Most of the time when we travel, we rent a car, but it depends on where we go. Some destinations are easier to get around by car, like Orlando or Los Angeles, and some places are not or it's just more convenient to use public transportation. Of course, there are those destinations we've rented a car in and either wished we hadn't or did a little more research before we went, like Ecuador. It's always smart to know how things work in the city you'll be traveling in. Security and roads without signs aside, here are my top 5 Dos and Don'ts of renting a car.
- Keep Looking Until the Last Minute because rates can fluctuate wildly. Most of the time you make a reservation and don't have to give a credit card or pay ahead, even with some aggregators such as Hotwire, so it just makes sense to watch for price drops all the way up until the day before you leave. There's no penalty for cancelling and rebooking, so do it if you can save a buck...or $100. It's been known to happen and keep an eye out for promo codes.
- Reserve the Smallest Car Possible. I almost always book a compact or economy car. There are only two of us and they are comfortable enough. The smaller the car, the cheaper the rates and the less you'll have to pay to fill up at the gas station. A bonus is that the smallest cars usually sell out first, so you get upgraded for free to the next car size available. Note, if you change your mind once you get to the rental counter, you can always upgrade on your own, but you can't downgrade, so pick the smallest size you are comfortable with. Three of my last four rentals were upgraded, since my flight came in in the evening and all the economy cars were gone. Bummer for me, right?
- Look at All Rental Locations. The airport isn't the only place you can rent a car and sometimes looking offsite can be more affordable. If the hassle is worth it for the price difference, that might make less of a dent in your budget. In fact, the government imposes fees on rental companies at the airport, so those are passed on to the customer. Sometimes it's significant. Sometimes it's just a few cents a day.
- Check the Weekly Rates. If you'll be traveling for 5 or 6 days, it can sometimes be beneficial to check weekly rates on rental cars, because they come with a price break that may just be cheaper than paying for separate days. Make sure to check the fine print and see if you will be penalized for bringing the car back early. Most of the time you won't be, but some rental companies have caught on and want to squeeze as much money out of you as possible.
- Use Ebates for Extra Savings. Ebates gives you cash back on things you're doing everyday, including going on vacation. Sign up for free, then click through them to get to our favorite travel merchants, including a whole list of car rental companies, to get cash back and even current promo codes to save even more.
- Take the Prepaid Gas Option. While every once in a great while this is actually a deal, 99.99% of the time it is a total rip-off. Unless I'm in Europe, I should never have to pay $8+ for a gallon of gas. The rate is usually posted and, though it sounds really convenient, it's just another way for them to extract every last cent from your wallet or, more specifically, your credit card. The same principal goes for their GPS system. If you have your own or usually use your phone, bring it with you and save $15 or more per day. If your personal GPS gets stolen, it'll be a lot cheaper to replace.
- Get the Insurance. If you have a car with insurance at home, it's highly possible you are covered in rental cars. If not, the credit card you are using to rent the car probably protects you. make sure to check all possibilities that you already use before adding an extra $16+ per day to your rental. There's no sense in paying more when you really don't have to, even when that "only bring back the steering wheel" thing sounds awesome. It's designed to.
- Forget to Sign Up for the Rewards Program. It's free, it's easy and all your rentals give you points towards things like upgrades and free days. Those sounds like fantastic things, but the reason I really do it is for the increased savings. Members get access to special promos and discounts.
- Rent With Your Debit Card if possible. If you do, the rental company often takes your rental total and a deposit when you pick up your car, leaving you with hundreds of dollars less in your bank account that you probably counted on using on your trip. If you only have a credit card for car rentals, it will still be more convenient than not having one at all.
- Rent a Car for Your Whole Trip if You Don't Need To. Sometimes you only want a car for certain things. If you have several places you plan to drive to, then plan to do those things on consecutive days, so you only have to rent a car for those days instead of all of them. It seems like common sense, but many people never think about doing it that way and waste money they didn't have to.
Renting a car is not often all that fun, but I enjoy driving other places that aren't at home. Learn the ins and outs of renting before you get to the counter, that way you don't end up being that person who asks 900 questions and making everyone behind you want to run you over with their car. Somehow, I always get stuck behind the three people who've maybe never rented anything before and am reminded of being at the post office and the bank. If you can fill out all your info before you get to your destination, which is an option on some sites, especially if you've rented from them in the past, do so and you'll be in and out as quickly as you can sign the forms and get to the garage. you'll be on your way faster and everyone will be less stressed out.
What are your tips for renting a car, in general or more affordably?