Looking to Rent a Car? Here’s How to Find Cheap Rentals, Discounts, & Deals

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car rental person holding car keys

Planning to travel soon and need a cheap car rental?

While it’s true that some car rental companies generally offer better deals than others, the cost of renting a car depends on several factors, such as your location, timing, or supply & demand… just to name a few. However, you can still save lots of money on car rentals—we’ll show you how!

Whether you’re looking for a luxurious car renting experience or just need a cheap vehicle to get you from point A to point B safely, we’re sharing simple tips on how to get the best car rental deals!

woman holding child walking to car

Let’s talk about different types of car rental companies…

Basically, the major national rental car chains fall into three categories: premium, value, and discount, but this doesn’t mean that the premium brands are always more expensive. In fact, premium brands often throw in extras or offer discounts that other company’s charge for.

On the contrary, don’t always assume that discount rental car companies are always the cheapest. That’s because nine of the largest brands belong to three major rental car conglomerates.

Why does this matter?

Because brands in the same family often impact each other’s rates. Let’s say that Dollar’s sister company, Thrifty, or its parent company, Hertz, run low on cars. That decrease in supply might cause Dollar’s rates to jump up higher than those of premium brands like Avis and Budget.

people in car driving

Here’s a breakdown of the 3 car rental categories:

  • 💰💰💰 Premium: These companies tend to stock newer cars, employ more staff (which means shorter lines for you), and offer express rental programs so you can pick out your own car and drive it off the lot without waiting at the counter.
  • 💰💰 Value: These companies aim for the mainstream traveler with lower prices but more limited services. Their cars might have a few more miles on them and there may be longer lines at the rental counter.
  • 💰 Discount: These companies offer low rates for a reason: the cars have often seen better days, the rental offices are frequently inconveniently located off-site from the airport, too few staff members mean waits at the counter can be long, and hard up-sells on insurance.

11 tips on how to find cheap car rental deals:

1. Book early!

people walking out to SUV with luggage

Be sure to check prices for your car early (the earlier the better!)! Car rental rates fluctuate and can actually change several times a day, depending on the company and location. In fact, read here about how one of our team members saved $169 by checking the prices of her rental car every day before booking!

2. Experiment with different rental time frames.

unlocking rental car with key

One of the best ways to save money on a car rental is to be as flexible as possible with your rental dates. Also, try to avoid renting exclusively from one brand to earn loyalty points or because you’ve heard it’s always the cheapest. You’ll miss out on some great deals if you fail to shop around!

When you adjust your rental duration, you might get a discount for booking for a certain amount of time—like for a week or over a weekend. Sometimes keeping the car a day or two longer will trigger a deal for a specific number of days, resulting in a lower overall price!

3. Use your credit card rewards.

person at computer with credit card

Many Hip2Save readers have said they’ve been able to score discounted car rentals using Chase Ultimate Rewards or other rewards programs through their credit card providers! It’s definitely worth checking to see if your credit card company offers these types of benefits.

Check out what one Hip2Save reader had to say:

“I recommend using an American Express card or card with equivalent benefits to book. AMEX offers secondary insurance (not primary) layered on top of your coverage in your regular policy. It won’t help if you don’t have other coverage, but it will cover your deductible, for example. It’s a pain to use if you need it, but they do pay.”

4. Check both on and off-airport locations.

child holding luggage at airport

It’s not always true that car rental rates are always cheaper when rented outside of the airport. Sometimes an Uber ride to an off-airport rental location makes sense, while other times the airport may actually be cheaper, so be sure to check both options to ensure you’re getting the best deal.

5. Score discounts through a club or organization.

Costco Travel rental cars

If you have a membership in a club or organization, you may be able to get a great deal. For example, members of AAA, AARP, and USAA can often land a nice discount simply by using the organization’s discount code when booking a car with a given rental car company. Also, if you belong to wholesale clubs like Costco or BJ’s, you can also get discounts on select car rentals!

By the way, often these clubs don’t charge an additional driver fee, so you’ll save even more!

Check out what a couple of Hip2Save readers had to say:

“If you’re a AAA member, Hertz provides one free car seat per day with your rental. If both you and your spouse are AAA members, they’ll provide two…one free seat per day per AAA member.”

“If you are a member of Costco, there is a ‘code’ if you read the fine print when you’re checking out. Take that code, and use it as a promo code on the actual car sites like Budget.com. I find that it’s MUCH cheaper that way! I rented a mid-size SUV for four days for $80, as opposed to the Costco site asking for $200.”

6. Sign up for a Car Rental Rewards Program.

SUV driving up hill

Get the most bang for your buck by signing up for a Car Rental Rewards Program like Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Avis Preferred, or other rewards programs below. You’ll be able to earn points or discounts just by being loyal to certain car rental companies!

7. Consider using a 3rd party discount rental service.

smiling woman sitting inside car

Don’t be afraid to check out smaller, lesser-known car-rental companies when you’re searching for the best deal. There’s a reason the lines are often longer at these off-brand rental counters. Their economy fleets and limited services might not appeal to everyone, but they frequently offer the best deals for budget-minded travelers!

Whenever you book a car through a third-party rental service, you’ll often get great deals as they still work with top online travel agencies, car rental brokers, car hire aggregators, and well-known car rental companies to offer you great deals.

Here are just a few discount service companies:

Check out what a couple of Hip2Save readers had to say:

“We used TURO on our recent trip to Hawaii. It’s like Airbnb or VBRO but for cars. The cost was one-third what rental companies were and we had a great experience. We will use TURO again in the future when traveling to major cities.”

AutoSlash.com is a free site that does two things: 1. asks you what memberships you have (e.g. Costco, AAA, etc.) and finds the best rental car price. 2. once you have a rental booked, let it know and it will regularly search to find you better prices.”

8. Research car rental insurance options.

dog with face out of car window

Find out ahead of time if your personal auto insurance and/or credit card provides collision and comprehensive coverage. Buying the insurance offered by the rental company may provide peace of mind and a minimum of hassle should something happen, but it will come at a price!

Check out what one Hip2Save reader had to say:

“Call your car insurance agency before adding insurance to your rental. Most insurance companies cover your rental car as well which saves you from having to purchase it from the rental company. On one vacation we hit a deer and rather than paying well over $1,000 towards the repairs, it was completely covered through Geico. I did not even have to pay the deductible.”

9. Compare equipment rental fees to the purchase price.

person driving a car

Sometimes the rental cost of GPS units or car seats can cost MORE than the price of just purchasing these items yourself, depending on the length of your rental. You can always sell these items on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or at a garage sale if you don’t need them after your trip.

10. Document any initial damage inside and outside the car.

side view mirror of a car

Give the car a full inspection before getting in and after getting out, and be sure to take photos and mention any damage to the rental car employees. Repair fees can get outrageous if the damage is blamed on your use!

11. Fill up the tank before returning the car.

Costco Kirkland Signature gasoline pump

Always fill up the car with gas before turning it in (we’ve even got tips on how to save on gasoline here!). If you bring the car back with less than a full tank, the rental company might charge anywhere from $4 to $10 per gallon to refill the tank. Ouch!

Check out more travel deals!

Join The Discussion

Comments 12

  1. sherry

    #3 said Amex rewards can be used as the secondary insurance. We went to Portugal and rented a car. Our stateside insurance was not valid in Europe. I called Amex they said in this case they would be the primary insurance as long as I paid with Amex and the cardholder was listed as the primary driver. They mailed me documentation of proof of insurance. The rental company did not recognize this and wanted a 900 euro deposit. I put that on my Amex. When I brought the car back in perfect shape i took a picture of the return receipt. It took awhile to get my deposit money back. I think it was a month. I think it was because it was a foriegn transaction. But i saved alot of money not buying the rentals insurance.

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Whoa! That was sure a lot of work! I’m glad to hear you got your deposit back. Thanks for stopping by, sherry!

  2. Cami

    This is extremely helpful! Thanks for taking the time to post. I’m always looking for the cheapest rental rate.

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      You are welcome! So glad you find it useful, Cami!

  3. Tina

    Be sure to double check with Amex. We have always used them, but about 3 months ago we received an update in the mail that our card would no longer be participating in the program (after the new year I believe). I’m sure it is not all cards, but it would be best to check before renting. Also, rental companies offer the option to not fill up the tank and they will do it for you. The price per gallon is always cheaper than the local stations. They only charge for what they fill. You must select the option at the time of pickup, otherwise bringing it back with less than was in the tank will cost a lot because of the surcharge.

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for the tip, Tina!

    • queen62

      I got the email and a letter in the mail so I believe Amex stopped this program with car rentals

  4. Teresa

    I have found booking a few months ahead helps but I make sure I book one that can be canceled. Then the week before I review to see if I can get better rates. About 75% of the time I find last minute deals. Last year in Tampa we saved $280 on a week rate this way.
    Way worth the hour I spent to cancel the first one and rebook. It was even with the same company, so I was so happy.
    A side note, we booked at one of those off site places in Orlando last year also. They forced us to take insurance even though we had our own. Wouldn’t rent us the car unless we took it. When I got back from vacation I had a very heated conversation with the 800 number. In the end we were refunded, but it took me several hours. I went to BBB and there were several complaints about them for this reason. It was only $80 but I new I was already covered and had proof with my insurance card.

  5. LauraL

    If you just need a weekend rental, look into Enterprise weekend rates. You have to put the weekend code in the promotion field(it’s available on their website). The rates usually range from $10-$20 per day. Airport locations don’t offer the rate but you could always take a uber to the location.

    Also, if you need the car over four days, it’s usually cheaper just to rent it a week.

  6. Cheap hire cars auckland

    Thank you so very much for sharing this article here, it will be really really helpful for those who are planning their travel soon. Visiting with your own space and convenience with hired car can be awesome and what can be better when you can save money too.

  7. Helen

    If you or your spouse work in law enforcement most car rental companies offer a discount or an upgrade! Just ask!

    • Stacy F (Hip2Save Sidekick)

      Thanks for the great tip, Helen!

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