Five money saving tips for renting cars.

Five money saving tips for renting cars.

My family and I are going to be making a cross country trip next week to attend a wedding and due to the fact that we have a 2 year old and a 3 month old we decided it was probably better to rent a van than cram everyone into my wife’s Accord. I spent days calling around, doing searches on the internet, etc. and in the process think I learned a thing or too that I will share with my readers.

Tip 1 – Don’t rent your car from locations at the airport.
This was one of the biggest money saving items for us when we were renting our vehicle. Often when you do a search on hotwire, travelocity, orbitz, etc. they tend to show you rates of rental cars through the big auto rental chains, but the location tends to be at the local airport. The problem with renting from say Enterprise at the airport is that most rental agencies located at airports get levied an airport surcharge fee that they happily pass onto you the customer. So the initial rate before taxes sounds good, but in my experience the airport surcharge fee can add anywhere from 10-20% onto the cost of your rental. What we did was found a great deal on the internet and instead called the Enterprise location 1 mile from the airport and it saved us nearly $50 in extra fees,taxes, and surcharges (they had the same base rate).

Tip 2 – If you are taking a long trip find a place that will get you unlimited miles
In my experience nearly none of the major rental agencies websites will let you choose unlimited miles. You usually get 200 miles a day or 1400 miles a week and then each additional mile is a certain fee (20-50 cents a mile) – which can add up really fast. The only way I have found to get unlimited miles is to search using a discount search site like hotwire, orbitz, travelocity, etc. Also a sort of an unique tip. In my experience hotwire the first time you search for a certain vehicle/date combination will show you 1400 miles per week, if you simply then change the pickup time by say a half hour and search again your 2nd and each consecutive search will give you unlimited miles for the same price. I know call me crazy but it worked like charm every time. Once you have an unlimited package that suits your needs call the company directly and they will almost always match it and might even give you more perks for going directly through them so that they don’t have to pay the 3rd party vendor for booking the car.

Tip 3 – When booking unlimited miles make sure of the terms
Many rental agencies have unlimited miles, but there are stipulations like you have to stay within 400 miles of the rental agency or can’t take the vehicle outside of any of the bordering states. About half the places I called had stipulations like this so if you plan on going further it is worth your while to ask as if you go outside of the specified area you will get charged the standard mile rate for every mile of your trip. Like I said its 50/50 so be sure to ask.

Tip 4 – Do your homework before getting rental insurance from the rental car company
In many cases if you have comprehensive auto insurance on your primary vehicle it will give you the same coverage when you are renting a car, so the rental car insurance is redundant and a waste of money. Call your insurance agent before hand to see if this is the case. If your insurance only covers part of your liability or loss or none at all – option #2 is to call your credit card company. Many credit card companies offer insurance for free to their card holders if they make the purchase with their credit card. This can save you loads of money as rental insurance can cost nearly as much as the rental itself.
Note: My Chase Visa gives me Collission/Loss/Theft insurance for free as long as I decline the auto rental insurance and charge the rental on their card

Tip 5 – If booking online look around for promo codes.
This should be common sense, but there are absolutely tons of them out there and some of them are great deals. My wife found a 20% off web coupon that saved us $80 up front and the physical location when we called them had to problem taking it. Also there are many programs set up with major companies. Most rental car agencies let you enter in a contract code and will give you special discounted pricing, free insurance, etc. My company does have a deal with National rental, but in the end I could find better rates on my own. If you scour forums you will often see other people post other companies contract #s which will work if you punch them in, be careful though as you may be asked to show proof of employment and even if you are not asked if you get free insurance through the deal and crash the car you most likely won’t be covered. My word of advice on entering contract codes into websites is only use ones that you are rightly entitled to.

  • Greg

    Here’s my tip (or warning):

    This last summer, we rented a van in San Diego. I wanted just a plain ol’ minivan–no bells or whistles. When I got there to pick it up, the guy at the counter told me that because I had such-and-such a credit card, I could upgrade for only $9 per day to a much nicer van. I was renting for 10 days and told him that I could think of better ways to spend $90, so no thanks. He then tinkered away at his computer for another few minutes, and made me the same offer at $5 per day. I again turned him down. We then went out to get in the car, and lo and behold, he rented me the nicer van for my original price. I told this story to my dad, who often rents cars, and he says this happens to him with some frequency. What we figure is that they don’t stock the strip models or run out of them quickly, so then they have to give you something nicer and try to sell it to you for a higher price. Just hold your ground and stay with your original price and you may end up with something nicer for no extra cost.

  • MFJ

    Thanks for the tip – looks like we have tip #6 🙂

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  • Fred

    I’ve started using Priceline.com to book my rentals. I name the price, and I’ve never been disappointed. Earlier in the month, I went to St. Louis, where I was able to rent a car for $10 a day ($40 total). Because there were no economy cars left, I left the lot in a Sebring sedan with satellite radio.

    The great thing about priceline is that it’s hard to mess up a car rental. They don’t leave a certain time, don’t have layovers, and don’t have to travel through O’Hare. Typically, I’m able to rent for $10-$15 a day.

  • Chris

    I’ll add something to tip #2, it’s not enough just to make sure you have unlimited miles.

    I booked a car with “unlimited miles” through Hotwire recently, and we ended up at Enterprise. So far so good.

    This was supposed to be an out-of-state trip (I live in TX). I double checked at the counter:

    Me: “I’d just like to confirm this rental has unlimited miles”

    Them: “Well, where are you going”?

    Me: “”

    Them: “Sorry, this car has to stay in TX.” We can’t rent this to you.

    Needless to say this threw a major wrench in to our plans.

    Fortunately this was a traditional rental not a pre-pay as is often the case with Hotwire, so I just walked away.

    This is an Enterprise TX policy, and of course this is disclosed NOWHERE on the Hotwire information page.

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