July 31, 2009

5 Tips for Saving Money on Auto Rentals

Auto rental rates have risen this year, but the consumer can realize considerable savings by comparing details before making a reservation.

1. Do your research.

• Go to travel websites like Travelocity or Carrentals.com to search for deals on auto rentals at your desired location. Visit the websites of rental car companies, too.
• Before making an online reservation, phone the rental company’s local office at your destination to see if there are any special offers. If the agency knows you’re shopping around, you may get a better quote – auto rental firms are seriously competing for your business.

2. Be aware of extra fees.

Include these when comparing prices. Some of these costs can be avoided; others are unavoidable, but you should be aware of them.

• Don’t prepay for a tank of gasoline. Fill it up yourself, and you’ll likely need less than a tank full. But you’ll pay a hefty fee for a tank that’s not filled.
• Some auto rental agencies charge a refundable deposit, up to hundreds of dollars, against failure to return the car. This will be charged to your credit card, though unprocessed until the car is overdue. However, it may cut into your card’s spending limit.
• Ask if there any mileage fees.
• Avoid a portion of state and city taxes by picking up the car at a suburban auto rental location.
• If the agency charges airport fees, pick up your car at a non-airport location. That “free” shuttle from the airport to the agency may cost several dollars a day.

3. Decline the insurance.

Check with your auto insurance agent to see if your policy covers rented cars. A credit card used to pay for an auto rental often provides collision coverage. Resist the rental agency’s efforts to sell you additional auto insurance, such as a collision damage waiver.

4. Be flexible with size and time.

• Smaller cars have lower auto rental rates, but a larger vehicle may provide comfort worth a couple of dollars a day.
• If you’re offered a free upgrade to a larger vehicle, remember that its fuel will cost more.
• A weekly rental rate may be almost as low as rates for as little as three days.
• Weekend rates are often lower than weekday rates.

5. Look everywhere for discounts.

• These may come with membership in AARP, AAA, a discount store, frequent flier programs, or with credit cards or hotels. Can you use your employer’s corporate code for personal travel?
• Earn upgrades, free rental days, and other benefits with “frequent rental programs” adopted by many auto rental agencies.

Be a good consumer; arm yourself with knowledge, and the savings are yours to enjoy.