8 Ways to Save on Car Rentals

  • Save at the Rental Counter

    With airline fees raging out of control, the last thing you want to do is overpay again when it comes time to rent a car. Yet the cost of a rental can quickly get away from you if you’re not careful, and the agencies are just as adept as the airlines at tacking on hidden charges. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to find the best price, and we spoke to some experts and seasoned travelers to get their tips for saving at the counter. Photo Credit: www.bluewaikiki.com
    Don’t Double Up on Insurance
  • Don’t Double Up on Insurance

    This was by far the most common suggestion we heard. If you’ve got car insurance of your own or a good credit card, chances are you don’t need to buy additional coverage. Check your policy and card agreement to see if you’re already covered for damage and liability. Still, your own insurance may not cover everything. Automotive analyst Lauren Fix recounts how her husband was stuck with a $1,500 bill from a rental company after an accident, despite the fact that he had coverage of his own and the other driver was found to be at fault. The charge – which was buried in the fine print of the contract – was for the rental money the company lost while the car was in the shop, and they had no choice but to pay up. “What the big print giveth, the small print taketh away,” she says. Photo Credit: xersti
    Leave Time to Dispute the Charges
  • Leave Time to Dispute the Charges

    Rental companies love travelers in a hurry, says Teri Gault of TheGroceryGame.com, who frequently travels for business. “When you return your car you are usually in a hurry to get on a flight, and I guess they know you usually won't have time to dispute add-ons you didn't order,” she says. One day she was able to arrive three hours early to dispute her bill, and got her whole rental refunded after it was determined that they’d added charges she didn’t order. She recommends always checking the contract when you pick up the car and comparing it to the bill when you drop it off. Photo Credit: denn
    Shop Around Online
  • Shop Around Online

    While many companies will offer specials on their websites, it’s also wise to shop around on travel sites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz. Once you’ve found the lowest price, go on Priceline.com and see if you can get a lower price – several of the people we spoke to recommended bidding around 30% lower than the lowest price you’ve found. And there are also plenty of promotional codes available online that you can check out – consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch recommends visiting the Car Rentals section of PromotionalCodes.com to get codes for up to 10% off. Photo Credit: Priceline.com
    Upgrade for Free (or Cheap)
  • Upgrade for Free (or Cheap)

    While upgrades are a great way for rental agencies to make some extra money, it’s often possible to negotiate an upgrade for free, or at least for very cheap. “When booking, book the lowest class of car you are comfortable with,” advises Jon Biedermann, a vice president at DonorPerfect. “Many times, the rental car company will upgrade you for free because they will frequently run out of the lower-price cars.” And it never hurts to ask for an upgrade when you get there – just be nice to the agent and they’ll usually give you a good deal. Photo Credit: jiazi
    …Or Downgrade and Save
  • …Or Downgrade and Save

    If you’re one of the dying breed who can drive a stick shift, you can save a lot by choosing a manual transmission instead of an automatic. “If you're renting for several days, the price difference can be hundreds of dollars,” says Karen Kane of Paris by Design, a travel consulting service. She also recommends renting a car that uses diesel, which tends to be cheaper than regular gas. Photo Credit: billaday
    Check for Damage Before You Drive Away
  • Check for Damage Before You Drive Away

    The rental company is going to charge you for every dent and scratch they find when you bring the car back, so make sure there aren’t any when you pick it up. “Have any damage marked on the contract, and get it authorized or officially acknowledged,” says Teri Gault. Mark Mannell of CarRentalSavers.com likewise recommends documenting the car’s condition. “Take pictures of your vehicle before and after your rental to avoid any issues with damage claims.” Photo Credit: sureshnarsimhan
    Figure Out the Best Place to Pick Up
  • Figure Out the Best Place to Pick Up

    Final cost will vary depending on where you choose to pick up your car, and it’s wise to consider your needs and do some research first. If you’re picking up at the airport you’ll generally get hit with what’s known as concession recovery fee, which is used to recoup the fees the company pays to the airport for the right to operate there. On the other hand, rental rates are sometimes lower at airport branches versus other locations in the area. “As a general rule, highly competitive airports during non-peak periods are going to be cheaper than local locations,” Mannell says. But that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and he recommends being flexible to take advantage of whatever option presents the lowest price. And even if the local options are cheaper than the airport, you might still be willing to pay a bit extra to be able to pick up right at the airport. Photo Credit: mrkathika
    Just Say No
  • Just Say No

    Even after you’ve booked your car online, the agent at the counter will still try to sell you as many upgrades and add-ons as possible. When this happens, “Become a ‘no’ machine,” advises Steve Silberberg. “No matter what question they ask … say no, because each and every one of them is designed to take more of your money. In fact, state it up front: ‘The answer to every one of your questions is no.’” Photo Credit: peanutian
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