The Lowdown on Car Rentals

Advance bookings, local agencies, shopping the web-money-saving secrets you need to know before you rent

Large, worldwide chains maintain auto-rental outlets in virtually every city of size throughout the world, and also use both nationwide and worldwide computer networks--reached by dialing an 800 number to service your reservations for a car. If you can make your booking at least seven or 14 days in advance, you'll nearly always receive reduced rates that make the prices of these national car rental chains competitive with those of small, local firms.

But woe to the casual tourist who simply appears at an airport Avis, Hertz, Budget or National desk without a reservation booked several days in advance; the rates for such an on-the-spot rental are almost always considerably higher, not simply overseas but in the U.S. as well. Under those circumstances, you'll do better by seeking out the smaller local firms with unfamiliar names and no airport locations below; they thrive on the last-minute booking.

When it comes to shopping for car rental companies, the smart, Web-savvy traveler utilizes one or several of the Internet sites that automatically do the shopping for them. Sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, or Qixo, which may be better known for searching for cheap airfares, also have the ability to shop and find the best price for car rentals. Many of the extras, such as insurance and tax, are often not included in the prices quoted by these sites, and such charges vary from company to company, so some additional research is required before finding the best deal.

Auto rental companies often advertise sales, coupons, or free upgrades on their Web sites or in the Sunday travel section of newspapers. By all means take advantage of them when they arise, but be aware of the fine print. These offers are almost always limited by location, limited in terms of availability, with sale rates subject to change. And if you think these prices include CDW, taxes, location fees or any of those other extras that can make renting cars such an exercise in frustration, we've got a lovely bridge to sell you. You will pay more than the base rates listed, so be sure to get all of the numbers before you decide where to rent. Sometimes you'll get better prices from the companies that aren't currently offering sales. It's all a crapshoot with rental cars.

International renters have a host of other issues to figure before finding the best price. Overseas, the cost of gasoline is so high (it often exceeds the equivalent of $3 or $3.50 for a gallon) that you are also well advised to book the smallest car consistent with your needs, and thus minimize your use of gas. But remember that such cars usually come with small luggage compartments; if you will need a roof rack for extra baggage, be sure to order one when making your reservation--they cannot usually be obtained on the spot.

Also bear in mind that in some overseas locations, you can't secure unlimited mileage with on-the-spot booking. For those countries, book ahead with an international renter (or e-mail back and have a friend do it for you) to avoid racking up expensive per-mile (or per-kilometer) fees.

1. Some tips for cutting rental costs:

Avoid airline terminals: Car rental agencies at airport locations often charge "airport location fees" and security taxes that can add significantly to the cost of your rental. The same car that would cost $49 a day at the airport might run for $35 at a downtown or other location. Many off-airport rental agencies within striking distance of the terminal offer free shuttles.

Stay the week: Sometimes weekly rates can be cheaper than three-day rentals, especially at the major rental agencies.

Go clubbing: Frequent renter clubs, with names like "Gold Service" or "Emerald Club," are free to join and usually garner discounts of at least five percent on each rental. Programs such as Avis Wizard can save you as much as 15 percent. Some of these clubs allow you to earn points toward future free rentals, and often they get you better service.

Fill'er up: Make sure you never return a rental car with less gas in the tank than when you got it. Fuel surcharges can double and triple the price per gallon you'd pay at a regular gas station.

Don't trouble with double insurance: Don't duplicate insurance you already have. The car rental agencies will try to sell you insurance at an additional charge, ranging from liability (sometimes called "liability insurance supplement") to accident (aka "personal accident insurance) to policies covering personal belongings. You undoubtedly already have health insurance, and probably homeowners' and auto insurance, so you can often decline them all. The exception to this rule is when renting a car in Ireland or Italy, where the purchase of insurance is mandatory.

Get Inspired with more from BudgetTravel.com


Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

Budget Travel Real Deals


  • From $2,727
  • From $1,078

See more deals »

Video


Our newsletter delivers vacation inspiration straight to your inbox.

Check Prices