Finding cheap rental cars requires some legwork and can be time consuming. With all the hidden fees and upsells, the price you see isn't always what you pay when you leave. Here are our top tips for finding the cheapest way to rent a car.
Written byJerry Graham
Posted inspend less money
Last update: 03/16/2023
14 tips for finding cheap rental cars
Renting a car allows you to explore on your own schedule or get where you need to go. If you have a rental car, you are not subject to someone else's schedule. You won't have to wait for a ride when you're ready to go.
Unfortunately, renting a car can also be a confusing and frustrating experience. With so many options and hidden fees, you can never be sure you're getting a good deal. The good news is that there are ways to make sure you don't overpay for a rental car.
Finding the cheapest way to rent a car takes some work, but the savings are worth it, whether you're a frequent renter or just need a rental car for a short business trip or weekend rental.
How to find cheap cars to rent
Here are our top tips for cheap car hire:
- 14 tips for finding cheap rental cars
- How to find cheap cars to rent
- 1. Compre online
- 2. Check car rental websites
- 3. Check weekly and daily rates
- 4. Find a discount you qualify for
- 5. Enjoy credit card benefits and frequent flyer programs
- 6. Rent economy cars
- 7. Try discount car rental brands
- 8. Rent a car on Lyft
- 9. Try a P2P car rental service
- 10. Don't pick up your rental car at the airport
- 11. Stick to one driver whenever possible
- 12. Ignore os extras
- 13. Bring your own insurance
- 14. Don't rent a car
1. Compre online
Start your search for the lowest price on a rental car by checking sites likeBilligmietwagen.com,Kayak, Eprice line. These sites summarize car rental prices and allow you to sort or filter based on your needs.
2. Check car rental websites
If you are looking for car rental prices on a price comparison website, also check the car rental company's website. Look for current deals or coupon codes they are promoting on their website. An exclusive offer or special discount may only be available through the official website.
If you use the Pay Now option on some car rental websites, you can get a discount of up to 30%. However, please read the terms and conditions as prepayments are generally non-refundable.
3. Check weekly and daily rates
Rental rates are generally lower if you book for five days or more when weekly rates apply. If you need a car for 3 or 4 days, it might be cheaper to book for a week and return the car sooner.
If you do the math before booking and find that the weekly rate is cheaper, check the rental agreement. Make sure there are no early return fees. Don't let them return the car before the end of the rental period or they may lock you in at the higher price.
How to get the CHEAPEST rental car...
4. Find a discount you qualify for
There are several ways to get car rental discounts through a membership program or through your job. If you belong to an organization, check whether your membership entitles you to a discount on car hire.
For example, the AAA discount on car rentals is up to 20% off the base rental price with Hertz, unlimited miles, and members can waive the driver under 25 fee. AARP members receive 30% off car rental rates with Avis or Budget Rent A Car and 5% off a car rented with Payless Car Rental.
Costco Travel has car rental deals that are typically some of the best if you're a Costco member. Aside from cheap car rentals, there are no additional driver fees or cancellation fees when you book through Costco Travel.
Special discounts and rental offers are also available for government employees, active duty military personnel and veterans. Check with your employer to see if you may be eligible for a corporate rate or there may be an employee discount program.
5. Enjoy credit card benefits and frequent flyer programs
Frequent flyer programs and travel credit cards often have relationships with one or two rental agencies. In addition to big discounts, there can be additional benefits such as free upgrades, bonus points or airline miles, preferred bookings and more.
Another reason to check with your credit card issuer is limitation of liability. Comprehensive insurance covers all liability if you are involved in an accident or if your rental car is stolen.
You can purchase comprehensive insurance with your rental for around $10-20 a day, but check with your credit card issuer first. Some credit cards include free comprehensive insurance when you pay your car rental with the card. Coverage from your credit card company means you don't have to buy a damage waiver from the rental company, file a claim with your personal car insurance provider, or pay for damages out of pocket.
6. Rent economy cars
Economy cars are often the cheapest option from major rental companies. Because they have the lowest price, they tend to have the highest demand. If the economy vehicle you booked isn't available for pick-up when you arrive, you can often get a free upgrade.
If an economy car is big enough for your needs, opt for economy class and you'll usually get the cheapest fares.
7. Try discount car rental brands
Avis, Enterprise and Hertz are not the only car rental companies. There are brands like Alamo, Budget, Dollar or Thrifty and smaller discount brands like Advantage and Payless.
You can almost always find a lower price on one of the discounted brands. However, prices are low compared to premium brands, and for good reason. They may have a smaller selection of cars, inconvenient pickup locations, or higher additional fees.
Despite their shortcomings, the savings made by brands can be significant. This makes them an alternative worth considering if you're looking for the cheapest way to rent a car.
8. Rent a car on Lyft
Ride-sharing service provider Lyft offers car rentals in multiple cities through its app. Most rentals are operated through a partnership with Sixt, but Lyft operates its own rental service in some locations.
With Lyft, you get unlimited miles, no additional driver fees, and Lyft credit to get you to and from your pickup location. Prices range from average to much cheaper than traditional rental companies, so it's worth checking out the app.
9. Try a P2P car rental service
Peer-to-peer rental services such asto teachEto movesprung up to disrupt the car rental business. Unlike traditional car rental companies with a fleet of vehicles, you are renting an individual's personal vehicle. The P2P service acts as an intermediary, much like Airbnb facilitates renting accommodation.
The booking process is hassle-free, convenient and often cheaper. You can book your rental car via a smartphone app and then pick it up from the owner, or an owner willing to deliver the car for an additional fee, subject to availability. When finished, return the vehicle to the owner.
10. Don't pick up your rental car at the airport
Picking up your rental car at the airport when you arrive by plane is convenient, but convenience is expensive. Car rental companies pay a concession fee to the airport, which they pass on to their customers. You can expect to pay around $30 to pick up your rental car at the airport.
You can avoid this fee by picking up your car at a different location. If the car rental company has an airport location, there may be other rental companies nearby. Free shuttle service or public transport may be available, but if you need to take an Uber or taxi, calculate the price and see if the savings are worth it.
11. Stick to one driver whenever possible
You may need to add an additional driver if you are taking a long trip or doing a long term rental. Please note that an additional driver costs approximately $10-$15 per day. If your additional driver is under 25, you can also expect a lower rate of $20-$35 per day.
12. Ignore os extras
Car rental companies typically earn commissions on the sale of ancillary services such as rental insurance, vehicle upgrades, satellite radio, roadside assistance and prepaid gas. Even if the owner doesn't make extra money from upsells, you can bet they are trained to offer them. Most add-ons are too expensive or unnecessary.
For example, you have to return the car with a full tank of gas or face exorbitant charges, so the rental company offers prepaid gas as a convenience. This might save you some time, but you'll likely end up paying too much.
Use oGasBuddywebsite and compare local gasoline prices with the price you get from the car rental company. Unless you know you're pushing the car back to the drop-off location on an empty tank, it's probably not worth the cost.
13. Bring your own insurance
If you have a car, your car insurance probably also covers driving a rental car. Many credit cards include basic insurance when you pay rent with the card. You can save $25 to $30 a day by opting out of the insurance offered by the rental company.
14. Don't rent a car
Perhaps the best way to save money on a rental car is to not rent one at all. Most large cities have public transport, walkable downtown areas, and are served by ridesharing services. Depending on where you're going and for how long, it might not really be necessary.
Before going through the car rental process, ask yourself:
- Does your travel destination have a robust public transport system?
- Is the city within walking distance or are there bike sharing services?
- What kind of activities have you planned that require driving?
- How long will you be in the car?
You can find free transport, public transport and ridesharing everything you really need. If so, you'll likely save a lot of money by renting a car, paying for parking, and gas.
Selected image source: Unsplash
Jerry is a personal finance enthusiast, hustler and freelance web developer who started his career in the financial services industry. He co-founded KindaFrugal.com, a personal finance and frugal living blog. His ideas have appeared on MSN, Newsweek.com, HerCampus.com, Mashed.com, and many others.