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17 ways to save when renting a car

April 14, 2012
Auto Rental

Planning a vacation or business trip is often a hassle, even for seasoned travelers. Many put off car rental decisions until the last minute or decide to take their chances when they arrive. Yet, planning ahead can save you money. Here are 17 cost-saving suggestions:

  1. Scour the Internet for deals. According to industry experts, the best rates are usually found online. Be sure to check out the special deals sections of respective car rental sites. Also “Like’’ the Facebook pages of your favorite car rental companies and follow them for special promotions there, and on Twitter or Google+.
  2. Check for company apps that offer deals. For example, the Hertz app (available on iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry) lists special offers. Also, look for flash sales on sites like Groupon or Google Offers, and check rates on third-party discount sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Hotwire, Orbitz, and Kayak.
  3. Book in advance but check the price afterward. Like airline tickets, car rental rates fluctuate based on supply and demand. “The number of times a rate for a given date changes in the 30 days prior to the rental date is up nearly 21 percent over last year in major US markets,’’ writes Chris Brown, an industry expert, in Auto Rental News. Since most companies don’t charge cancellation fees, you can cancel and rebook at a
    lower rate if prices go down.
  4. Book your flight and car rental simultaneously. Many auto rental companies have agreements with airlines, offering discounts when you book at the same time.
  5. Consider prepayment. Some companies give discounts for prepayment. For example, Hertz renters get a 20 percent discount. The downside: There may be penalties incurred if you need to cancel or shorten the length of your rental.
  6. Compare prices between regional companies and national brands. The latter tend to have newer fleets, spiffier cars, and 24/7 roadside assistance, but it generally comes at a cost.
  7. Enroll in customer loyalty programs. Many car rental companies offer free program enrollment. The perks may include discounts as well as being able to pick up your car without having to stop at the counter.
  8. Check your eligibility for employer or membership organization discounts. Membership in such organizations as AAA, AARP, Costco, and various professional associations may make you eligible for discounts. Some companies offer discounts to veterans and active military.
  9. Avoid the temptation to rent more car than you need.
  10. Save on unnecessary extras. If you need a child safety seat or GPS navigator, balance the inconvenience of bringing your own equipment with the cost of having it already installed when you pick up your car.
  11. Don’t overinsure. Check with your insurer to verify whether you have auto rental coverage under your existing automobile owner’s policy. If so, you may be able to decline collision insurance. When abroad, certain credit cards provide collision coverage even if your insurer does not. For example, eligible American Express cardholders can decline the collision damage waiver in certain countries. Caution: Since coverage varies both by the type of card and location, be sure to request a written document that explains the coverage.
  12. Be careful of any additional mileage charges. Check beforehand, but the vast majority of rentals offer unlimited mileage. If you are planning to drive out of state, additional mileage charges may apply.
  13. Determine the best location for your rental pickup. Fees and surcharges associated with airport pickups tend to drive up costs.
  14. Compare daily vs. weekly rates. Sometimes a weekly rate is more economical than a shorter rental at a daily rate.
  15. Check the gas tank at the time of rental. The cost of filling up a tank of gas can be substantial. Prepaying for fuel charges at the time of rental not only saves you the inconvenience of a fill-up but may also save you money compared with purchasing gas at a service station. If you have a smartphone or iPad, compare the cost of a gallon of gas offered by the rental company with the market rate by checking GasBuddy.com or GasPriceWatch.com.
  16. Compare the cost of a car rental with other alternatives. If you are staying at a hotel, check on transportation alternatives. Many run jitney or bus service to and from airports.
  17. If these measures sound cumbersome, check out the new breed of car rental aggregation sites such as Holiday Autos or AutoSlash.com. They search multiple vendors for rates, apply available discounts, book rentals, and keep tabs on changing rates.

[An earlier version of this article was published in the Boston Globe – March 4, 2012]

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