Car Rentals: 12 Things Everyone Needs to Know to Save Time & Money ... and Avoid Grief
finding a good deal -- can feel like looking for a needle
in a haystack. With so many places to look, and prices varying
widely from day to day and company to company, knowing some
inside tips can drastically change your car rental experience.
As it stands, rental prices are increasing overall. In 2005,
prices increased about 12 percent from 2004 because of growing
travel demands and a tight supply of vehicles.
Take the time to read through these helpful pointers,
and you'll be one of the savviest car renters on the
"Business is robust, both at airports and non-airport
locations," agrees car-rental consultant Neil Abrams.
So before you jump in the driver's seat, take a look at these
1. Rent the smallest car you can use, then ask for free
upgrades. Price differences between small- and intermediate-sized
cars can range from 5-15 percent. If you can get by with a
small car, do. Then ask about any upgrade specials, as you
may be able to get a free upgrade.
2. Be wary of their insurance. "You definitely
have to insure their car," said Priscilla Myers, president
of Executive Travel & Tours in McLean, Virginia. However,
your own auto insurance probably covers a rental car, and
credit cards also may provide some coverage. Check into your
policy beforehand so you can avoid pricey insurance add-ons
from the rental company.
3. Weekend travel may be cheaper. Some rental car
companies offer specials from Friday to Sunday.
4. Plan ahead or check around if traveling last-minute.
If you know you'll be traveling over a busy period (like Memorial
day or Thanksgiving), plan ahead. Companies offer deals ahead
of time but prices go up closer to the date as their cars
are rented. On the other hand, rental car companies sometimes
put unreserved cars on slash-rate sales at the last minute.
You can call the rental car company directly to find out about
any last-minute deals.
5. Comparison shop online. Shopping online allows
you to compare prices rather quickly and easily, especially
if you use aggregator sites like Kayak (www.kayak.com),
and Travelzoo (www.travelzoo.com).
Another site, Hotwire (www.hotwire.com),
often has low rates, but you won't find out the company the
car is coming from until you commit to it. You can also place
a bid on Priceline (www.priceline.com),
which allows you to set a limit on how much you want to spend,
but also doesn't tell you which company you're renting from
until your price is accepted.
You can also find rates at the car rental companies own sites,
but they are typically comparable to other travel sites. There
are some exceptions to this though, as the home sites will
occasionally offer discounts.
6. Fill up the gas tank on your own. If you return
your rental car without filling up, the company will charge
you their own gas prices, which can be double (or more) the
local gas prices -- even up to $6.99 a gallon.
"Customers can pay twice as much when re-fueling through
the rental car company," said Jim Gaz, senior director
of travel and entertainment at J.D. Power and Associates.
"Usually, customers will take time to get gas, but if
they're in a hurry or can't find a convenient gas station
near the drop-off location, they'll have to pay a much higher
Also, only put in the amount of gas you used. If you left
with three-quarters of a tank, for instance, you only have
to fill it back up to the three-quarter mark.
7. Don't rent at the airport, if possible. Rental
companies pay concession fees at airports, and, as a result,
rates can be twice as much as those off-site. On average,
airport rentals cost 26 percent more, so if you can, take
the company's shuttle and go to their more remote location.
Return your rental car with an empty tank and you could
pay double the local gas prices to fill it.
8. Try a travel agent. Some agents will arrange rental
cars for you (with no other travel) for a fee. Their discount
arrangement with the company may be large enough to make it
worthwhile, even with the extra fee.
9. Look for savings. If you're a member of AAA, AARP,
Costco or Sam's Club, you may qualify for special car rental
discounts. Even just asking the rental agent for a discounted
rate before you book may pay off -- particularly if you know
of a special going on with another company. Say, "Is
this the best rate you can give me?"
10. Watch out for extra fees. These also vary widely
from company to company, so check around. Fees can include
charges for extra miles, a second driver (which can add $4-$25
a day), and late fees (which could even be a whole extra day
charge). Drives under the age of 25 will also typically be
charged an extra fee of $20-$80 a day (most states require
that rental drivers be at least 21).
11. Make sure every ding and scratch is noted before you
first leave. Rental companies can charge you $500 or more
for dings and scratches on your rental car. If these dings
are there before you leave, it's essential to have the agent
note every one of them if you want to avoid a headache later.
During the "walk-a-around" when the agent is giving
you the car, point out any and every scratch, ding or nick
you see, no matter how small -- and be sure they're recorded
on the paperwork before you sign.
12. Try one of the companies that rated higher in customer
service. Enterprise, Avis and Hertz make up the top three
(in that order) rental car companies in terms of customer
satisfaction, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2005
Rental Car Satisfaction Study.
Big on Airfare: 8 Top Tips to Reduce the Cost of Your Airline
of the World's Grimmest Tourist Destinations
Today: Car Renters Come Across Steeper Rates
Ways to Save on Car Rentals