As arduous as air travel might be, getting around town after landing can be even worse. Many travellers turn to public transit, others hop in cabs, but most rely on a good old-fashioned rental cars. In fact, the car rental business become a $US25 billion industry in 2013.
Unfortunately, there’s a bewildering array of rental companies, locations, cars, and optional features that can affect the price of a rental. As a result, the actual cost of a rental can end up much higher than advertised.
In response, some travellers have turned to the simplified user experience of car sharing programs, such as Zipcar. However, unless you’re renting for less than day, car sharing programs are far more expensive than major car rental agencies, Consumer Reports Senior Editor Jeff Blyskal told Business Insider.
Luckily, there are some valuable tips that can help you snare the best deal the next time you are in the market for a rental car (via Consumer Reports).
Shop around online
Like aeroplane tickets or hotel rooms, it helps to do some shopping at the various online travel agencies. Websites like Kayak, Hotwire, or Priceline offer a variety of prices and deals that can save you a bundle. According to Consumer Reports, online quotes for a four-day rental of a Toyota Corolla at O’Hare Airport in Chicago varied by as much as $US60 per day.
Avoid renting at the airport
Renting from the counter at the airport can be a great convenience, but it’s a convenience that can cost you. According to Consumer Reports, renting from an airport location often includes tacked-on fees and taxes aimed at tourists by local governments seeking to raise funds. As a result, significant savings can be had by taking public transportation and renting from an urban or suburban location.
The publication noted that Enterprise quoted a four-day Corolla rental from O’Hare for $US386, while the same car can be had for just $US157 at an in-town Enterprise location.
Don’t book at the counter
When possible, it’s best to have reservation. Booking at the counter could end up costing you more money to get the car you want. It could also put you at risk of getting stuck with a more expensive model. This is especially the case on Mondays, when business travellers flock to a city.
Reserve a smaller car
Another way to get a good deal is to book a smaller or more affordable car ahead of time. Sometimes, the model or vehicle type you booked isn’t available, so the rental agency will upgrade you to a more expensive car for free.
Rent for longer periods
Renting by the week or even longer can result in cheaper per-day costs. For example, a two-day rental of a Hyundai Accent from Avis at Newark Liberty Airport was quoted at $US106 per day. However, a nine-day rental went for just $US41 per day. This is because rentals that last a week or more have the benefit of a lower weekly rate instead of a daily rate.
The cheapest fares at the rental counter tend to be in the form of weekend rates. Consumer Reports also recommends that you avoid changing reservation details mid-trip. In fact, returning your rental car a couple of days early can result in your weekly rate being changed to a daily rate. Returning the car and hour late can lead you to being charged for an extra day. Return at a different location than the one your rented, and you’ll be in for a hefty relocation charge.
Use alternative rental insurance
Instead of opting for the rental company’s insurance, use your own insurance — but only after making sure your insurance has collision coverage that includes rentals.
In addition, American Express and certain Visa and MasterCard holders can get rental-car insurance as membership perk.
Take a look at smaller rental companies
While the prices and service at the agencies like Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz don’t vary a great deal, it may be worthwhile to explore small local rental companies. But smaller companies tend to have fewer locations located further away from the airport and have fewer vehicles, Blyskal warned.
Avoid optional extras
Rental car companies will offer customers a variety of optional extras, like a navigation system or a baby seat. For what they charge, it is usually much cheaper to simply buy your own baby seat or simply use Google Maps on your smartphone (safely, of course).
Fill up your own gas
One scheme to watch out for are the “full-tank” deals that rental companies offer, Blyskal said. These seem like a good deal to consumers because they no longer have to shop for their own gas and can return the cars on empty. But Blyskal warns that these offers come with expensive charges for the service. You’ll pay for a whole tank even if you return the car half full.
Join a club
Another simple way to get a good deal on a rental car is to join an automotive club, like AAA or AARP. Auto clubs usually offer special deals on rental cars for their members, along with roadside assistance should anything go wrong. In addition, warehouse stores with membership fees and credit cards may also offer discount deals on rentals.
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