There are many reasons to get your rental car once you touch down at the airport. Head to the rental car counter at any major airport and it’s obvious: many travelers get their rental cars at the airport. But let’s talk about economics: is it cheaper to rent a car at the airport or online?
Booking your car beforehand adds just one more to-do on your list to accomplish before you can leave. Some people may simply forget it. Others may prefer the face-to-face encounter. It can be more comfortable and communication is clear. You can ask questions and get answers right on the spot. There’s less mystery; it’s a concrete experience. You touch the papers. You sign them. You get the keys.
Renting at the airport gives travelers the chance to evaluate more cars in person to pick the one that’s the best fit for their needs.
In addition, it’s convenient to take a car straight from the airport, without having to worry about taking taxis, buses or another form of transportation to get to your off-site rental car company.
In addition, you may be able to get a good last-minute deal by renting at the counter.
But in that uncertainty lies a risk: there’s no guarantee there will even be any rental cars available if you don’t book in advance, especially if you’re traveling during a busy season. And that’s just the beginning of the potential problems with renting a car in person at the airport.
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Cons of Renting a car at the Airport
First and foremost, airports can be expensive. While the airport is convenient and it can be nice to talk to a “real person” rather than interact with a computer program, that comes at a cost.
Rental cars are almost universally more expensive when you rent them from an airport location. You can save money by renting from an offsite location; and many companies offer free shuttles from the airport to their branch, so the inconvenience is minimized.
Although it can be comforting to talk to a salesperson face-to-face, that always means sales pressure. Another risk with renting a car at the airport is you may feel pressured to agree to unnecessary upcharges that can cost you, such as pre-paid gasoline or unneeded extra insurance. You are usually covered by your regular car insurance and/or credit card company and don’t need the extra coverage. If you have a particularly persuasive salesperson at the airport desk, you may be fooled into spending more money.
Another thing airport rental car companies are notorious for is overbooking or trying to get you to switch to a different car, saying yours isn’t available. Often, that car is bigger and costs more. If you rent online, you can compare cars and rates and then demand the car you pre-ordered, rather than be told the least-expensive option isn’t available.
In addition, rental car counters can take long and cut into your vacation. You might have to stand in long lines and waste your time.[Read Also: Uber and Lyft dominate the business travel marketing –> on forbes.com]
Consider Online Car Rentals
Renting online can save you money. First, you can often find better deals if you book in advance, which isn’t an option when you’re booking on the spot at the airport.
When you book online, you can more easily compare rates via travel booking websites. You can also search for and use online promo codes, cash back and other kinds of coupons. You can book your rental car and then keep searching for better rates and cancel your first reservation if you find a better deal.
Also, look for package deals, where you get discounted car rental rates if you wrap it up with a hotel and airfare package.
Online, you can also play with pick-up dates and times to see which combo yields the cheapest rates. Some days of the week may be cheaper than others.
Booking online can be quicker and more convenient. No lines, after you’ve been traveling all day and are exhausted. (Not to mention, if your flight arrives late at night, a rental car office may not even be open.)
It’s also more flexible. You can easily browse and look at the car options. Some websites even offer 3D images or videos of the cars, so you really know what you’re getting.
Booking a car online in advance can bring peace of mind. It’s done; it’s not on your mind as something to figure out and hope for the best.
If you book online and have the time, you can be more informed, too. You can read reviews about the car, about the rental car company and actually read the contract to make sure you understand the details. If you are unsure about whether you need additional insurance, you can call your insurance company and ask.