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I am always on the look out for good travel deals and how to save money on trips. I think we do a great job booking flights and hotels, and maximizing our Delta and Marriott rewards points. However, car rentals always throw me for a loop. Sometimes I feel like a great deal on car rentals is like a nut I cannot crack! But over the recent years, I have come up with some strategies that have saved me money on car rentals. Here are my best car rental booking tips!
Car Rental Booking Tips
I have rented a car about five times in the last year. My go-to car rental sites are always Kayak and Hotwire. This year, I have found the best car rental deals through Costco Travel and BJ’s Travel. Costco Travel requires you to have a Costco membership number to book. BJ’s does not verify membership. Car Rental rates seem to be an ever evolving beast so here are some of my tips to maximize your bookings on those sites.
In my Hawaii money saving tips post I mentioned that I booked cars about five times on each island before all was said and done. I was booking through Costco Travel – a site where you reserve but don’t pre-pay. This allows you to keep looking for a better deal, and cancel the reservation with the higher price. To do this you have to be committed to keep checking, and with anything, READ THE FINE PRINT and make sure you can cancel at anytime (usually if you haven’t entered your credit card information they will not charge your card until you pick up the car).
I used to get the best car rental deals with Hotwire. Now if you have never used Hotwire, its an aggregate site with a twist. They don’t show you the rental car company but guarantee an airport pick up (you can only use this site if you are renting at a major airport). They charge your card RIGHT AWAY and then reveal the rental company details after you pay. If you are confident you are getting the best price, this can be a great way to save money. Again, I used to always book through Hotwire, although recently I have noticed Costco Travel and BJ’s Travel offer better rates. This is a good site to start for comparison, along with Kayak.
Rent off airport.
On my recent trip to SW Florida this tip saved me over $200! I was looking for an 11-day rental, picking up and returning at the Southwest Florida Airport. The cheapest car was $560. I then looked at renting outside the airport, and I was able to rent for 12 days, for $298!
We did have to take a cab from the airport to my parent’s house on the first night, which costs $60. And we did have to get a family member to drive us to and from the car rental location. But if renting in town is an option, you will probably save a significant amount!
Rent the smallest car possible.
On our recent trip to Southwest Florida, for $298, I rented an economy car, but when I got to the rental center, the smallest car they had was a mid-size. That’s a free upgrade!
Now, you can’t always expect a free upgrade. If you have six people, don’t reserve a compact! But rent the smallest size car you can live with. In my experience, even if they don’t give you an automatic upgrade, they might offer you a better price on a bigger car when you are at the rental counter. Plus there is always room for negotiation with the clerk at the desk!
When researching online, make sure you are comparing the total cost, including taxes and fees, and not just the per day rate. This can make a huge difference!
I think this is a good list, but I still feel like I can do better with prices. Another great thing about renting a car is you can test out a car that you’re thinking of buying. So, if you plan to upgrade to something new this is a great option. Also, if you do decide to upgrade your car, you’ll probably need to sell the old one. If you’d like to make the process easy, you can use a service like Junk That Car who have an office in Chula Vista and several other areas throughout the US.
What are your best car rental booking tips?
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