These days, renting a car can come with many hurdles on the road – from exorbitant gas prices to rental car shortages to those pesky fees that they surprise on top of – the process can be filled with costly mistakes.
And just like the airline industry, demand is strong for rental cars, with costs have doubled since 2019. But there are ways to avoid paying a premium on your next trip, says Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of Auto slasha price comparator for rental cars.
“We recommend that consumers book as early as possible. Demand is already high,” says Weinberg. “Those who wait until the last minute to book will end up paying significantly higher rates.”
Booking early has become the new rule of thumb, but there are also a few other tips to save you time and money on your next rental. Here, Weinberg shares some money-saving tips that will help you integrate seamlessly into your next trip.
Book well, well in advance
It may seem obvious, but how quickly you book can mean the difference between getting a great car rental rate or being fooled by high prices.
This is especially true in places where having a car is essential for travel (think states like Hawaii, Florida, Alaska, Montanaand Wyoming) and popular search areas (we see you, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, denver, Vegasand Phoenix). Autoslash recommends consumers reserve at least six to eight weeks. “But honestly, the sooner the better,” Weinberg says.
Whichever deal you think you’ll get, there’s probably a cheaper one out there. First, know that the last place to book a rental is through an agency’s website. Discount travel sites like Price line, KayakWhere Orbit almost always have better deals and they will always honor any frequent driver rewards programs you have.
Then take a look at the pick-up location. The price of your rental car will sometimes be higher at the airport than off site, as airports impose additional fees and taxes. Sometimes the price difference is worth it, with savings of $20 or $30 per day. Other times it might not be worth the hassle, especially if you have to pay for a taxi or rideshare to get there.
Do not prepay a rental
Although the dynamics of supply and demand have dramatically changed the game, you still want to avoid paying an entire rental upfront. Rates may vary from city to city and may fluctuate up to the day you pick up the keys. The beauty of car rental is that booking a car is basically risk free. You can modify or cancel it before arriving at the counter.
Just keep an eye on your booking, that’s where AutoSlash is handy. They will send you a notification if a cheaper rate appears. If the rate changes, simply cancel your current reservation and rebook at the lower rate. There’s only one exception: “Some rental companies let you get a reduced or low rate in advance while giving you the option to cancel later with a full refund,” says Weinberg. . “In this case, it may make sense to purchase a prepaid rate.”
Don’t prepay for gas either
The rental agent is required to ask you if you wish to purchase gasoline in advance. Unless you are very lazy or very rich, say no thank you. “While car rental companies usually give you a below market rate for gas, what most people don’t realize is that you’re actually paying for a full tank, whether you’re using a full tank full or not,” says Weinberg. “And even then, there are often high fees and taxes that add up.”
Another key tip from insiders: when you return your vehicle, refuel within 10km of the drop-off location and keep your gas receipt. Why? It is better to refuel further away, because there is always a gas station right outside the airport terminal, and this will undoubtedly be the most expensive place to refuel.
And as you approach the drop-off site, be prepared to check the fuel gauge. Chances are the depot agent will try to charge you a refueling fee, even if the gas needle is only slightly below full. Show them your gas receipt as proof that you filled up nearby and you’ll avoid the charge.
Consider one of the car-sharing disruptors
Several new car-sharing startups are disrupting the car rental industry, which has traditionally been built around Hertz, Opinion-Budgetand Company. If you fancy something chic and electric, try sixth, which includes Teslas and other premium electric and hybrid vehicles. For the budget-conscious, check out tutorial; similar to the Airbnb model, it allows you to temporarily rent cars directly from owners.
Other car sharing services like Move and To profit from are also increasingly popular and carpooling applications Uber (in partnership with Avis and Hertz) and Lyft (in partnership with Sixt) have both recently announced the launch of car rental services. “You can book through their app, and they’ll either give you ride credit to get to the car or even deliver the rental right to you for an additional fee,” Weinberg says.
And sometimes the benefits are much better than traditional booking experiences. For a trip to Cape Cod, I used Silvercar, an all-Audi fleet. The price was comparable to what I would have paid at Enterprise, and instead of a mid-size Camry, I got a high-performance vehicle, an Audi Q5. Plus, rather than having you line up at the rental car counter, Silvercar picks you up from the curb, making it easy to get from the terminal to the open road.
Take advantage of subscriptions, promotions and loyalty programs
Savvy consumers frequently sign up for subscriptions or services that could save them money on a rental. Some of the best options include Costco, AAA, AARP, and USAA. “The savings can be very significant. Some companies, including the airline you frequently book travel with, even let you apply a coupon with a discount code for even more savings,” says Weinberg.
And if you rent more than once or twice a year, consider joining a rental company’s loyalty program. Not only will you earn points for future trips, but you’ll be able to skip the line and head straight to the pitch.
Say “no, thank you” to the on-board GPS system and other add-ons
I don’t care how challenged you are when it comes to leadership – this little luxury comes at a high price. And cost aside, road services and GPS options from rental companies are generally slow and crap. Opt instead for Google Maps or the good old Siri.
And if you’re traveling with kids, consider bringing an all-in-one infant car seat and stroller, like The Doona. Otherwise, you will be paying for a used car seat.
Pay the tolls yourself
Rental agencies will offer the “convenience” of a toll transponder, located inside the car. But if you turn it on, you’ll pay a daily fee, usually around $5 per day for the duration of the rental. This is the kind of nonsense that adds up. Do yourself a favor and bring your own EZ-Pass or pay cash at the toll.
Upon return, check your receipt for additional charges
Car rental companies pride themselves on quick returns, but have been known to charge extra and unexpected fees when returning. Agents bank on you being in a rush to catch a flight, so they may charge you a refueling fee or charge a late fee even though you were on time. Before leaving the field, always ask for a receipt and check the charges. If anything smells like fish, tell a manager on site. You’ll be much more likely to resolve the issue in person than later over the phone.
Finally, stop paying for your rental car insurance
Car insurance is an obvious must, but what most renters don’t realize is that their rental is usually covered by their existing car insurance policy or a premium credit card that’s in their wallet. i swear by the Reserve Chase Sapphire or the American Express Platinum cards, which come with several travel benefits, including collision damage waiver for rental cars. With a simple swipe of a card, I can rest easy knowing I’m covered, whether it’s an accident, theft or stray baby bear.