Renting a car is usually expensive, finding a great deal gets confusing.
The last time I rented a car, one of the car rental companies tried to charge me $1,800 for 4 days. While another company only charged me $700 for a similar car.
By doing my homework, I saved myself over $1,000 on a single trip.
Fortunately for you, I compiled a list of tips and tricks that will help you find the cheapest rental.
Let’s jump right into it.
1. Ask Yourself: Do I Really Need One?
The golden rule while saving money is only to spend when required. It seems simple, but we often end up buying stuff that we don’t really need.
The best way to know if you should get a car rental is to calculate how much and where you would be commuting. If public transportation or booking local cabs are cheaper and more efficient, then you don’t really need to rent a car.
This is why I typically book hotels in the center of the city. Are they a bit more expensive? Yes. Do I save a boatload of cash by being able to walk everywhere? Definitely. If I can walk 90% of the time, an Uber easily covers the rest at a fraction of the cost for a rental.
2. Avoid Renting at Airports
Think about how EVERYTHING is CRAZY expensive at airports. You are charged a premium because you are in a confined space with no alternatives. The same is true for renting a car from an airport. It can cost you around 30% more.
Before renting a car from the airport, call up the rental agency and ask for the nearest pickup point from the airport. Calculate how much a cab or public transport will cost you to get there and only then decide if it still makes sense to rent a car from the airport.
Check a few different pickup and dropoff points when looking at rentals online to see if you get a different quote.
3. Use Aggregators
Checking every rental car company can become a real pain. Car rental aggregators speed things up a lot. They also give you a good range of what to expect, then you’ll know when you find a good deal or not.
4. Check Prices Directly on Car Rental Websites
Aggregator websites are superb for a comparison and getting ballpark estimates. Once I know the cheapest options, I go to those company’s websites directly and check the rental prices on it.
I have often found that the rental company’s website has a lower quote because of an in-house promotion or coupon code.
Pro Tip: Honey is a free chrome extension that searches for coupon codes. Once you have selected the cheapest car rental, Honey will look for all applicable coupon codes and allow you to use them at checkout.
5. Consider Smaller Companies
I always recommend looking beyond the big-name car rental companies like Enterprise, Avis, Budget, and Hertz. Some smaller companies might not have a big brand name, fancy websites, and extensive coverage. But that’s why they don’t charge you a premium, making them great places to hunt for discounts.
CarRentals.com is a useful aggregator of smaller car rental websites. You should know that a smaller brand doesn’t always mean a better deal. But checking them out wouldn’t take more than a minute, and it can help you save hundreds of dollars.
6. Say Hello to The Sharing Economy
Companies like Turo and Getaround are like the Airbnb of car rentals. I love them as renting from them can result in up to 35% savings. With them, you rent a car directly from the owner. I have felt like I am borrowing a car from a friend every time I have used peer to peer car rentals like Turo.
You can pick up the car yourself from the owner or have it delivered to you at a fee. Similarly, you can drop it off at the owner’s place or a remote location.
Pro Tip: Look closely at the fees of peer to peer car rental companies as they may charge you for all kinds of stuff.
7. Bundle Discounts
I have saved more than $100 per week by booking everything together. If you have forgotten to book a car rental at the time you booked a flight or hotel, keep an eye out on for an email from the booking company that offers bundle discounts. You can also call them up and check if they can give you a special offer for car rentals.
Additionally, check the difference between the daily and weekly charges. At times, you can get a sweet deal if you go for the weekly option.
8. Use Statement Credits or Points
Some travel credit cards give you travel statement credits which include car rentals. This gives you a refund for part of your rental.
If cash is tight and you have a bunch of credit cards banked up, you could use the points to book a rental. Check the travel portal for your credit card rewards program. I wouldn’t expect this to be the best use of your points though, you’ll typically get more value from international flights.
9. Employee Discount
A lot of companies offer discounts on various stuff to their employees. Simply call someone at your company’s HR and ask them about the perks and discounts available to you. They might have a tie-up with a car rental company, which will significantly lower your rental cost.
Being a government employee and veteran can also give you significant discounts.
Pro Tip: CorporateShopping.com is a handy tool to get an idea of all the discounts you are eligible for through your employer.
10. Leverage Memberships
You should always know all the benefits you get by being a member of different organizations.
For example, a Costco membership will almost always give you a better deal than the one you find on aggregator websites. An AAA membership can reduce your rental price by around 20%. The American Airlines AAdvantage program gives a 35% discount off Avis and Budget. The only catch here is that you have to book them from an airport (check the real-time quotes as sometimes you can get a great deal from an airport with AA).
You can also leverage your AARP and USAA memberships and Frequent Flyer and Hotel Loyalty programs to get discounts on car rentals. Some airline programs also give status at rental car programs, giving you free upgrades and perks.
11. Say No to Rental Car Insurance
The rental company salesperson will try to hard-sell rental insurance to you. As long as you have the right credit card, you don’t need it. Check your credit card perks. Once you have a card with that perk, always use that card when booking a car rental.
And you will already be covered through your car insurance. Just call your insurance company once to confirm.
12. Use the Pay Now Option
30% of people who book a car don’t pick it up. They can afford a no-show because they haven’t paid upfront. To overcome this problem, car rentals incentivize paying upfront. Avis offers a 30% discount while Budget gives a 35% discount if you pay when you book instead of paying while you pick up the car.
The only drawback of the Pay Now option is that it is non-refundable in most cases.
13. Register for One Driver Only
A lot of rental companies will charge you an additional fee per day for having a second driver.
There are two ways to get past it. First, some companies waive the additional driver fee for your partner if you have the same address on the driving license.
Second, the fee could also be waived off if you are a member of AAA, USAA, AARP, or Costco.
Be careful with having a second driver without paying the fee. Coverage from credit cards is usually void if a second driver hasn’t been officially added. In an attempt to dodge the fee, you could be liable for any damage.
14. Pay for Gas Yourself
Gas can be the most expensive part of renting a car. You will also have the option of prepaying for gas. In most cases, that’s a bad idea. Prepaid gas only makes sense when you are crunched for time.
Refilling the tank before you return the car will almost always be a better deal. I’d only agree to one of the prepaid gas options at the rental company if I was extremely tight on time and wouldn’t have the chance to refill the tank.
Pay for gas at the car rental company to save time, don’t do it to save money.
15. Upgrades Are Your Enemies
The car rental company’s salesperson will try to upsell a lot of fancy stuff. You don’t need any of it. Some stuff may not seem expensive, but it can quickly add up to a more significant amount.
Say NO to all the following:
- GPS: You can use your smartphone’s GPS. It will be cheaper, and the navigation app on it will be prettier.
- Flyer Miles: Getting flyer miles may seem like a great deal. But you’re almost always charged $1 or $2 per day to get them.
- Satellite Radio: Once again, use your smartphone. You can even carry your Bluetooth speakers or AUX cable to play music out loud.
16. Economy Cars
Unless I have a strong reason to go for ‘fancier’ cars, I always select the ‘Economy’ option. It solves my purpose of going from one place to the other.
I have gotten a free upgrade a lot of times because economy cars were not available. Even if I don’t get an upgrade, I know I am saving a lot of money by not spending on an unnecessary luxury that I don’t really need.
Spend 10 Minutes to Save Hundreds
Just 10 minutes of research can help you save hundreds of dollars on a car rental. The best way to find the lowest price is by knowing what you want and paying for exactly that and nothing more.
By checking a few car rental companies, I saved $1,000 the last time I got a car rental. And I always expect to save a few hundred dollars by using the tips above.