10 Ways to Save on Your Next Car Rental
While you should never cut actual corners while driving your rental car, it's possible to shave a few bucks off your rental bill with these tips, a little homework and a simple plan.
1. Price may be negotiable. Obviously, this fact is not heavily advertised. But you need to arm yourself with information before you ask for a competitive rate. You might not be aware that major travel websites are good for more than finding low airfare and add-on hotels and car rentals. Use them to check rates where you intend to rent the car. You can also call around to multiple car-rental agencies, including lesser-known providers. With the lowest quote in hand, your agency of choice may cut you a deal.
2. Check employer discounts. Your employer may provide you with more than a salary, a medical plan and 401k matching. Ask human resources if your company partners with rental agencies to give you a break on rates. Or ask the agency outright.
3. Book early. Especially if you're heading into heavy-travel season. If you know you're going to need a rental car, book it as early as possible. You may not only lock in lower rates, but you'll likely have access to more classes of cars – including the smaller cars that, for price reasons, are the most popular in the rental fleet.
4. Book small and bump up. Can you live with a compact model but would like a full-size sedan? Another reason to book early. If the smaller vehicle's unavailable the day you've arranged for pickup, you can request that the agency stick to the price they quoted – but for the larger vehicle that's available. They may only meet you halfway, but it's worth a shot.
5. Inspect your ride. Do the walk-around and mark what you see on the contract. Check for marred paint, dinged bumpers, fractured windshields and torn seats. While most rental companies assume reasonable wear and tear, you can't avoid paying for what you haven't documented.
6. Check your insurance options. Insurance you buy at the counter may add $20 a day, nearly doubling the cost of your rental. While you must always have insurance to drive, you may not need the rental-company's insurance. Your own insurance may cover vehicle damage and any liability for someone who's injured in an accident. Bottom line: Check with your agent. And consider whether or not you're leasing for a weekend or a month. The cost of the rental company's insurance may be acceptable for two days, but could add hundreds to a longer contract. If you opt to use your own insurance, be aware of your coverage limits, especially if you're renting a high-end vehicle. And finally, your credit card company may offer, as a member benefit, the same coverage a rental agency does. Check the terms of your card – closely. And if you qualify, be sure to use that card when you rent.
7. Add everyone. When you're signing the rental contract, be honest about who may be driving. While it may cost you more per day, if your friend Bob clips a rural mailbox while you sleep, you may be in violation of your contract – and invalidate any rental insurance you've purchased. Now the upside: Many agencies will waive fees for your spouse or domestic partner. It pays to ask – not only at the counter, but when comparison shopping beforehand.
8. To fill or not to fill. The agency may offer you the option of prepaying a tank of gas at retail prices instead of the higher prices they charge to top off your car upon return. Should you go for it? That depends. If you think you'll nearly empty the tank, the convenience and savings may be worth it. If, on the other hand, you're going to burn only a partial tank – or you're too busy to plan your fill-ups around returning the car with just fumes and a thimbleful of gas – the extra cost of a few gallons of marked-up gas may be acceptable.
9. Behave yourself. If your contract limits mileage, obey it. You'll be charged for driving up to Alaska instead of across Iowa. And pay attention if your contract says you can't drive in Mexico. You might be in an accident, or your car might have a GPS unit. Don't speed, don't tow things your vehicle shouldn't and don't ford mountain streams at 55 mph – even if the TV commercials for your model make that alluring. Damage or a ticket could affect a claim on either your own insurance or the coverage you purchase from the rental company.
10. Get back on time. Your car probably won't turn into a pumpkin, but you're likely to pay for an extra day even if you're five minutes late. Read the fine print and use your cell phone for accurate time.