If driving around from place to place is a part of your next travel plans, then you’re definitely going to want to know how to get a rental vehicle for cheap.
I’ve personally rented cars at several places all around the world, and found it to be a very easy-to-do process. But, of course, not all service providers and prices are the same.
There can be quite a bit variance from one seemingly similar place to the next. On top of that, there are lots of new marketing tricks and up-sells that each company can use to try to drive up how much you’re going to pay.
Forget that! Here’s how to get the best deal on a rental car using 17 of my favorite time-tested tricks for hitting the road without leaving skid-marks on your wallet.
1- Shop around.
Although it can seem very obvious, one of the best things you can do to get the best deal possible on your rental car is to simply shop around.
I’m mean it. You wouldn’t believe the differences in prices I’ve seen. I’ll check one site, then another, and another thinking they are all about the same price. But then – wham! – I’ll find one that’s a deal.
How can that be? Remember that just like department stores, car rental dealerships are in the game to make money. Vehicles sitting in their lot aren’t generating any revenue at all. And since something is better than nothing, they are often willing to make you a good deal by renting you the car at a (sometimes deeply) discounted rate.
2- Consider multiple dealerships.
It’s not the 1990’s anymore. The days of only going to Hertz or Enterprise if you need to rent a car long gone. There are dozens of reputable names out there for you to consider.
An easy place to find the best car rental providers is to do a quick Google search. Here’s one that ranks them according to their reviews.
3- If the price works out, try to keep with the same brand.
Okay, so maybe you’ve shopped around and find that one particular brand in your area is always the cheapest. Or maybe you’re booking the vehicle for work and quite frankly don’t really care which service provider has the best deals.
In either case, try then to be strategic by sticking with the same service provider.
Why do this? Because when you do, you’ll rack up more loyalty points that way.
Oh, wait, you’re not a member?
4- Always become a rewards member.
Anytime you rent a car (or fly on a plane or stay in a hotel), be sure to sign-up for their free loyalty program. Though it may not seem like it at the time, sometimes those points can accumulate and be worth something valuable some day.
Of course, I emphasize that the program must be FREE. Unless you travel every day for work, it’s not worth it to become a member of a dozen loyalty programs where you have to pay some sort of fee. There are plenty of other good ones out there where you don’t, so let’s stick with those.
Here’s a list of the best rental car programs to join.
5- Pay now for a discount.
Usually when you reserve a car, you’re not automatically billed right away. They might just make the reservation or perhaps take some small amount for a discount, and allow you to pay the rest later.
However, if you’re 100% certain you’re going to rent a car on a certain date (perhaps for a vacation or to go see family), then opt to pay for it now. When you do this, most dealers will give you a much better price than what they are currently advertising to everyone else.
When we made our latest travel plans, I paid in advance and got an awesome 20% discount from the sticker prices I was seeing everywhere else.
Again – just be certain that you’re actually going to travel on the dates you book. Usually these kinds of payments are non-refundable.
6- Skip the airport car rentals.
What’s the first thing almost every airline traveler does after they get to their destination and grab their bag? They book a car, right? Why? Because car rentals and airports go together like peanut-butter and jelly. It’s the most convenient location for a traveler to get a vehicle and get to where they need to go next.
So here’s the thing: If you’re NOT flying, don’t rent your car from the airport. As you might imagine, that convenience of grabbing your car right after your flight comes with a pretty steep up-charge.
If you instead shop around to non-airport locations, you might find some much better deals.
7- Get the smallest car you can.
When it’s just you traveling, you really don’t need a full size vehicle, truck, or SUV. Something small and compact will do just fine; especially if you’re paying the bill out of your pocket and looking to save a few bucks.
Remember too: The more compact cars will also likely use less gas. So that’s another bonus savings for you!
8- Rent longer if its needed.
Is there a chance that you’ll need your rental car for longer than you think? Make your reservation for longer. Usually the longer you need the car, the less expensive your daily rate will be.
9- Show your affiliation.
Do you belong to AAA, AARP, a credit union, or some other group affiliation? If so, be sure to mention it to the clerk and see if it helps to qualify you for a discount. Even if its just 10% off, that could still add up to 10’s or 100’s of dollars saved.
10- Can your credit card or rewards program get you a discount?
Did you know that some types of credit cards can give you access to deals and discounts with certain auto rental services?
For example, American Express has an affiliation with Avis, Hertz, and National where customers can get preferential treatment as well as deep discounts.
Be on the look out for weekly deals and specials. Often you can find these types of deals on any number of places such as the service provider’s site, travel websites, marketing emails, and even social media.
11- Google for promos.
Before you rent your next car (or buy anything for that matter), Google the service provider with the phrase “promo code”. Chances are very high that you’re likely to find some kind of promo or discount code that will get you a better deal.
I did for my last auto rental and received 25% off the total bill. Not bad for 15 seconds of work!
12- No, thank you. I don’t need the up-grade.
Here’s one of the most seemingly innocent upgrades an auto rental provider will try to get you to do: “Oh, for just a few dollars more, we can get you into this nicer vehicle …”
Say “No thank you”. A few extra bucks here and there can add up to a lotta bucks later on. And for what? To look fancier for the week?
Plus, many times, the nicer vehicle gets worse gas millage. Skip!
13- Skip the rental car insurance.
Auto rental providers love to up-sell you on the idea that you NEED rental insurance.
But do you?
Chances are … probably not. According to The Simple Dollar, there’s a very strong likelihood that one or several of the insurance policies you already hold (such as your auto, health, etc.) include some type of coverage.
Don’t forget to check the fine print on your credit card too. Many travel oriented or business level credit cards already provide this benefit as well.
14- Skip pre-paying the gas for the rental car.
Another famous up-sell for auto rental providers is to try to sell you on the concept of filling up your gas tank in advance. This is a convenience thing. It allows you to bring the car back without the hassle of having to stop and get gas for it.
The only time this really pays off on your behalf is if you bring the car back absolutely empty; which is highly unlikely that you will do. Personally, I’d skip it.
15- Remember to fill-up when you’re done.
Okay, so you’re going to take my advice on the last tip and fill your own gas tank.
Good! But remember to actually fill up. If you forget, the rental company will charge you a bundle for it – way above the market price of what each gallon of gas should cost.
16- Skip Sirius Radio or the GPS rental.
If you’ve got a smartphone, then you’ve basically already got the equivalent of both of those things. Since most newer vehicles are BlueTooth enabled, you should be able to play your audio through the speakers with no problem.
17- Take note of the vehicle before and after you rent.
Remember that if you return a vehicle and it has dings, scratches, or dents on it, you’re on the hook. I have heard over the years of some horror stories where people returned a car that they thought was fine, and then the auto rental provider claimed they had damaged it in some way.
To help avoid this, take five minutes to walk around the vehicle and check it out when you first receive it. Be sure to point out anything you think is questionable to the rep, and note it or snap a photo. That way you’ll have a much better case in case you get accused of something later.
Featured image courtesy of Fiverr