Guest Post by Carolyn Clarke
Whether you’re traveling for business or for pleasure, keeping travel costs down is so important, but it’s often quite difficult. Finding a low rate for a rental vehicle can be a challenge, but there are ways that you can travel comfortably while still keeping expenditures to a minimum. In this guide, we’ll help you to get the most value for your money by covering the basics of the renting game, as well as some outside-the-box tips that may not have occurred to you otherwise. Here are 20 tips to make your next vehicle rental cheap and easy:
1. Shop Around
The easiest way to overspend on your vehicle rental is to go with your first option without looking into any others. Now, this may seem obvious, but plenty of shoppers assume that all rental companies have comparable rates, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Spend some time plugging your travel itinerary into various websites, and make sure keep track of the rates as you go. Once you’ve narrowed down your options, you can make an informed decision.
2. Weigh Your Costs and Benefits
If you found a great deal online, your next instinct may be to reserve it as quickly as possible – resist the urge. Sometimes low prices are low for a reason, and instead of driving away in a bargain, you may end up getting taken for a ride.
Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting in exchange for your hard-earned money. Find out the exact make, model, year, and condition of the vehicle in question. Inquire about amenities and other hidden costs. You may find that paying just a little extra actually improves your overall experience significantly, so don’t always go for the cheapest option right off the bat.
3. Timing Is Everything (Sometimes)
If your travel dates are set in stone, this step might not help you much, but flexibility can save you a lot of money when you’re traveling. If you have a bit of wiggle room to work with, spend some time comparing the rates for dates before or after your original plan.
Compare prices for your car or van rental services, but don’t forget to also compare corresponding rates for hotels, airlines, and any other services you may be using. There may be trade-offs, but paying a little more for a rental car may be worth it if your hotel rate plummets. In general, traveling during the weekdays tends to be cheaper, so try to avoid weekends if possible.
4. Don’t Rule Out Small Businesses
Sometimes it pays to support the little guy. Instead of overspending at a national chain, try comparing rates with local rental services. Not only are the costs often much more budget-friendly, but you may find that small companies are able to provide better customer support, which is extremely valuable in a vehicle rental situation. At the same time, you may want to steer clear of small rental agencies that don’t offer the features, amenities, and services that come standard at more established rental companies.
5. Don’t Forget Drop-Off Fees
As you price your rental, it’s important that you weigh all of the costs – not just the daily rate. Drop-off fees are fairly common when you’re dropping off your vehicle at a different location, so you should factor that into your decision. For example, if one company has a higher daily rate but a lower drop-off fee, it may be a better bargain than another company with a low daily rate and a high drop-off fee.
6. Consider Having Your Vehicle Picked Up
Many rental agencies will actually drop off or pick up your vehicle for you so you don’t have to go out of your way. Besides the obvious convenience this service provides, it can also save you quite a bit of time, and time often translates to money. While you may have to pay a premium, consider whether the cost is worth the time that would be spent otherwise. Whether you’re vacationing or heading to a business meeting, shaving driving time off the schedule is often just as valuable as any coupon or discount.
7. Look for Relevant Discounts
Plenty of rental agencies offer generous discounts for qualifying renters. Frequent customers, government employees, non-profits, corporate program members, and AAA and USAA members can often cut costs simply by proving an affiliation. Some companies may offer discounts for liking a Facebook page or sharing an Instagram photo.
8. Sign Up for Email Lists
If you have some time to spare before the big trip, sign up for email lists. Many rental agencies have regular promotions that can save you a bundle if you reserve your vehicle at the right time. Some companies even offer discounts just as a thank you for signing up for the email list, plus you get the added bonus of being notified of limited promotions as soon as they’re made available.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Just because you don’t see any coupons or discounts online doesn’t always mean they don’t exist. Call companies and ask if they have any running offers, or if they know of any upcoming promotions. If you’re polite and friendly, your agent may be willing to offer you a better deal to secure your long-term business. The worst case scenario is that you don’t save any extra money, which is exactly where you started anyways. It never hurts to try.
10. Look into Long-Term Rentals
The amount of time you need a car can affect your rate. Some rental agencies offer discounts for weekly, monthly, or even yearly rentals. For example, if you’re moving over the course of a week, it may be cheaper to rent a van for that entire week instead of renting a van multiple times. If you go through a reputable agency, you should be able to ask your representative for advice on minimizing the overall cost depending on your specific situation. If you’re resourceful, you can often find loopholes that work in your favor.
You can get in touch with us to arrange a rental for 7 days or more for only US$25 per day!
11. Check Vacation Packages
If you need the works – a flight, hotel room, and a car rental – you may be able to save on all three by purchasing a vacation package. Check sites like Groupon for limited time deals. Go to other third-party travel sites and compare rates on vacation packages. If you’re not able to find any suitable deals, it could be worth paying a travel agent to book your plans.
12. Streamline Your Needs Reasonably
Little fees add up fast in the world of car renting. While it may be tempting to include special amenities, you don’t always need them. At the same time, sometimes you do. For example, paying extra for prepaid gas can be an unnecessary expense if you’re dropping the vehicle off near a gas station anyways. Insurance can be an unnecessary expense if your current insurance plan already covers your rental.
On the other hand, paying $5-10 to use a GPS or WiFi hotspot could improve your overall experience quite a bit, while also helping you to save money on wasted fuel. An insurance policy can save you thousands if the vehicle gets damaged. Try to avoid the extras whenever possible, but don’t deny the ones that will legitimately improve your trip and possibly save you money in the long run.
13. Check Online Reviews
A low rate doesn’t always guarantee a positive experience, and sometimes it can even be a red flag. After all, sometimes you get what you pay for. Before you even think about spending a dime, spend some time reading about other people’s experiences with the agency. If it’s a small or new business, you may not have much to work with, but any established company should have plenty of online reviews that will allow you to make a more informed decision.
14. Book Your Vehicle in Advance
Booking with time to spare can give you a huge advantage, as long as you do your homework. Look for rental agencies that don’t have any cancellation fees. If you find a decent rate, go ahead and reserve it. As long as there aren’t any penalties, you can always cancel if you find a better deal down the line.
Once you reserve your vehicle, you should keep watching the web for new promotions and coupons that could save you even more cash. Strategically booking in advance gives you more time to seek out savings – just make sure you don’t miss any hidden cancellation fees. As The New York Times says, “Book early – and often.”
15. Avoid the Counter When Possible
Although there are times when you’ll need to rent a vehicle immediately, you’re usually going to save money when you reserve your vehicle in advance. When you’re booking your car at the counter, the representative knows you need the vehicle, so the chances of you getting a deal are slim to none. When you book online in advance, you have plenty of options and time, and the agency recognizes that and may offer you a better rate to ensure your business.
Booking your vehicle in advance also guarantees that you’ll get the exact vehicle requested. If you’re just hauling some cargo across town, you probably don’t need the latest luxury van. However, if you’re booking your vehicle at the counter, the luxury model may be the only option available. Even if your preferred vehicle isn’t available due to an error, the agency will usually provide you with a better vehicle at the same rate. You don’t have the same purchasing or negotiating power when you’re booking an immediate rental.
16. Use the Right Credit Card
Some credit cards are better than others for renting cars. While most credit cards don’t offer primary coverage, having that secondary coverage to pick up where your policy or the agency’s policy leaves off can be a massive blessing. Make sure you check the terms and conditions so you know exactly what to expect if an incident occurs. For instance, most credit cards with rental coverage don’t include personal liability or injury, according to CreditCards.com.
17. Spend Less on Gas
As you shop for a vehicle rental, make sure you consider fuel economy as a factor that will affect your overall spending. If you find an SUV or van that costs less to rent than a car, you may actually end up paying by the end of the trip due to gas usage. Don’t rent a bigger vehicle than you need, and use online fuel calculators to determine the prices differences of each vehicle. Here are some other simple ways to reduce your trips to the pump:
Turn off your engine when in park
Keep your tires inflated to factory standards
Don’t use roof storage
Remove heavy objects
Turn off the A/C if you don’t need it
18. Inquire about Mileage
Some agencies will provide unlimited miles if you’re staying in a specific region. If you’re traveling out of state, you may end up paying additional fees. Other companies put a cap on your overall mileage. Make sure you find out about your mileage limits before you rent your vehicle. After all, you don’t want to find out that you’re paying extra after you’ve traveled halfway across the country. USA Today recommends seeking out an unlimited mileage plan if you’re not sure exactly how many miles you’ll be traveling.
19. Be a Valuable Customer
This step takes time, but it’s worth it. If you travel often and you find a rental company that treats you right, stick with them. Brand loyalty and customer retention are critical to the success of any business, and you can be sure that you’re going to be treated better and better the more often you use a company’s service. After you’ve rented a few times, don’t be afraid to casually mention that you’re a frequent customer. It may not always work, but sometimes an agency will throw you a bone to show that your business is appreciated.
20. Be Persistent
Don’t give up on savings. If an agent on the phone isn’t able to offer a discount, call the next day and speak with someone else. Just because there weren’t any promotions available when you reserved your vehicle doesn’t mean there aren’t any now. When you go to pick up your rental, ask if there are any new promotions available.
Tell your agent that you’re on a limited budget, and anything they can do to keep costs down would be appreciated. Ask your friends on social media for referrals and recommendations. If you keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground, there’s a good chance you’ll find the right deal. Rental companies want to make money, but they also want to keep customers coming back again and again. The deals are out there – it’s up to you to hunt them down.
Carolyn Clarke is a freelance writer and world traveler who is currently living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two dogs. When Carolyn isn’t writing about her experiences or advice on traveling, she enjoys cooking, hiking, and surfing.