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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Car Rental Tips for Saving Money

Renting a car can be simple, but it's not always simple to do it and save money. It's best to know the insurance and outs before showing up at the rental counter.

car rental tips

We rent cars a couple of times a year when traveling and it's almost always easy and we're on our way with keys in hand in about 10 minutes. I wasn't going to write another post for a while on rental dos and don'ts, but I had a terrible experience on my last trip to Vegas and I didn't want it to happen to anyone else if you can avoid it.

Look at rental locations away from the airport

Generally, I rent my vehicles from an airport location and I take a shuttle, sign my name and I'm out, but lately more and more locations have better deals off site, so I've been booking them instead, because even with a shuttle or an Uber, it's still cheaper and more convenient. 

Airport locations impose a fee on their vehicle rentals, because they are passing on an airport tax they incur. Usually, it's a few bucks, which isn't a big deal, but sometimes its a huge difference. On my last trip to Vegas, the price between the airport and the off-site location* was about $110. Even an $8 Uber each way was going to make that a heck of a deal. Well, we had a reservation for noon. I tried calling three times around 10am to see if we could pick up early with no answer. 

We showed up at 11:40, checked in and then waited for over an hour for our car, despite being "next". I was told that there was only one guy washing cars and they couldn't give us a car that wasn't washed. This was a Saturday afternoon - the busiest tourist day for Vegas, besides maybe Friday evening - and there were only two people on duty. The lot was full of cars and we were not offered an upgrade at all, just the suggestion that if we could not wait and wanted to get a car faster, we should have rented at the airport. Um, what?

The general rule of thumb for rental companies is that it you have a reservation and the car class you request isn't available, they will upgrade you for free. What I was offered instead was to pay for a bigger car.  No.

Rent the smallest car class you can get away with

There are only two of us the majority of the time, so we don't have a lot of luggage and we're perf happy in a compact car, which is what I reserve. When that isn't available when we show up (oh darn) they offer us the next size up at no cost. Now, the other thing is that you can always upgrade when you arrive, but you can't downgrade, so try not to rent a car that's bigger than your needs. That's how you save money.

Skip the insurance

Most of the time the credit card you reserved your car on will have insurance coverage or your home insurance will cover you in any car you drive, so save the $15+ a day insurance.

Keep looking up until the day before you travel 

Unless you've prepaid for your car rental, you can keep looking for a better deal up until 24 hours before you leave. Most rental companies don't penalize you for booking or cancelling last-minute, since they don't ask for your credit card to hold your reservation. This also means that most car companies overbook. Find a better deal? Book the new car and cancel the old one.

Bring your own GPS

Did you know that renting one with your car can cost an average of $18/day. Yes, per DAY. Save your money and bring you own or use your phone.

Gas up yourself

You will always be offered a gas option. 
  • Option A: You pay a flat fee and however full or empty you return the car, they refill it for you. This is almost always twice the cost of gas in the world and it's the same whether you come back with 1/4 tank or 3/4 tank, which is a total rip-off.
  • Option B: You only pay for the gas you need. Usually, this info is posted. This has only happened to me once where the gas was super cheap.
  • Option C: You refill your car on the way back to drop-off. This is almost always the most preferable option and the one I opt for 99% of the time.

Just choose one driver

It used to be that you could add a second driver to you rental for $0, but now it seems that it costs around $12-15/day. Choose which of you is willing to drive the whole time, usually that's me, and then the other person can be the designated navigator.

Unfortunately, bad customer service happens, but if a company consistently has bad service, something should be done about it. The lady on duty did nothing to try to appease us, except to give us the manager's card and say that they dealt with this everyday. Like they couldn't deal with reorganizing things and giving customers a better experience. After that, I would have gladly spent that extra $100 for a better location with employees who were friendly and helpful. 

On my previous trip in Feb, we rented from an Enterprise** location that was off-site of the airport and not only we're they super nice and helpful, but even after going to the airport pick-up, realizing we were in the wrong place, called an Uber and arrived, we still had our keys and we're out of the parking lot in much less time than we stood at Dollar waiting to be "next".

In short, look at reviews (for some reason, this one was mostly positive) and don't be afraid to speak up. If all else fails, write a negative review, contact the people in charge about your terrible experience and then tell everyone you know to go elsewhere.

Have you ever had an unusually good or an unusually bad car rental experience?

Disclaimer: I was not paid by either of these companies. These are just my honest opinions of two very different customer service experiences.

*The terrible rental car location: Dollar Rent-A-Car - 4775 Swenson Street, Las Vegas, Nevada
**The awesome rental cal location: Enterprise - 4475 W Tropicana Blvd, Las Vegas, Nevada

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