How To Save Your Money (And Sanity) At Rental Car Shops

Anyone who’s ever rented a car will tell you, it’s never as easy (or affordable) as it seems. Between not being able to guarantee what car you’ll receive, prices spiking if you don’t book a month in advance, or how you somehow end up paying somewhere around $300 a week, when the daily rate was, like, $18. It can be frustrating to say the least.

Regardless, rental cars can be beneficial and the need is there. Therefore, the next time you start browsing for rental cars keep these tips in mind.

Pay as far in advance as possible.

While it may seem smart to hold off on booking a rental car until you’re plans are set, it’s actually best to book as far in advance as possible. Each major company has software that links to online travel sites, notifying the company and adjusting prices when local hotels book up. If it’s a holiday weekend for example, inventory gets booked sooner and rates go up. Given most rental car companies provide free cancelations within 24 hours notice, book in advance and check rates regularly to see if they’ve fallen. In doing so, you’re guaranteed a set price (and if anything) you’ll receive a better deal later on, not worse.

Take advantage of free member programs

Unlike frequent-flyer programs that only really pay off if you fly with them a LOT, car rental member programs begin immediately. Not only are these programs free to join and don’t require any credit check, you’ll be able to bypass the line at checkin and members typically score a pre-assigned newer, nicer vehicles.

ALWAYS use a discount code

A quick Google search will help you see any and all promotional codes that you can apply for your stay. RetailMeNot.com, Coupons.com, and even daily deal sites like Groupon can be great places to look to save an additional 5%-10% off your total. Stack a discount code with your rental member program and you’re set!

Don’t waste your time looking for the lowest price

If you don’t care about which company you rent from and just want the lowest deal, third-party sites like Kayak, Expedia and Priceline will be your best bet. However, while third-party sites can show you the best deals around, those rates aren’t necessarily better than the agency’s website pricing. All websites pull from the same rate tables, meaning that if Hertz has a car for $8, that car will show up as $8 on Expedia as well. The exception to this rule, is if a third-party site is offering a limited time promotion for an additional percentage off, but again, you can call the agency directly and most companies will match the price.

Our suggestion? Do a quick search on a third-party site to find the best provider, then visit Ebates.com to book. Ebates posts all promotional codes and actually provides anywhere from 1% to 10% cash back on your offer. Around since 1998, Ebates removes “cookies” that websites tag you with in order for them to make commission, and rather pass the commission savings back to you. It’s one of the websites I learned about working at TheKrazyCouponLady.com and let me tell you, it’s one of the internet’s best kept secrets!

Non-airport locations are cheaper

Airports have what is called an “airport concession recovery fee” that’s charged to rental companies, and subsequently, passed on to consumers. It ranges from 2% up to 18% depending on the market,  making airport locations more expensive. Depending on the length of your trip, it may be worth seeing what other local car rental locations are in the area, but not necessarily located at the airport. In congested cities like San Francisco and New York, a quick Uber ride to a nearby location could save you upwards of $30 a day.

Weekends are the best days to pick up

With the exception of long, holiday weekends Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday are the worst possible days to rent a car. This is peak rental time when companies have corporate clients for whom they guarantee certain rates and availability. Retail customers therefore get an extremely short end of the stick and are stuck with unfavorable rates and limited selections. For the best possible rates and selection pick up on a Wednesday night or later, though the longer you push into the weekend, the more limited your selection will be.

Never say “yes” to prepaid fuel

When you pick up your rental car, agencies will present you with the option of pre-purchasing a full tank of gas so you don’t need to refuel before you drop off the car. Agencies will market this as a convenience, helping you avoid an upwards of $10-per-gallon refueling penalty. However, it’s really not that hard to fuel up close to the rental drop-off location. Purchasing fuel in advance only pays off if you somehow manage to drop the car off needing EXACTLY the same amount of fuel you receive it with. If you buy a full tank in advance, but only use two-thirds, you don’t get a refund for the unused gasoline. Don’t fall for this rip off, and instead focus on setting aside a few minutes to fuel up before returning your rental vehicle.

Be smart about car insurance

Before paying an additional $10-$40 a day on renters insurance, make a quick call to your car insurance company. See if you’re covered for rental cars, if you have a deductible for rental cars, if there is a dollar limit to that coverage, and if there are any exclusions. Then ask them if they cover the “loss of use” from car rental companies. Certain car insurance policies will already have you covered in your plan as long as you tell them in advance that you’re renting a car. Even better, select credit companies including certain American Express and Chase cards offer A+ premium insurance for very little per trip as long as you notify them in advance. The calls can take only a few minutes but save you a significant amount of cash, so make the call in advance and see how your current plans can help you save.

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