These days, you don’t need a new car to get sticker shock — you only have to rent one! Not only have there been hefty increases in rates and fees, but major companies have also downsized their fleets (to the tune of 20 percent at some locations), resulting in fewer available cars. But don’t despair: with our tips, you really can find car rental deals.
1. Shop around
First, check the daily cost of a vehicle on sites like CarRentals.com and VroomVroomVroom.com as well as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. Then check rates on car rental company sites. Be sure all the prices you compare include fees (including those for additional drivers) and taxes. You can also find coupons at sites like Promotionalcodes.com.
2. Say 'No' to extras
Additional insurance coverage, refueling charges, and GPS rental can sabotage car rental deals. Worse, agency staffers are trained to “up sell,” often playing on your fears about, say, not having sufficient insurance. If you own a car, get the policy information about your coverage while renting in writing from your insurance agent. Also, some credit cards automatically provide collision coverage if you pay for a rental using them. In general, those expensive refueling charges aren’t necessary. Find cheap places to tank up on Gasbuddy.com, which has a free app. Other apps include the AAA’s free TripTik and GasBook (99 cents on iTunes). If you have a smartphone, use Google maps instead of a GPS.
3. Book early and book compact
Booking early often gets you better car rental deals. Unless you’re traveling with lots of people or lots of luggage, reserve a less expensive compact with better fuel efficiency. Also, because compacts aren’t popular, rental companies fill their lots with bigger cars; if they run out of compacts, you might get a free upgrade.
4. Know your rates
Sometimes, renting for just five days qualifies you for the lower weekly rate. Also, if you don’t really need the car on Thursday, say, except to get from the airport to your hotel, see if you can get the less expensive weekend rate by picking up the car on Friday. Finally, join loyalty programs. They are generally free, you won’t have to stand in long lines at pickup and you’ll be eligible for upgrades and discounts.
5. Be mindful of pickup and drop-off procedures
Airport pickup is convenient, but it may mean paying $10 to $20 a day for airport fees. Instead, save money by collecting and returning your car in the city. At pickup, use the camera or video on your phone during an inspection. Be sure that counter personnel document any damages before you leave. Arrive early for drop-off — there can be a long wait, and if you’re late (even by just 5 minutes), the agency can legally charge you for an additional day.
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