Renting a car is like shopping for anything: You want to get a good deal. But there are some tips and tricks that can make the car rental process easier and less expensive. Here are three of them.
Avoid unnecessary fees and charges
Why pay more than you need to for that car rental? Savvy consumers will do their best to avoid the shock of additional charges and hidden fees that rental car companies tack on the bill when you turn the car in.
- Decline optional insurance. If you pay for the rental car with an American Express, or certain other platinum Visa credit cards, you already have insurance covering the vehicle (with certain limitations, such as the rental cannot be more than 14 days). As such, you don’t need the optional insurance the rental car company encourages you to accept. Decline it.
- Photograph the vehicle before you drive off the lot. To avoid getting dinged for scratches, scrapes, dents and other noticeable damage, photograph the vehicle you’re renting before you leave the car rental lot. Do a walk-around with the car rental representative and note any existing damage you see. This keeps you off the hook for any charges to repair such damage later.
- Top off the tank before returning the car. Even if you’re in a hurry to return a car, don’t bring it back without first filling up the tank as the rental car company will charge you exorbitant prices to refuel it on your return. In fact, they want it topped off and will charge you if it isn’t. Best advice here is to refuel earlier at a low-price gas station and top it off at a station nearest the car rental facility just before you turn the car in.
- Don’t rent at an airport. While it may be convenient to pick up a car at the airport, you’ll pay more to do so. Go for an off-property car rental facility and take a shuttle to get there. The money you’ll save is worth the extra time.
Reserve the smallest car possible
Car rental companies typically stock their fleets with mid-size cars. But those cost more to rent than compact cars. Be smart and reserve the smallest car possible. Most likely you’ll be offered an upgrade – especially if they don’t have many in stock or you have an upgrade coupon. That way, you’ll get a larger vehicle and pay the rental on a smaller one.
The caveat here is to be comfortable with the vehicle you rent. Suppose you reserve a compact car and you’ll need to transport several other people in the vehicle during your stay. If the rental car company has that compact on the lot and you’re not offered an upgrade, you’ll be stuck with a car that’s too small for your needs.
Shop deals and book early
The various deals offered by car rental companies don’t last forever. The earlier you shop for posted deals and book your car rental, the more likely you are to be successful in snagging a good deal.
Be smart when it comes to daily versus weekly rentals. Read the fine print on all deals. Sometimes, a weekly rental is less expensive than renting on a daily basis. Other times, the opposite is true. Look for specials on certain vehicles, or holiday in-town rentals.
Make use of any coupons, association or group discounts (AAA, AARP, etc.), online and email offers. Note the expiration dates on any deals so that you don’t wind up needing to rent a car and the offer you’ve been holding onto has expired.