From understanding if you should deny the insurance to the cheapest locations to pick up your car, these 10 tips will help you make the right decisions, and save money, during the often (way too) complicated process of renting a car.

07
Mar

10 Tips to Save Money on Car Rentals

Posted By Trav

10 tips for saving money on car rentals

Renting a car can often be confusing, frustrating, and worst of all, expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be.

Because of the dynamic price-gouging nature of car rentals, the tips below could end up saving you over 50% off the “regular” price.

And with all these savings, you may actually find renting a car enjoyable…as long as you keep an eye on the speedometer!

1.  Deny the insurance

I get it:  you’re not a risk taker and you want to be covered.  No worries!

If you’re renting a car in the United States and already have car insurance, your car insurance should cover a rental car (just call to make sure).

If you are renting in the US and don’t have car insurance, book your rental car with a credit card that offers supplemental insurance as a perk.  This includes all Visa signature cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase British Airways, or Hyatt credit card, and many World Mastercards as well.

If you’re unsure about what coverage your card offers, check out this great breakdown by NerdWallet or this infographic from Lifehacker.  You can also call your credit card company directly.

If you’re renting internationally, the supplemental insurance that the credit card offers usually becomes primary insurance, and so once again, you’ll be covered.

2.  Say no to the GPS

You don’t have to turn the clock back to the 20th century and use only a map and the stars, but don’t get the GPS the rental company offers.  If you’re renting in the US, simply use your smartphone’s map function.

This option is also available when renting internationally as well.  Instead of a $13 a day GPS, get a new SIM card for your phone (make sure your phone is unlocked first).

In most countries, $15 will get you data plan large enough to use the map for a few days and also be able to answer email and check Facebook!

 3.  Fill up where it’s cheapest

A no brainer.  But oftentimes, especially when traveling between countries, you aren’t aware of the difference in gas prices, which can be dramatic.  Do your homework ahead of time.

In Spain, the gas prices hovered around $7.50 a gallon.  Insane, right?

That’s what I thought until I got to Portugal, where I was paying $8.50 a gallon!

I was cursing myself for not filling up at the border and determined to not make that mistake again.  I put in just enough to roll out of Portugal on fumes and fill up at it’s much cheaper Iberian neighbor!

4.  Use Rentalcars.com or Kayak as a starting point but always check the actual rental car websites.

Using Rentalcars.com or Kayak or any other search engine is a great way to find out a decent range of what you should pay for a rental car.  However, always make sure to actually check the rental car companies websites as well.

On my last trip, rentalcars.com wanted 192 euros for a 10 day rental from Europcar.  When I went to Europcar’s actual site, the same rental priced out at 150 euros, a whopping 25% less.

A few minutes of work can save you a nice chunk of change, especially on long rentals.

5.  Avoid airport pickup

It’s not always the most convenient, but if you can avoid picking up the car at the airport location, you can save some big money.

Most rental car companies will place a charge on to your rental for picking it up at the airport, sometimes up to $30.

Instead, save those shekels and head to a secondary location to pick up the car.  If you’re in a big city, there should be plenty of options and they should be located conveniently around public transport.

Hop on the metro, get away from the airport, spend the extra money on a nice lunch, and then pick up your car.

6.   Always return the car full

Fill 'er up!

Fill ‘er up!

This has to be one of the biggest scams out there, right up there with the Nigerians princes offering you millions for your bank account information.

The rental car companies will charge you 2x or 3x more than the gas station for a gallon of gas, so if you don’t return the car full, you’ll be paying HUGE amounts to have them fill it.

Also, never agree to pre-pay for gas.  You’ll be charged upfront for a full tank of gas and unless you return it completely empty, you’re losing money.

Instead, simply opt for the “return on full” option…and then make sure it’s full!

7.  Earn bonus frequent flyer miles for your rental

Before renting, always make sure to check the Frequent Flyer Bonuses website to see what type of bonuses are being offered by each car rental company.

All you’ll have to do to get the bonus(es) is give them your frequent flyer number when renting the car and it should post automatically.

Who doesn’t love free miles!

8.  Grab a discount code

Rental car companies are always offering special discounts for all types of things, from business rentals to AARP members.

A simple Google search of “(Your Car Rental Company) discount code” will return a ton of hits.  Look through the first few sites and see what type of codes there are.  Then, use those codes to get up to 50% off your rental!

9.  Use hotel status to score perks

Oftentimes, if you have status with a hotel chain or two, you can score some perks with the rental car companies as well.  For example, my Gold Status with Hilton earns me a 25% discount with most major car rental companies.

Hotel status can also earn you perks like free upgrades or a free GPS rental (while I don’t recommend paying for GPS, if it’s free, take it!).

These extra perks MAY be stackable with promotions offered by discount codes, meaning you’d be able to use your status to get the perks AND use the discount code you found online.  Call the company up to make sure.

If they aren’t stackable, simply choose the one that is the best offer.

10.  Don’t speed

As someone who has racked up speeding tickets in multiple countries, do as I say and not as I do.

There’s nothing worse than opening an envelope from the Victoria state police four months after your vacation has ended and being hit with a couple hundred dollar speeding ticket.

Of course, if you aren’t planning on returning to that destination for awhile, and the statue of limitations might be over by then, and you have a significant other who could rent the car in their name next time, then…maybe speeding isn’t so expensive after all.

Final Word(s)

As long as you do a little bit of homework, renting a car should never cost you an arm and a leg.  Just denying the insurance they push on you can save you a huge amount of money.

Couple that with using your own GPS, scoring a discount code or two, and quickly checking multiple websites for the best price and you’re staring down some big savings.

And always remember, return the car on full!

What tips do you have to save money on car rentals?  Do you have a memorable car rental experience?  Share them below!

(photos courtesy of carlo montoya, bricktraveler)

54 thoughts on “10 Tips to Save Money on Car Rentals”

  1. eddie says:

    Don’t pay more for a 4 door Vehicle —– rent a 2 door BECAUSE they’ll probably give you a 4 door anyway !

    1. Trav says:

      @eddie- I assume this has happened to you before? I’ve never experienced it, but I guess their fleet of 2 doors is probably much smaller than their 4 doors.

  2. Helene Wagner says:

    Trav, people still have to be aware that credit cards/car insurance companies do not cover car rentals in Israel, Jamaica and Ireland. Also have had some great experiences when purchasing car rental insurance – $20-$25 per rental – through my American Express card and having, unfortunately, a couple of minor accidents. American Express becomes the PRIMARY insurer and they handle everything for you. So for a cost of $25 you can waive the CDW.

    1. Trav says:

      @Helene Wagner- An absolutely great point. Yeah, for some reason, insurance doesn’t cover in those countries. Those are the only 3 that I know of as well.

      Glad to hear you had good experiences with Amex becoming the primary insurer. Do you need to use your Amex card to book the rental in order to have them become the primary insurer? And what steps do you have to do to go about doing that? I’ve never done it, so I’d love to learn more about it.

      Also, any idea of this Amex primary insurance would cover you in Israel, Jamaica, and Ireland?

      1. Helene Wagner says:

        I believe that Amex does not carry insurance in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand. If you have an Amex card, just call Amex and tell them you want to enroll in the car insurance program. You only get charged when you rent a car with the Amex card. It is a great deal for the $20 or $25 (premium insurance is $25) even if you are covered by your own car insurance policy, so if you have an accident, all you have to do is call Amex and they do EVERYTHING and you do not have to use your own car insurance to file a claim so that it does not impact your insurance rates.

  3. Michael says:

    If you don’t have Car Insurance when renting a car. Your credit card will cover Collision. They will not cover Liability. You can pay for the liability from the Rental agency.

    1. Trav says:

      @Michael- Right, you can waive the CDW and then purchase the liability. Great point!

  4. Stephanie says:

    I also have gold status with Hilton. Which car rental companies give you 25% off with Hilton gold status?

    1. Trav says:

      @Stephanie- Here is the list on Hilton’s website of all the car rental companies they have discounts with. Scroll down to “Earn and Save with Car Rental Partners”.

  5. If you have an older car, you may not have collision/comprehensive insurance and your car insurance probably DOESN’T cover it. I drove for years thinking my rentals were insured when they probably weren’t. Once someone informed me, I called my agent and found nope, rental cars weren’t covered on my policy. Then I just used the dead-cheap plan that you can buy if you have the American Express credit card. Think it’s something like $25 for the whole time you’ve rented the car. Not $25 a day. $25 for up to 30 days. Might not be the exact price but if you have an American Express it’s worth looking into. Now that I have a shiny new car with collision/comprehensive, yes, I am covered when I rent cars without any further need to buy coverage. Again just confirmed that less than a month ago.

    1. Trav says:

      @Peach Front- Great point. Everyone should check with their car insurance company first to make sure it covers rental cars. If you have a cheap car insurance plan, it may not.

      And yes, you are right, it is $25 PER RENTAL, not per day, using Amex. This is total steal if you need to buy insurance when renting a car because it lasts up to 30 days! Thanks for the heads up!

  6. Nancy says:

    Any tips for Easter week in Florida? The prices are outrageous…over $50 a day for Economy. Help!!!

    1. Trav says:

      @Nancy- Check out Autoslash. They will let you know when prices drop and if you have already booked a car, they will actually rebook it for you at the cheaper price. I haven’t used it myself yet, but I’ve heard great things about it.

      Also, make sure to check all options. Look at car rentals through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, Hotwire, and Costco Travel. Million Mile Secrets is doing an excellent series on car rentals at the moment that may help you out.

  7. Jay K says:

    Great post Trav.

    A couple of points.

    1. Autoslash no longer works with Thrifty, Hertz, Dollar or Advantage.

    2. Chase United Explorer card offers PRIMARY insurance (unlike the others which offer secondary insurance). If you have this card, it’s a no-brainer in the US, and if abroad, in most cases works out to be the cheaper variant even despite the foreign transaction fee.

    3. Amex offers primary insurance as someone mentioned. It costs $24.95.
    Here’s the link – https://www295.americanexpress.com/premium/car-rental-insurance-coverage/home.do

    4. No idea why (would love to find out…probably some laws prohibiting it) but most car insurances (like the AMEX one) don’t work in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand.

    5. To your readers- A great way to save on car rentals in the US is via costcotravels.com (need a costco membership-refundable) or using the USAA discount codes (need to be a member-easy to become one).
    Another great website that I’ve used before for discounts on car rentals in UK is http://www.vroomvroomvroom.co.uk/ (They have a Canadian,American and Australian version too)

    Cheers!

    1. Trav says:

      @Jay K- You’ve done it again…outdoing the original post with all this awesome insight. Thanks for all the tips, and be especially aware of #3 everyone. That card is one of the best for renting a car with (as well as the Chase Ink Bold or Plus- just make sure it’s a “business” trip).

      Never tried vroomvroomvroom before. Will add it to my arsenal!

      1. Jay K says:

        Just paying it forward, my friend!

  8. Lanny says:

    With your digital camera phone walk around the vehicle and take a shot of each side, etc.
    plus the gas guage to avoid any responsibility for something that was there when you got it.
    This remedied an issue we had in MX last year.. ;-)

    1. Trav says:

      @Lanny- Awesome advice and I agree 100%. Can’t fight video evidence or picture evidence, and it only takes a few minutes.

  9. janet says:

    Hi Trav!! great post…as usual!
    just FYI…you can’t use Chase UR for a one-way rental.

    Which hotel status program gives you perks like a free GPS rental?

    thanks!

    1. Trav says:

      @janet- I can’t remember which hotel status program gave you a free GPS…maybe Hyatt Diamond? Sorry I can’t remember, but thanks for the heads up on the Chase UR not allowing one-way rentals. I’ve found that MOST of those services, like Costco and the credit card portals, don’t allow one-way rentals, which is a bummer.

  10. motodop says:

    GASBUDDY is an excellent app which finds the nearest and/or cheapest gas station and integrates with Google maps to GPS you to its location. I love it.

    1. Trav says:

      @motodop- I completely agree. I use that app all the time!

  11. Jerry Mandel says:

    There are, in some cities, small “mom-&-pop” car rental agencies that will pick you up/take you back to the airports.They are much cheaper than the big chains and their CDW is cheaper. Many of them serving LAX. I used info@atwestrentacar.com for a week in Ellay and saved a lot of money. (1-877-404-0404) They are also in San Diego.// Note that your credit cards will only cover you secondarily to your personal car insurance.

    1. Trav says:

      @Jerry Mandel- Great tip! I’ve used a mom and pop one a few times when I was living in Lausanne and also had a decent experience. I didn’t need airport pickup but their prices were cheaper.

      Thanks for the website and phone details as well. That’s some great info for LA-bound travelers…you rock!

  12. Susan says:

    Hi Trav,
    Just want to mention that some rental car companies run a “hard” credit check before they rent you a car. If you have many “hard” credit inquiries, it will effect your credit score negatively. Complete Bummer.
    Susan

    1. Trav says:

      @Susan- Really? I had never heard of this before. Do you happen to know which ones run a hard check?

      1. Susan says:

        Im sorry I don’t remember which rental agency it was, happened last year. Before I rent any car for any reason, I’m inclined to ask if they “hard” check my credit. The car rental was in the United States to travel out of state.

        1. Trav says:

          @Susan- Yeah, asking beforehand is a good strategy.

  13. Marshall says:

    I use autoeurope.com to rent cars in Europe. They are a broker and deal with many rental agencies. They will beat any advertised price and their fees are MUCH less then the rental companies. Ex: renting a compact car out of BCN cost $130 in fees thru the rental agencies, but only $65 thru AE. Also, can cancel with no penalty and customer service is excellent. Their prices are better than ANY of the alternatives.

    1. Trav says:

      @Marshall- I’ve never heard of them before, but it sounds awesome. When you say they are a broker, I assume you mean they operate the same as Kayak or Rentalcars.com, but just have much cheaper prices? I’ll have to check them out.

      1. Marshall says:

        They advertise prices on their website, but if you find a better price, say Avis with an AA discount, call them & they will match that price. They work with many rental agencies to find you a car.

  14. Trav – if you live in NY none of that credit card coverage works. I can speak from personal experience. Used my AMEX to pay for a rental in Puerto Rico, had an accident and received a bill. When I contacted AMEX they told me the insurance coverage did not apply to NY residents. Further, when I got the United Club Visa I called customer service to clarify on the car insurance, and after 10 minutes they told me it did not apply to NY residents.

    1. Trav says:

      @John Griesbacker- Really? I didn’t know this…how do you get car insurance on rental cars then? You HAVE to pay for it from the rental agency?

  15. Nice post Trav.

    Adding to the discussion-

    1. Even though the Hotel and Airline miles/reward programs advertise “Upto” 25% off discounts, in reality most of them yield only a 5-10% discount. And since this discount is applied to the base rate, it ends up being an even smaller discount when the taxes and fees are factored into the total.

    2. Earning miles on your car rental is great, but remember that most rental companies add a “frequent flyer surcharge” to credit the miles. Ensure that the points you’re earning are worth more to you than you’re paying towards the surcharge.

    3. Airport pickups can be expensive but a lot of promotions are valid only at airport locations. Compare discounted rates at airport and off-airport locations before you reserve a vehicle.

    4. I usually book the cheapest available car and upgrade for a few extra dollars at the counter. In most cases, it turns out to be cheaper than booking a larger car upfront and earns good karma by helping the rental agent sell an upgrade.

    1. Trav says:

      @Sorab- Some really nice points. I agree that at times, the “discounts” can be worse if they are off the base rate. And you are right, you really have to look at the fine print of all the offers, since there is so much fine print. Really, it’s like a treasure hunt, and doing a little research can really earn some big savings.

      I have never tried to upgrade at the counter. Any specific tips or tricks you use to convince the agent to give you a cheaper upgrade?

      1. @Trav – It sure is a crazy treasure hunt and the devil is in the details.

        Upgrade at the rental counter works best if you’re fine with moving around in a smaller vehicle if the upgrade at the counter is too expensive.

        The upgrade sometimes falls into your lap if they’re out of smaller vehicles. Also, I believe the rental agents have a say in how much extra is charged for an upgrade (probably within a range and subject to demand and supply).

        Being nice to the rental agent is the best way to get better service and perks. Since they make a commission when you upgrade, they’re inclined to making it work as well.

  16. Amazing how simple it can be to communicate with people and have them understand a certain topic, you made my day.

  17. Kat says:

    Free upgrades can be easy to achieve if you tend to use the same car rental agency and get to know the rental agents (being nice and pleasant to them is a given). I’ve received free upgrades without asking the last 3 times I’ve gone, and this even with plenty of the smaller cars available in the lot. I always book online, and then ask for a free upgrade at the counter. It never hurts to ask, and if they say no, I’m no worse off than if I hadn’t asked.

    1. Trav says:

      @Kat- I completely agree that you can never go wrong with being nice and asking. What’s the worst that can happpen? NOTHING!

  18. Chris Mayhew says:

    Great tips as always Trav. I think the airport pick up is what gets most people because they think it’s the simplest option, however there is likely to be other locations just a few miles down the road.
    Also, don’t forget to take pictures when you give the car back as well as when you first pick it up. People often neglect to do this but it’s a great way of covering yourself if the rental company decides to shift the blame at a later date for something you didn’t do.

    1. Trav says:

      @Chris Mayhew- Totally agree. Pretty hard to argue with a picture. I always try to do this as well.

  19. All info here appears directed at North Americans. In case there are other international readers here, it needs to be the known that credit cards the whole world over do not necessarily offer car rental insurance. I have lived in Asia for 20 years and my credit cards have never had it, and neither does any higher cost card. Thus, avoiding insurance costs is never an option for me, no matter where in the world I am renting…

    1. Trav says:

      @Maris Sidloski- That is a very good point. When I talk about credit cards and their ability to cover your insurance, that is for the North Americans. However, many of the other points, such as never pre-paying for fuel, filling up where it is cheapest, not accepting the GPS, etc., can be used by anyone renting a car.

  20. Basil Zhang says:

    In my opinion, the biggest money waster when it comes to rental cars is the insurance. Don’t get it! It’s gonna be just as much as your car rental price.
    To save money, buy it from somewhere outside. rental insurance is really just a temporary policy, so there’s no reason it should be like $50 or whatever. that’s almost as much as a regular car insurance policy for a whole month. get it from an outside company. i know 4autoinsurancequote has dirt cheap quotes for rentals, and i’m sure if you Google others you’ll find more.

    1. Trav says:

      @Basil Zhang- Great advice for people who don’t have a credit card that covers it. Personally, I use a credit card that covers me, but not everyone is in that boat. Thanks for the heads up!

  21. Well very helpful of first time rental ones. And good for regular travelers. the 2nd point i had noticed price varies with different rentals. i have been couple of times in Dubai, at the first time i booked Porsche cayenne at 1600 AED with hertz. and next time i preferred to research some car rentals, i came across prox car rentals in Dubai i got it 100 AED cheaper. So i suggest you to do some research while choosing rentals

  22. james says:

    I had rented cars from Hotwire in the past with very good experiences. I don’t really care what agency I wind up with as long as it is one of the major ones. The only drawback with Hotwire is that you are locked into the rental.
    I have also found that the off-brand agencies are not worth the savings (at least for me). They are usually located far from the airport with a limited shuttle service and staff.
    Lately I have been renting cars from the Southwest website and find that they have the best deals and make it easy to comparison shop. You can rent a car from them without making an airline reservation. If you do use their service, be sure to check back frequently before your trip as prices can drop dramatically (I assume due to supply and demand). It is easy to cancel a reservation and make a new one if you find a better price.

    1. Trav says:

      @james- Great advice. One question with Southwest’s website: it is only for domestic car rentals, correct?

  23. jayden says:

    It’s good to know these strategies work for car rentals. It’s always hard to commit to something without knowing exactly who it’s from and all the specific details. I travel to several times and I always find that Car Hire Watford has the best rates. Their rates are much better than the other brands.

    1. Trav says:

      @jayden- Good to know. I assume they are only for the UK?

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