Lower the cost of holiday travel

10 Ways to Save on Rental Cars

by Barbara Weddle


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On a flight to Houston once, I was shocked to discover that a rental car for a week would cost me more than $400. I fly frequently to visit family in Houston, so I have learned how to negotiate for the best deal on rental cars. I have found car rental servers to be most obliging and courteous; however, I have also discovered them to be rather shrewd. For example, I was never told by a car-rental server that you could opt to use your own car insurance if you had that type of coverage. This one tip alone will save you a small bundle. I have also discovered that various locations often have different rules even though it may be the same car-rental agency. I have listed below ten things you need to be aware of with rental cars:

  1. Review comparison sites to see which rental company has the best prices (check CarRentals.com).

  2. Car-rental rates are determined by availability and demand. The best way to lock in a low rate is to make a reservation. After you have made your reservation, however, check daily to see if they've lowered their rates. If they have, it is likely they will give you the newer, lower rate.

  3. Opt to use your own car insurance. Check with your own auto insurance carrier or credit card company to see if either provides coverage for rental cars damage or loss. The downside to using your own insurance provider, however, is that in the case that you have an accident, you will need to pay a deductible.

  4. Know ahead of time if the server charges for mileage. They may charge if you take rental cars into another state (up to 20 cents per mile).

  5. Don't be afraid to object to a fee you think is too high (I once had a rate lowered because I put on a sad face). Before you reserve your car, ask if there is an extra charge for GPS systems, child seats, etc. You may want to bring your own. Before you pay, check your bill carefully for hidden costs and things that aren't what they appear to be.

  6. Ask the rental company if they charge for pick-up service and/or additional drivers. And be careful to return your car with the gas tank filled to the level it was when you picked it up. If it is not, you may be charged more than the going rate for the rental company to fill it back to that level. Conversely, sometimes the car rental prices for gas are less than the going rate and they actually encourage you to return the car to them with the gas tank as near to empty as possible. They then fill the tank and charge you their own lower rate for the gas.

  7. Sign up for your favorite rental-car server's e-mail specials or CarRentals.com. You will then be privy to exclusive discounts in the form of coupons and/or discount codes, last minute deals and other offers.

  8. Unless you need a larger car for rugged terrain, lots of passengers, etc., reserve a smaller car. If the smaller car you reserved is not available when you arrive to pick it up, you will likely be upgraded to a larger one at no extra cost. Also, a smaller car saves on gas.

  9. Remember that off-airport-car-rental locations often have lower rates.

  10. Adjusting your pick-up or drop-off time by only a few hours can often lower your rate on rental cars. Conversely, in the case that you extend your drop-off time and/or change the location of your car-rental return, it can increase your rate, taxes or surcharges.

Take the Next Step:

  • For all of your traveling needs, check out Expedia.com
  • For more on rental cars, please click here.

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