Reduce Car Rental Costs by 50%
The summer road trip is an American staple. Many of us just eat up the miles with a rental car. While the miles are high, we want to keep the costs low. After renting cars for years (especially for travel to national parks outside of our state), we’ve learned a couple of simple but incredibly effective ways to reduce our car rental costs. We hope these tips will help you too on your next great outdoor adventure.
Book Earlier if Possible
Yes, this seems like common sense, but it really makes a difference! If you know you plan to travel during a holiday, book your rental car as soon as you can. In fact, all the price-saving strategies for airline tickets generally apply to rental cars as well: booking early (i.e. 6 weeks or more ahead of time) usually means a lower price, especially during peak seasons and holidays; prices are significantly cheaper during off-peak seasons of fall and spring; last-minute deals can be found occasionally, but you have to be flexible in dates and days of the week.
Choose Pick-Up Locations Away From Airports
Many travelers just automatically rent from the airport car rental location when they fly into a city. However, depending on the city, airport locations can be significantly more expensive than other pick-up locations within the same city. In a Portland, OR car rental reservation, we found that the downtown location cost 50% less for the same car type than a booking at the Portland Airport location. We think the drastic difference in price might be because 1) more people want the convenience of getting off a plane and going directly to the rental car pick-up and 2) airports levy additional fees and taxes and there may be higher overhead costs for rental car locations at the airports, which additional costs are passed along to the renter.
For most major cities with easy access to taxi’s and ridesharing apps, the cost savings more than makes up for the cab fare needed to get to the non-airport rental location. To be even more frugal, you can even take public transit to the non-airport location.
Note, however, that this trick does not always work if you must pick up or drop off during weird hours (such as late at night or early morning) or on Sundays. Often, the downtown rental car locations have limited pick-up and drop-off times that are only during regular business hours.
Check Surrounding Cities
Pricing can vary between cities, even during peak season. Rental locations in a less desirable location can offer lower pricing to move their vehicles. For example, when we traveled to Boston, MA during the summer season, we found that renting a car from the rental car company’s Cambridge location was significantly cheaper than from Boston. Why? The location we rented from was next to MIT. We suspect that during the summer, the regular students are gone, so there wasn’t much demand for rentals at that particular location.
Rent from Costco
While travel service sites such as Priceline or Hotwire will advertise a rental for a relatively low price, that price doesn’t reflect the additional taxes or other fees. Costco, on the other hand, shows you the actual total price without any hidden fees. Costco also gives you perks such as rental coupons (as much as 30% off) and free 2nd driver. Besides a cheaper car rental, Costco allows cancellations up to 24 hours before the rental date. This flexibility is advantageous when combined with an early booking, because we don’t always know what might happen in three or four months (work or family emergencies might force us to cancel travel plans), but at least we’ve locked in a low rental rate and can cancel if needed. Of course, Costco is a membership-only store, so you will need to be a member before you can rent a car through them.
Use Your Own Insurance
Rental companies will always try to upsell you on services such as insurance. Instead of paying $10 to $20 per day for extra insurance, use your own insurance. If your auto insurance doesn’t cover rentals, consider using a travel credit card. Travel credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire, offer car rental insurance while they give you points for spending on travel. Be sure to read your auto insurance and credit card insurance coverage to understand what you have already.
Disclaimer: The services and products mentioned are NOT sponsored content. These are products and services we personally have used or would use for travel.