How to Save Money On A Rental Car

I very rarely rent a car when I go on vacation.  I tend to be attracted to a) beaches that require no shirt, no shoes, and no driving or b) big cities with excellent public transportation.  If I visit family in Iowa, as I did last week, I usually rely on the kindness of loved ones, also known as my dad’s spare vehicle.

Unfortunately, that spare vehicle died a few months before my most recent trip, leaving me with no choice but to fork over the cash for a rental car last week.  Unless you’re renting a convertible for a Hawaiian sight seeing tour or a muscle car for your Los Angeles midlife crisis, there’s no good reason to spend more than you have to on a rental car.  Fortunately, I picked up a few tips for getting cheap rental cars.

4 Ways To Save Money On A Rental Car

1. Shop around.

This is so obvious that it shouldn’t even be a tip, but I’m constantly surprised at how little comparison shopping people do when making travel plans.  Truth be told, you’re probably going to find that rental car prices are very close – if not identical – on most websites, but at least you’ll get a general idea of what a car normally rents for, which is the first step to recognizing a good deal.

2. Don’t rent at the airport.

Although you’ll only be picking up and dropping off at the airport, you’ll be charged an “airport convenience fee” for each day of your rental.  At about $20 per day, this fee can add up quickly.  Instead of renting from the airport, look for a rental car lot nearby the airport that provides shuttle service.  You might also find a rental lot near your hotel, or have a friend in the area give you a ride to pick up and drop off.  Depending on the local cab fare rates, you may even save money taking a cab between the airport and rental car location.

3.  Consider reserving the compact or economy if your chances for an upgrade are good.

As you probably know, car rental companies charge less for itty bitty cars that get great gas mileage but offer little to no room for your legs or luggage.  They charge quite a bit more for a full size vehicle or an SUV.  In the United States, very few people opt for fuel economy over space, so many lots have few (if any) compact or economy lots available.  The smaller the lot – or market – the less likely you are to actually get the compact or economy car you booked.  Instead, you’ll be upgraded to the next available size up at no additional cost.

This cost saving measure is a little risky.  If you get to the rental car lot and they do, in fact, have the GEO Metro you reserved available, you can request an upgrade on the spot and simply pay the difference.  Of course, you do run the risk of being stuck with the GEO Metro if nothing else is available – but the odds are in your favor.  I would not recommend this trick in Europe, where people actually care about how much they have to spend on fuel.

4. Be clear on when your days begin and end.

On my recent trip to Iowa, I discovered that I would save over $30 if I returned the car by 11:30am instead of noon.  Once the clock struck noon, I’d be paying for an additional day.  You may not be able to decipher these details easily online, but a quick call to the rental car company can help you figure out if a later or earlier pick up or drop off can save you some cash.

How much money can these tips save you?

After a quick look around the Internet, I had planned to have to spend about $300 on a car rental on my last trip.  After switching to a location away from the airport, reserving an economy with the hopes of getting an upgrade, and adjusting my drop off time by 30 minutes, I managed to rent a Chevy Impala for a week for just over $100.  We had leg room to spare and extra money in our pocket.

Author: Mindaugas Markus

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