While frugal air travel tips abound, info on saving money on car rentals is scarce. That’s too bad, as car rental can be the most confusing part of traveling.
Online quotes do not include multiple taxes, fees, and surcharges, and the rental agency will try to sell you upgrades, add-ons and all kinds of insurance when you pick up your car.
Often, you have no idea how much the car rental is actually going to cost until you return the car and it’s too late.
How do all the fees stack up – and what can you do about it? Here are five tips to save you big bucks the next time you rent a car.
Avoid Airport Locations – Renting a car for a couple days or more? Try an off-airport location. Airport locations charge premiums to cover costs like terminal shuttles and 24 hour staffing. Even when renting away from home, it can be cheaper to take a cab to a car rental location a couple miles from the airport.
Know Your Insurance Coverage Before You Rent – Rental car agencies make far more money selling insurance than renting cars. Every time you rent, the agent will try to sell it to you, charged per day, amounting to more than the car itself. They will often use scare tactics, telling you that if somebody hits you, you’re responsible. I recently heard an Avis agent say “the weather in Kansas City has been bad recently, and if it hails, you’re responsible for hail damage.”
While it’s true: the renter is responsible for any accidents that occur while driving, you are probably already covered for damage by your existing auto insurance policy. (Not sure? Call and ask your insurer). Additionally, American Express and some other credit cards provide free rental car damage insurance when you pay with the card. This feature does not cover personal injury or damage to other vehicles or property, however.
Finally, if you are traveling for work, your employer’s insurer may also cover you. If you are covered in any of these ways, at-the-counter rental car insurance is a waste of cash. The only time you should buy this coverage is if you truly have no other insurance options.
Under 25? Shop Around — Some rental agencies will not rent to drivers under the age of 25, period. Some will, but charge fees as high as $75 a day. Some agencies, on the other hand, charge no fee at all. This varies by individual location. I rented from Enterprise numerous times before turning 25 without ever paying a fee. When in doubt, ask around.
Bring Your Own GPS – Rental car agencies can charge up to $15 per day to rent a GPS. If you already own a navigation unit, that’s a silly cost when you can just bring your own. If you don’t own a GPS, but have just one destination to get to, pick up a free map at a state tourism office. After all, we did get around just fine for years before navigational satellites!
Don’t Forget the Gas – Forgetting to fill up your rental will cost you – rental car agencies charge as much as twice the market per gallon rate for gasoline. If you know you’ll be returning the car on a tight schedule – before a flight, for example – scope out the nearest gas station as you’re leaving the rental car terminal so you aren’t scrambling to find it before you return the car.
Do you have any rental car horror stories, or other tips for saving money when you rent a car?