9 Ways to Save Money on Your Next Car Rental

A happy family with their minivan.


Whether you’re a business traveler or a family going on vacation, car and van rental has become a ubiquitous part of travel planning. It’s easy to understand why there are over 2 million vehicles in rental companies service: You get the freedom of coming and going as you want, without the long drive and costly wear on your own vehicle.

Just because rentals are a must, however, does not mean they have to break the bank before you’ve even arrived.

Here are 9 ideas to help you have a little more money left over for experiences, souvenirs, and gifts.

1. Decide what vehicle is best for you.

Are you a business person traveling alone who needs a commuter car to get from the hotel to an office? Then you won’t need the same minivan a family of five wants for their trip to Southern California for a Disneyland adventure. While the best choice is often the smallest vehicle to suit the number of occupants due to fuel efficiency, if you plan on lots of shopping, the extra space may prove a better value rather than having stores ship your purchases home immediately.

2. Contact your insurance and credit card companies to find out if you’re already covered for the rental.

Though increasingly rare, some carriers do offer coverage of rental cars. Even within a single insurance carrier, policies will vary, so calling is your best bet to ensure you receive correct information. You will want to find out the details, including any additional rates, deductibles, and coverage limits, so you have an apples-to-apples comparison when offered insurance by your rental company. Choosing to use your own liability coverage may be cheaper, but you will also want to find out what is covered in case of vandalism, theft, or accidents that aren’t your fault.


3. Always comparison shop.

compairing different companies is a no-brainer, but don’t forget to compare within the same company. Rates may be very different through the website, 800-number, and calling the local office directly. Ask for a quote, get a quote number and compare your options.

4. Reserve early if you can.

Parked cars don’t earn any money for the rental company. Many offer discounts for early booking to help make sure their fleet is on the move.

5. If you can’t reserve early, widen your search area.

What happens when a local office gets too many coupes and not enough sedans? They either pay someone to drive them around, with per diem and a paid ticket back, or they knock a few bucks off the price and let the customers shift them around. These repositioning deals can mean big savings.

6. Ask for a discount.

Motor clubs, insurance companies, employers, and social organizations can all save you money on rentals. If you don’t have an organizational discount, a quick search online can often yield a discount code—just make sure you meet the qualifications.

7. Don’t buy those add-on accessories you don’t need

. Do you have a smartphone? Most of us do, and if it has a map and navigation app, you most likely don’t need to spend extra to rent a GPS. Some rental companies offer toll devices, such as EZ-Pass or PikePass. While they may be more convenient, you are still responsible for the tolls, so is the avoidance of a cash toll lane worth the cost?

8. Don’t skip the walk around.

When you get the vehicle, before getting in, do a thorough walk around. Now is your chance to point out any pre-trip damage or flaws. This can help you avoid added fees or even tickets. Are there scratches or dings? Even a small scrape can destroy a vacation budget or expense account. Is the tank full? Do all the lights work as intended. Now is the time to bring it to an attendant’s attention.

9. Know your vehicle return terms and conditions.

If you return the vehicle with an empty tank, how much does it cost you? Some companies charge $8 a gallon. Did you smoke in a non-smoking vehicle? $250 for cleaning. Know where and when you need to drop the vehicle off to avoid unnecessary fees that can tack on hundreds to your trip.

Renting a car on vacation doesn’t have to leave you counting change for lunch. Even when choosing an affordable car rental company, with a few good decisions, you can get the most out of your rental experience.


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