Looking to Rent a Car? Here’s How to Find Cheap Rentals, Discounts, & Deals
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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!
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.
- AvisBudget Group owns Avis, Budget, and Payless
- Enterprise Holdings owns Alamo, Enterprise, and National
- Hertz Global Holdings owns Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
6. Sign up for a Car Rental Rewards Program.
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!
- Avis Preferred
- Alamo Insiders
- Budget Business Program
- Dollar Express Rewards
- Enterprise Plus
- Fox Rewards
- Hertz Gold Plus
- National Emerald Club
- Thrifty Blue Chip Rewards
7. Consider using a 3rd party discount rental service.
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:
- Hotwire, Priceline, Travelocity, and Expedia
- Sixt Car Rentals
- TURO (car marketplace where you can share your car with others!)
8. Research car rental insurance options.
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.
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.
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.
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!