TRAVEL TIP: Use These 5 Simple Car Rental Tips To Save Money

Would you believe me if I told you that the cheapest car rental I ever booked was $12/day (before taxes)? It's definitely possible to get really good deals with car rentals. You just need to know how to look. In this post, I'm going to share five simple tips that I use every time I am searching for a car rental that can help you save some $$$$$.

TIP #1:

According to my research and my past experiences, you get a better deal with car rental companies by booking in 24 hour increments. So that means setting your pick-up time and drop-off/return time the same. For example, if you are picking up the car at 11:00 a.m., make sure you set your drop-off/return time at 11:00 a.m. even if you're not going to use the car until that time. Car rental companies will charge you for a full day rate if you book in between 24 hour increments so I recommend rounding up to a full day so that gives you extra time in case you want to keep the car longer or have some leeway in case you're running late. 

For example, the first photo shows a car rental booking for 1 day 23 hours for $153.49. The second photo shows a car rental booking for 2 days for $153.49. The third photo shows a car rental booking for 2 days 1 hour for $211.07. All three bookings are from the same location and for the same car (Economy). If you play around with the various pick-up and drop-off times, you'll notice that it's more cost efficient to round up and book in 24 hour increments.

A car rental booking for 2 days 1 hour for $211.07.

A car rental booking for 2 days for $153.49.

A car rental booking for 1 day 23 hours for $153.49.

TIP #2:

When you travel somewhere by plane and need a car rental, most people will usually book the car rental at the airport, right? That is a very convenient option, however, most car rental companies at the airports will generally charge you premium rates because they know that most people would choose convenience when traveling. I highly recommend looking at car rental locations not at the airport as the rates are much cheaper. 

Below are two car rental summaries for a 2-day car rental in San Diego. The one on the left is at the SAN airport and the one on the right is at location about 10 minutes away from the airport. As you can see, there's a big difference in pricing so definitely compare the rates among the various locations on and near the airport. 

*BONUS TIP: You can also try putting your pick-up location somewhere not at the airport but put your drop-off/return location so you can easily drop your car rental off at the airport and head straight to your flight. However, some car rental locations will charge you a one-way car rental fee so make sure you pay attention to the extra charges. 
This is a 2-day car rental at the SAN airport for $338.99 (Economy car).

This is a 2-day car rental at a nearby location for $153.49 (Economy car).

TIP #3:

I can't stress it enough that you should never ever ever book a car rental as a guest if you are given an option to book it under an account. Instead, join/sign up for a rewards or members program with the car rental company that you're booking with. FYI - THEY'RE FREE! Most major car rental companies have a rewards or members program where they track the number of car rentals you've booked or points you've acquired to redeem for benefits -- that usually would have cast you extra. Here are some reasons why you should always sign up for a rewards program when booking a car rental:
  1. Free car rentals. Below are my three favorite car rental companies that offer a rewards program where you can redeem for free rentals after spending a certain amount.
HERTZ: Rewards (free rental) starting at 750 points ($1 = 1 point)
AVIS: Rewards (free rental) starting at 700 points ($1 = 1 point)
ENTERPRISE: Rewards (free rental) starting at 600 points ($1 = 1 point)
  1. Enjoy members-only check-in and/or skip the counter. Several car rental companies will offer a designated members-only line (which is often shorter and expedited) or you can skip the counter and head straight to the lot to pick up your car.
HERTZ: Skip the counter & head straight to the lot.
AVIS: Go straight to your car and drive off at Avis Preferred locations around the world.
ENTERPRISE: Enjoy members-only check-in at participating locations
THRIFTY: Skip the counter & head straight to the lot.
  1. Free upgrades and other miscellaneous benefits. There are various benefits to booking a car rental with a rewards program so there's no reason not to. 
  • points that never expire as long as you remain an active member
  • no black out dates
  • exclusive email offers
  • free authorized additional driver

TIP #4:

Consider booking your car rental as a bundle with your flight and/or hotel. By bundling your trip together (also known as booking a vacation package), you can save hundreds of dollars compared to booking each separately. 

There are many companies that will offer vacation packages but I recommend looking into Costco Travel or booking your vacation package through an airline. Costco Travel generally will waive resort fees, offer daily dining credit and/or provide a Costco shopping card that you can use during your trip.

However, don't always assume that a vacation package will automatically be cheaper than booking everything separately so definitely do your research to compare the prices and benefits of each option. For example, if you're someone who prefers staying at Airbnb's, then booking a vacation package wouldn't make sense since Airbnb's are generally cheaper. In that situation, it would probably be cheaper to book everything separately.

TIP #5:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many car rental companies sold their fleet of cars in order to stay afloat. As a result, there's a huge car rental shortage throughout the United States. Luckily, there's Turo - the world’s largest car sharing marketplace. Turo is very similar to Airbnb but for cars. Instead of booking cars through a company, you're booking a car from a private owner. Turo is a great alternative for car rentals and it's much cheaper. However, please do keep in mind that Turo does charge an underage driver fee (under 26 years old) and that most personal car insurance does not cover peer-to-peer car sharing so you might have to purchase protection through Turo. Definitely keep that in mind when comparing prices to see what is the best option for you.

A 2-day car rental through Avis for a Toyota Tacoma for $202.64.

A 2-day car rental through Turo for a Toyota Tacoma for $112.

The estimated total price (before additional protection added through Turo) for $112.

*Disclaimer: All views expressed on this post are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. 


I hope these car rental tips are helpful. Let me know how these tips helped you. Follow along next week as I share new travel tips to help you save money and even travel for free! :)


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