If you need to rent a car, don’t just walk up to the counter in the airport and take whatever they give you. That may not land you the best deal.
Whether you are planning a road trip, landing in a new city or need to rent a car for other reasons, here are some pro tips on how to save money and time on your next rental car.
Save Money and Time on Rental Cars: 14 tips
1. You Can Save Money By Renting Online
First, don’t rent in person. Rent online. It’s much quicker to compare rates online and there are even some websites that will do it for you (like here). You can also often find coupon codes and online discounts when you rent online.
Search keywords (like “rental cars” or a specific website or company name) plus the words “coupon codes” to find codes you can try.
2. Ask About Discounts
If you rent often, ask rental companies about bonuses for frequent users. You might also be able to skip the line at the counter, save time by not having to fill out paperwork and get free upgrades and discounts.
Certain organizations and groups, like AAA, may also offer discounts.
3. Plan Ahead
You can save money by renting your car in advance. Not only does this allow you to thoroughly comparison shop, but rates also tend to be lower if you rent far enough in advance. A last-minute booking will often yield limited stock to choose from, not to mention higher rates in general.
4. Forget the Chains
You might be most familiar with rental car chains like Hertz, but just because they’re famous doesn’t necessarily mean they will give the best rates. Consider lesser-known companies, too. Many smaller businesses and websites are much cheaper than the big brands.
Try to look also for local, independently owned agencies. And check the reviews online before you give a company your money, to make sure it’s reputable.
Anyway, the “big brands” like Avis, Dollars, Hertz will guarantee reliability, which is as important as saving money on rental cars.
5. Shop Around
Gather information on rates before you book so you know a good rate when you see it. In addition to checking travel websites, also check the rental car company websites directly.
6. Skip the Airport (Are you sure?)
Airport pick-ups tend to be quite a bit more expensive than off-site spots, because it is more comfortable. It can save you money to just take an Uber or public transportation to a location away from the airport. Even a short walk outside of the airport doors can drop rates.
7. Be Flexible About Your Rented Car
If you can be flexible about the kind of car you rent, you can save money. A smaller, compact car often costs cheaper. Also look for cars without all of the cool upgrades, like Xfinity radio and an added GPS system.
8. Prepay online for Your Car
If it’s an option, consider prepaying for your car when you book it. This can actually drop the rate in some instances.
9. Get Informed online about the car rentals in your zone
Actually read the documents you sign. Read the terms and conditions so you don’t get dinged with an extra fee for something you overlooked. Know the cancellation fees, penalties for late returns and if there are extra fees for additional drivers.
These costs can add up and should be calculated into your final comparison quote. This can also prevent you a lot of stress.
10. Don’t Pay For Things You Don’t Need
If you are arriving late, take a shuttle to your hotel that night and pick up the car the next day. This can save you a whole day’s rental cost for time you wouldn’t have been using the car anyway.
Also, you probably don’t need to buy extra collision insurance from the company. Your car insurance likely covers at least some of your rental car, and the added insurance isn’t necessary.
11. Haggle in Person
When you do arrive to pick up your car, always ask if there is a cheaper car available or any other ways to save money. Or you might even be able to score an upgraded car for the same price, if one is available. Even if you think you got the best rate possible online, it’s always worth asking for other options in person, too.
12. Take Photos of the Car Before You Leave
Carefully examine the rental car before you drive off with it. It can also be wise to take a quick video of you walking around the car, in case the company tries to charge you for any damages that you didn’t cause.
13. Skip Prepaid Gas
Fill the tank yourself to save money on gas. Companies charge more for prepaid tanks or if you return the car without a full tank. And gas stations closest to the airport are most expensive. It’s a juggle to find a gas station close enough to the airport that it won’t use up gas that you’ll be charged for, and one with cheaper per-tank costs, but it can be done.
14. Consider Ridesharing
A rental car may not be the cheapest option. Look into car share programs, like Zipcar. If you don’t need to do much driving, going with Uber or Lyft may actually be cheaper than renting a car (and potentially having to pay for parking).