How to Get the Cheapest Car Rental for your 2023 Road Trip
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Want to know the cheapest way to rent a car? Here’s the scoop on how to score a great price on a rental!
Planning to travel soon and need the cheapest car rental?
During the pandemic, inflation and transportation costs made car rental costs skyrocket. 😱 Fortunately in 2023, prices are beginning to come down (at least a little). With the world once again traveling, the demand for car rentals is booming which means there’s no better time to discuss the cheapest way to rent a car.
While it is true that some car rental companies generally offer better deals than others, the cost of renting a car depends on several factors. These include the time of year, your location, and basic supply & demand. With so many variables impacting pricing, it’s helpful to have some tricks up your sleeve. 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, we’re sharing simple tips on how to get the cheapest car rental!
First, let’s talk about the most well-known car rental companies…
You’ll probably recognize the names of the most popular car rental companies, but did you know that the nine of these brands belong to three major rental car conglomerates? Here’s the breakdown:
- 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?
It matters because brands in the same family may impact each other’s rates. If supply is low at one rental company, you might potentially see higher rates at its sister company. Keep in mind that just because two companies are related, doesn’t mean they will match rates or that your loyalty points will work at either company.
It’s also worth noting that the price of a rental isn’t the only indicator of if you are getting a good deal. When comparing rates, compare all the perks you receive with that rate. A car company like Hertz has tons of locations and more payment options than its sister company Dollar. Avis offers an AARP discount, while the less expensive Dollar does not. You might also find that the cheapest car rental – not the most expensive – has the best customer service.
What are the average prices of the most popular car rental companies?
NerdWallet recently conducted a study on the top 8 car rental companies. Here is what they discovered were the 2023 average costs to rent a car over a 7-day period:
- National Car Rental – $695
- Alamo Rent A Car – $589
- Avis Car Rental – $570
- Thrifty – $569
- Dollar Car Rental – $555
- Hertz Car Rental – $552
- Budget Car Rental – $542
- Enterprise Rent-A-Car – $480
Keep in mind that car rental prices do vary by city. Some cities are much more expensive than others. It might be beneficial to rent a few towns over to get a cheaper rate.
16 tips on how to find the cheapest car rental deals:
1. Get a baseline.
Use a website like AutoRentals to compare prices between different car rental companies and online travel agencies. This will give you an idea of some of the current prices and best deals at any given moment. Sometimes it’s better to book directly with the car rental agency, but checking a site AutoRentals (or an online travel agency like Priceline) can give you an idea of what sort of rates to expect.
2. Check prices leading up to your trip and remember to clear your cookies.
Booking early doesn’t always pay. According to Nerd Wallet, those who booked 3 months in advance ended up paying an average of $75 more per rental! NerdWallet found that looking in advance at a company like Alamo can cost you around 38% more than if you booked a week in advance. Other companies like Dollar only cost about 2% more to book in advance.
It can be hard to know if a price is good if you don’t have other data to compare it against. Once you get a baseline of what rental companies are charging, it’s helpful to check each day to see if prices are dropping or rising. When you see a price that looks on the low end, it might be time to book. That’s how I’ve had success getting the cheapest car rental and it’s also how my team member saved $169 on her rental.
When checking prices on your computer, it’s important to either use an incognito browser, a virtual private network (VPN), and/or to clear your cookies between searches. The reason I suggest these tips is that many car rental websites use what’s called dynamic pricing. If you check a car rental website too often, the algorithm interprets this as higher demand and will hike the price of the rental car up. I had noticed this happening to me a lot so I looked into it and Frommers wrote an entire article about how to avoid dynamic pricing scams. I highly suggest giving it a read before embarking on your car rental search.
3. Experiment with different rental time frames.
The cheapest way to rent a car is to play around with your rental dates. If you can be flexible with your rental duration, you might just snag a good deal. Some companies offer a deal if you book for a certain amount of time. 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!
4. Getting close to your travel date? Consider a Pay Now deal.
Many car companies offer you an option to get a low price when you choose their Pay Now option. Sometimes this will be the best price offered and sometimes it is not. Follow steps 1 through 3 on the list and you’ll have a pretty good idea if the price is reasonable. If so, consider booking. Just remember that Pay Now offers are often non-refundable so it’s best to grab these deals a little closer to your travel date.
5. Book through Costco Travel (or another club like Sam’s or BJ’s Wholesale).
Hip2Save’s Bryn always books her rental cars through Costco Travel because it’s one of the cheapest ways to rent a car. She saves a ton of money and the service is free to use for Costco members. One of the perks of reserving a rental car with Costco is that they often waive fees that are considered mandatory at car rental agencies. One example is that she skips paying extra for additional drivers.
Using Costco, you can rent with four major agencies – Avis, Budget, Alamo, and Enterprise. Bryn has noticed savings of over 11% on her rentals just by booking through Costco. 🙌. Members of BJ’s Wholesale and Sam’s Club have access to similar programs that are also worth checking out!
6. Take advantage of AAA and other organizations’ discounts.
If you have a membership to certain organizations, you may be able to get a great deal. For example, members of AAA, AARP, and USAA often get a lower rate simply by using the organization’s discount code when booking a car with a given rental car company. There might be other perks too. For example, if you use AAA when booking with Hertz, you can add a child’s car seat and up to four other drivers at no additional cost.
7. Use your credit card rewards.
Many Hip2Save readers have said they’ve been able to score discounted car rentals using their credit card rewards programs, like Chase Ultimate Rewards. It’s definitely worth checking to see if your credit card company offers these types of benefits. I know cards like Chase Sapphire and the Platinum Card from American Express come with some great travel perks. Log into your credit card account to see what benefits you might be able to access.
If you’re curious about what the best credit cards for car rentals are, check out Nerd Wallet’s comprehensive article. Your credit card might have made their list!
Check out what one Hip2Save reader had to say:
“I recommend using an American Express card or card with equivalent benefits to booking. 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.”
8. It’s usually best to skip the airport…but not always.
Renting a car from the airport may come with convenience, but it also comes with airport surcharges. These fees can add up quickly. It’s usually best to rent a car from a non-airport location. However, before making your decision, always research prices. Sometimes an Uber ride to an off-airport rental location makes sense, but every once in a while the airport may actually be cheaper, so be sure to check both options to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
9. Sign up for a Car Rental Rewards Program.
If you rent a car every so often, it pays to join a Car Rental Rewards Program. 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
10. 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! It may just be the cheapest way to rent a car.
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!)
11. Consider the economy car option.
Think carefully about what sort of car you actually need during your trip. The cheapest car rental is the economy, compact, or budget car option. Renting an SUV will cost you much more than an economy car. If you don’t need the extra room of a larger rental, you can shave off the cost of your trip by going with the cheaper model. This is a well-known tip for saving on your car rental.
12. Research car rental insurance options and use your own insurance, if possible.
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.”
13. Ditch the add-ons.
Car companies often try to sell you add-ons that can increase the cost of your rental. These might be options like GPS or satellite radio. Unless you absolutely need an add-on, it is wise to skip these unnecessary charges. Doing so is the cheapest way to rent a car. Plus, most phones have GPS and music available. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can always purchase a GPS that you own and resell it on eBay or Facebook marketplace once your trip is over.
14. Don’t pay additional for an extra driver.
Rental companies charge you extra if you plan to have more than one driver. If you belong to an organization like AAA, this fee is waived. If you don’t belong to an organization that covers the fee, you might want to consider avoiding the extra charge by having a designated driver.
15. 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!
16. 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!
Do you have a tip we missed? We’d love to hear it!
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.”