Five years ago, pretty much no one was thinking of renting a car and driving across the US. Something to do with $4 and 5 a gallon gas prices? Now that things are starting to level out, it might be time to crank up the tunes and take a road trip across the country. Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks, maybe? Pacific Coast Highway? If you’re willing to make an excursion out of it, the sky’s the limit. But regardless of how accommodating fuel prices might be today or tomorrow, rental prices and gimmicks are at an all-time high. So, how can you avoid getting gouged on your next rental while still having the trip of your life? You might be surprised how simple and practical it can be. Here are some sites and tips for car rentals that can help:
Real talk: Kayak rules the vacation planning ring. The biggest benefit of using this site is that all your travel can be planned on one single site, accommodating flexible travel dates, locations, and the like. Kayak will always find you the best prices, and you can even set up alerts to let you know when prices drop.
Though based on the continent, this site, like Kayak, offers comprehensive planning options for any car rental. There’s also an added bonus of picking your transmission type.
These tips will also help cut costs:
CUT THE FLUFF
You and I both want to cruise the coast in a Mustang or Corvette, but it’s just not feasible for everyone on a budget. So first of all, make sure you’re getting a fuel-economic model and make sure it’s just big enough to fit your group and your stuff. Leave the Escalade for the rap videos. Most rental companies are working hard to incentivize their renters by offering great deals on hybrids and small-engine car models. You can probably take advantage and save some money picking those models. If you are going to travel with a little one make sure you figure out if the rental company provides a safe car seat.
Watch out for those one-way drop-off fees. By that, we mean renting a car in Dallas and dropping it off in Flagstaff. Most if not all rental companies have hidden fees built into any rental that gets dropped off in another place than where it was picked up. So, though it might take another day of travel, try to plan on dropping off your car at the same location it was picked up at.
Forget airports! Sure, it’s convenient to just grab the car and go when you land. But, it will almost always entail some added fees. That’s because the rental companies themselves have to pay high taxes and fees in order to operate within the airport. And obviously the car rental business isn’t one of charity. So if you can take advantage of the airport shuttle service to get to a nearby car rental office location, it might be worth it to save some money on rentals.
KNOW YOUR INSURANCE
Beware of fear-mongering desk clerks whose very job is to get you to pay extra money for rental insurance you may or may not need. These insurance plans can tack an extra 15-30% on the price, so make sure that if you’re spending the money you will be well-covered for any unforeseen (or foreseen if you plan to take it rough) occurrence.
Another thing to keep in mind that if you use your credit card – which you should, since the holding fees are considerably lower than with a debit card, not to mention the bonus points you’ll get – most credit card companies will have a built-in coverage for rentals. So, check with your credit card company to see if the purchase will have minor scrapes and damages covered. Take lots of pictures when you rent your car! That’ll keep you from having to pay money for someone else’s shenanigans that used the car before you.
It can be difficult to have wiggle room on when to take a road trip, especially if you’re a working professional or need to ask for the time off. But, if you can, try tweaking around the days (or even the hours/time) of your pickup and drop-off. You might be surprised to save $100 on your car rental because you kept the rental for a day more or a day less. Also, sometimes a midweek rental will be cheaper, but sometimes (believe it or not) it’s cheaper to rent for the weekend. Rental companies predict peak travel times for leisure travelers (weekenders), and they try to amp up sales volumes by offering lower prices on the weekend. So you never know how a day or two’s difference might lower the price on your rental.
Renting a car for your next road trip – get this – is actually feasible! If you want to save some money, just try out a few of the tips in this article.