your chances with your own insurance and paying your own deductible than relying on a document loaded with loopholes that favor the rental company.
Standard sedans and compact cars are cheaper than SUVs, minivans and luxury cars and also cheaper to drive. With today’s high fuel costs, choosing a fuel efficient rental saves the budget both at the rental counter as well as at the pump.
Find out the rental companies fuel policy. It’s much better to drive off with a full tank and return it with a full tank than to pay the rental company’s “half tank” fee and attempt to return it empty. Or worse yet, letting the rental company refuel it upon return and pay their inflated prices which are often more per gallon than the local gas stations.
Make sure you understand the car rental company’s mileage policy. Most companies offer unlimited miles but some don’t. Some offer 100-200 free miles per day then tack on per mile charges after that. If so, pay attention to the total mileage over the course of your rental and try not to exceed the limits. Per mile charges can vastly affect the bottom line. Another factor to consider is the time of day the car is due. If you are a few minutes late, they have the opportunity to charge for a full extra day.
If you don’t know exactly when you plan to return the car, reserve it for longer than you think you will need it. You aren’t penalized or otherwise charged for returning the car early but if you return it late, you will pay hefty premium daily rates.