How to Save Big on Car Rentals

Car rentals can be expensive, but you can save money by doing some simple research and being aware of hidden fees. For instance, it’s best to know about taxes and other add-ons before you sign the contract.

Resist the sales pitch from the rental agency and use your membership discounts to get a better deal. Keep these tips in mind when booking your next road trip.

Book Early

If you’re a regular car renter, stick with one particular rental company and join their loyalty program. It is an excellent way to save money on rentals and earn rewards points that you can redeem for free rental days in the future.

Leverage Membership Perks

Memberships to organizations like AAA and AARP can often come with exclusive discounts on rental cars. If you’re a member, mention it when booking your next car rental.

Always Book Early

Start searching for a car rental in advance and try to lock in a deal as soon as possible. Many companies will allow you to cancel your reservation without penalty if a better rate appears closer to your travel dates.

Track prices through sites like RetailMeNot, and if you see a price drop, be proactive in changing your reservation before the cutoff date. Also, consider reserving for more prolonged periods; weekly rates can be cheaper than daily ones. Lastly, check to see if your car insurance or credit card covers you when renting abroad; this could help you skip buying the rental company’s additional insurance coverage.

Pay in Advance

Like airfares, rental car prices are often inflated thanks to hidden fees. But a little research before booking can help you avoid those charges.

An excellent place to start is a site that tracks rates for you. It can also find coupons, membership-related discounts, and other special offers to save you a bundle.

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Comparing daily or hourly prices is essential when shopping for a car rental. The reason is: car rental prices fluctuate constantly.

Renting a car three months in advance may save you money. A recent study found that customers pay an average of $75 more weekly for a car rental booked just a few days in advance.

Another way to save is to choose a pay-later rate. It’s only available at some locations and can save money on the base rate. Plus, you won’t be tied down to a reservation or subject to cancellation fees. It makes it easier to shop around for better deals.

Take Advantage of Membership Discounts and Coupons

If you’re a member of AAA or another loyalty program, consider using those discounts when booking a rental car. Memberships can help cut the price of a vehicle and additional fees like under-25 or “resort” charges, which can add up to $30 per day or more.

Similarly, many credit cards offer primary rental coverage, meaning you can decline the rental company’s insurance and save. And if you’re a “carless millennial,” consider getting your parents to add you to their policy. You can also save money by renting through an app for cars.

Another way to avoid extra costs is to resist the rental agent’s pitch for extras like roadside assistance and GPS navigation systems. Instead, download an app that shows the cheapest gas prices and use it to fill your tank before returning the rental. You can skip the prepaid fuel option, which can cost you more in the long run.

Don’t Let the Rental Company Fill Your Tank

The rental car business looks straightforward, but consumers are often taken for a ride. Inflated rates, hidden fees, and even the extra driver fee can cost travelers hundreds of dollars on a single rental car.

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The best way to avoid getting nickel-and-dimmed is by taking simple steps before and during your rental. First, avoid letting the rental company fill your tank. Many companies offer the option to prepay for a full tank, which saves time and hassle at drop off but also means they are likely charging you their local outrageous price per gallon plus a fee, which can quickly add up to $20 or more.

Instead, use a service to track prices during your rental. The site will notify you if the rate drops and allow you to cancel your reservation. Additionally, check with your employer or alum’s travel site to see if corporate codes are available. Some credit cards even have deals with rental car companies that can save you money.

Avoid Additional Fees

As with airfares, car-rental companies can tack on various fees that can add up quickly. These extra costs can include a fee to earn frequent flyer miles, local taxes or government-imposed fees on top of the rental price, a fleet recovery fee (that’s right—the company is charging you to cover the cost of replacing its cars), an administrative fee for using a device that allows electronic toll collection, and even refueling charges.

One way to avoid these additional fees is to shop around and search for the cheapest options before agreeing to any contract at the counter. Another is to avoid renting from the airport; taking public transportation or a Lyft or Uber ride to a nearby location can save you on concession fees.

Finally, consider signing up for one of the newer personal-car-rental sites that allow you to rent from a person instead of an agency. These options are usually much cheaper and include insurance coverage in the price. (Make sure your car insurance policy covers rentals, which it probably does.)

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