17 Simple Ways to Save Money on Car Rental

You need a rental car to get from Point A to Point B when you’re traveling, but rental cars can cost a lot of money. If you aren’t careful, your rental car could cost more than your airfare! Fortunately, there are ways to save money on car rental.

Here are 17 ways you can save money renting a car on your next vacation.

1. Book early

Like most travel accommodations, the earlier you book your car rental, the more money you’ll save. As rental agencies book up on certain dates, they increase their prices because of the shorter supply. If you can jump in on the deal before more people rent cars for the same period, you’ll likely save the most money.

2. Don’t rent at the airport

It may be the most convenient place to rent a car, but it’s also the most expensive. Steer clear of the airport and instead look for the next closest car rental location. Even if you have to take a taxi or Uber to the location, you might save more money by doing this versus paying the higher rental fees and airport charges for renting at the airport.

3. Look directly at the car rental company’s website

Even if you use sites like Expedia or Travelocity for your travel plans, price out the car rental on the rental company’s website too. Sometimes you can get a better deal going directly to the company. 

Rather than assuming you’re getting the best deal, shop around. Get rates for just the car rental and a package deal on sites like Expedia and compare it to the prices you get by going directly to the car rental facility.

4. Sign up for a company’s email newsletter

Give a car rental company access to send you emails and you’ll be bombarded with promo codes and sales. It’s best to set up a separate email account for deal emails like this, but you’ll likely save 25% – 35% depending on when you travel if you book your car as soon as they send you a deal. Most promo codes are good for many months allowing you to book well ahead of your trip and save money.

5. Book on Costco.com

If you’re a Costco member, you may save a significant amount of money on your rental car by booking it on their website. Costco.com works just like Expedia or any other travel site. You can price out the cost of renting a car for the dates and location you need. You can also book package deals on their website to save more money.

It’s best to price them separately and as a bundle to see which offers the best deal.

6. Look for coupons or promo codes

Don’t travel without looking for coupon codes on sites like Koopy. You never know how much money you can save just by taking a few minutes to look for a coupon. Read the fine print on the code and make sure it works for the dates and location you need.

7. Don’t pay for extra insurance

Check with your current insurance provider, but most drivers are covered if they rent a car too. If your car insurance doesn’t cover a rental car, your credit card might. Many credit cards offer rental car insurance. Again, check with your credit card company to understand the fine print or consult a professional to decide what you need to protect yourself.

8. Don’t book more than you need

Don’t be tempted by the fancy cars the rental agencies are great at flaunting when you’re trying to book your rental car. Focus on what you need regarding size and book the cheapest option available. 

It’s usually cheapest to book an economy car, but look at your options and decide which makes the most financial sense.

9. Check for membership deals

If you belong to any organization, you may snag a deal. AAA, AARP, and certain union memberships usually give travelers a discount on rental cars. It doesn’t hurt to ask when you call to rent the car if your membership gets you anything.

10. Pick up and drop off the car at the same location

Even if it’s not convenient, you’ll save yourself a lot of money if you can drop the car off at the same location you picked it up. Otherwise, they consider it a one-day trip which always costs more money. 

11. Make sure all drivers are over 25 years old

Car rental companies charge a hefty premium for drivers under 25 years old. They charge a premium to have more than one driver too. To save the most money renting a car, have one driver over the age of 25.

12. Try a car dealership

Many car dealerships rent cars. It’s not the most common way to rent a car, but it may save you more money. If there are car dealerships near the area you’re traveling to, it’s worth a phone call.

13. Prepay for the rental

If you prepay for a car rental you’ll get lower rates. Sometimes you could save as much as 25% off of the rate if you paid at the counter. Just watch the cancellation fees if you aren’t sure if your trip will happen. You could get hit with quite a penalty if you cancel.

14. Don’t rent any accessories

If you have kids in car seats or you need a GPS, bring your own. Car rental companies charge high premiums for any ‘extras’ in the car.

15. Get gas before you return the car

Don’t rely on the car rental company to replenish the gas in the car. They’ll charge you an astronomical amount for the gas, sometimes as much as $10 a gallon. Plan your route so you can fill up before you return the car so you save money.

16. Pay tolls yourself

Car rental companies also charge a high premium or toll-paying service. If you use their toll-paying service you’ll pay a premium as high as $5.95 extra per toll. Instead, pay cash and avoid excessive charges.

17. Check the car for damage

Before you drive off the rental lot, check the car for any damage inside and out. If you notice anything, take pictures and bring them to the attention of the attendant. Don’t drive off until they’ve noted the damage so you don’t get hit for the claim when you return the car.

FAQs on How to Save Money on Car Rental

What happens when you return a rental car to a different location?

Rental car companies consider it a one-way rental if you drop the car off at a different location. Depending on how far off the different location is, you could get hit for a high premium because the car rental company has to return the car to its original location.

What happens if you return a rental car late?

Rental car companies rely on timely car returns because they have more customers waiting for the same car. They usually have a grace period that doesn’t cost you anything if you return the car before time is up.

If you miss the grace period, though, you’ll likely pay $10 per day plus the extra daily fee. It’s important to read the contract’s fine print to find out the exact penalty you’d be charged if you return a car late.

Does your insurance cover rental cars?

Most car insurance companies cover rental cars if you carry liability and comprehensive insurance. This isn’t a guarantee though. Always check with your insurance company to find out if you’re covered. 

Sometimes if you’re renting a car much more luxurious or expensive than the car you’re insured on at home, you may not have full coverage. Talk to your agent and check with any other companies that may offer you coverage, such as your credit card company to see what you have.

Is it cheaper to rent a car for the week?

Where and when you’re renting a car determines its price, but typically it is cheaper to rent a car for the week versus daily. On average, you can save 40% – 50% off the daily rate if you rent for an entire week because the car rental company doesn’t have to find someone else to rent the car for the time, so they give you a discount.

Final Thoughts – Saving Money on Car Rentals

If you plan, look around for the best deals, and only rent what you need you’ll save the most money on rental cars.

Avoid renting at the airport or dropping your car off at a different location, and always ask for the best deal possible to save the most money on your car rental.

Kim Pinnelli is a personal finance freelance writer and koopy.com contributor. She lives in the Chicago suburbs, writing from home for the last 13 years. Kim enjoys helping people understand personal finances and writes on topics about saving money, investing, planning for retirement, and ways to increase income. In her free time, Kim enjoys hanging out with her 3 children, reading, crocheting, and spending time outdoors.

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