7 Great ways to save money on Rental Cars

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Taking a road trip this summer? Now is the time to save money.

As the peak season of car rentals approaches, rates for rental cars are expected to go up. Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting Group which tracks trends in the car rental industry, says “In early June through the end of August, these rates will spike.” For example in July of last year, the average cost of a rental compact car for a week from an airport rental agency was about $370, or a 56 percent increase on the $240 rate charged in March, according to the Abrams Travel Data Index. Here are some useful tricks to help keep those rates down this year.

1. Do not stick to name brands. Companies like Hertz, Avis, and other conglomerates tend to charge more for their services. Instead look to independent companies such as Payless, and Fox Rent a Car. Since their operating overhead is lower, their cars usually cost 20 to 30 percent less than the same car from nationwide retailers. For example, a the German agency called SIXT, which started operating in Southeastern USA in states such as Florida and Georgia, offers brand name vehicles such as BMW’s, Mercedes, and Volkswagens. They offer a Mercedes C-class for about $40 a day when the lowest rate Hertz offers is about $50 for a Kia Rio or comparable economy car.

2. Look for virtual coupons. Use search engines to look for discounts and coupons that are available online. Sites such as Promotionalcodes.com and CouponWinner.com also post discounts for many companies. Rental car agencies also offer incentives and discounts to those who are a part of their frequent customer programs, as well as members of other organizations such as AAA, BJ’s, Sam’s Club, and Costco. However, don’t just look there, as most major rental car agencies will allow you to combine coupons and discounts. When checked, Hertz quoted us about $260 for a full-size car from the Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. for three days over Memorial Day weekend. Putting in a couple discount codes, we were able to bring down the price to about $160.

3. Check up on rates from sites such as CityRAC.com. Sites like CityRAC continually check for reasonable rates and better coupons up until your trip date. It can be used in a couple of ways; it can be used just to check rates for other retailers, or you could complete your booking directly through CityRAC. CityRAC currently works with car rental agencies such as Payless, SIXT, Fox, and E-Z Rent a Car. As an added bonus, the site will also apply any discounts our coupons it finds that apply to your rental car.

The only setback with sites such as CityRAC is that there are limited inventories. Nationwide retailers do not like the fact that CityRAC takes advantage of the fact that customers are able to modify or cancel their rental car reservations at any time without any extra fees or penalty. Big rental car agencies such as Hertz, Advantage, and Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group do not allow CityRAC to list their inventories on its site.

4. Try to rent from outside the Airport. Rental Car Agencies that are located on Airport premises are typically more expensive than rental car agencies that are not on airport property. Agencies that are in airports tend to add on fees and expenses that can sometimes add more than 30% to the cost of the rental car. When we checked, a car that was reserved using a website, from Boston’s Logan International Airport using Hertz over the Fourth of July weekend, cost about $50 a day, or about $220 for a week. If a customer was to take the subway from the airport to the Arlington stop, and walk a couple of blocks to a local Hertz location, that same car was about $40 a day, or about $150 for the week.

5. Book the Rental car for longer than you need. This may not sound like you will be saving money, but by booking the rental car for an extra day on your weekly reservation could actually lower your rate. You don’t have to actually return it at the later time, you can still return it at your original date. This takes advantage of the reduced rates that are targeted at travelers who are likely to travel more on the weekends. Essentially, the system is being tricked into thinking that the rental car is being booked for a two-day weekend rate, which is lower than the normal rate. If you were to rent a midsize sedan from the Alamo at the Las Vegas International Airport overnight, Alamo’s rate for the rental car would be about $36. If you were to add an extra day to the reservation, the base rate would drop to about $15 a day. You can still return the car early, and get the lower rate.

6. Try to negotiate for a better rate. Even if you have done your due diligence and applied all the discounts and promotions that you have found, you can still get a lower rate or a better car at the counter. Depending on a variety of factors, such as the type of day the clerk is having, the types and amount of cars the agency has, or even the time of day it is, you could ask for a lower rate, or for a better vehicle for the same rate. Some companies would be happy to give you a bigger or a vehicle that is in less demand, for the cost of a compact rental car, if it is in their interest.

7. Pay in advance. Using a tactic that hotels use, most rental car agencies are allowing customers to prepay for their rental car reservation in exchange for up to a 20% discount. For example, a search for a weekly rental from Philadelphia International Airport, Hertz was advertising a $173 “pay now” rate for a compact car. If you were to get that same car from Hertz with a conventional method, the rate was about $30 more. The only downside to getting a car for the pre-pay rate is that if you were to cancel or change your reservation, there will be fees and penalties associated with it. Travel sites such as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com also offer great discounted rates to customers who book their rental car before finding out which car rental agency they booked from.

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