12 Great Ways to Save Money on Rental Cars

Airlines and hotels get most of the ink in travel and in terms of getting the best deal. But I rent cars. A lot. I’ve earned status with rental car chains, as well as Her list, my comments.

Now, here’s the most important tip to improve your car rental experience.

But here’s how you can save money renting cars:

  1. Rent off-brand. Fox, Payless, and others will often have lower rates than Avis and Hertz. The question is whether the lower rate is worth the extra hassle, and that’s a personal tradeoff. The lesser known brands may be off-airport in several cities, so more of a hassle to get to the car. (Although off-airport may be a savings in itself, see below.) They don’t all have the streamlined checkout and checkin processes that you can at least sign up for with Hertz, Avis, Thrifty, and National.

  2. Discount codes. Coupon codes can be found online and drop price, or throw in a tank of gas for free. Most corporate discount codes can be used by anyone without ID, but be careful of certain codes like those for rental company employees which will more often be checked. One nice thing with rental agencies is that most reservations aren’t pre-paid, so worst case scenario if you are denied a discount you’ve reserved you aren’t usually ‘stuck’ at a higher priced rental since you can always walk away and over to another agency to get a car.

  3. Reprice your rentals. Rates change all the time. You can outsource and automate the work by entering your reservation details into Autoslash.com. This will take your car rental reservation and check it daily for lower rates. Most people just book and call it done but often as travel dates approach prices will drop (when there are more cars left on the lot than expected). It used to be a great site for making the initial booking as well, but the major car companies didn’t like the money they were saving for consumers and banned Autoslash from making initial bookings. They can still track bookings you make elsewhere. After you reserve your car, go to the Autoslash website and enter your confirmation number and email address and they’ll do the rest.

  4. Rent Off-airport. You can often get lower rates off-airport, especially during the week, because rental companies price discriminate — business travelers need cars and will pay more for them, especially since they’re on a corporate dime and the upside of the travels will often justify spending more to accomplish meetings. So if you can get off airport you can save. Plus airport rentals are often loaded up with taxes, sometimes adding as much as 50% to the cost of the rental. Another tip for a longer rental is to rent at the airport on day 1 and then return the car to an off-airport location, swapping cars for the rest of the trip — combining the convenience of the initial airport rental with lower rates and taxes for subsequent days.

  5. Reserve the car for longer than you need to. A few extra hours on the back end of the rental may drop the daily rate, then just return it early to avoid extra hours charges. The broader point is to vary the check in and check out times by a half an hour or an hour before and after your intended rental times, since unexpectedly I do find that changing the time can vary the price.

  6. Negotiate. You may not be able to haggle price (though I’ve walked up to a counter and asked if they could match the price I told them I had with a competitor and they did), but you can often at least negotiate your upgrade for less than you’d have paid for the car type initially online. Of course what you want has to be available when you arrive. Be nice, be friendly. Don’t act entitled, I usually start with a smile and a hello, ask them how their day is, maybe sympathize with their frustrations over a previous customer in line (in a positive way, always).

  7. Prepay. There are several reasons not to prepay, some listed above, but some rental companies offer prepaid discounts. Of course once you’re willing to prepay…

  8. Hotwire. You don’t know which rental company you’re booking with in advance, but you know it’s one of the majors. They show you the price up front so you can compare to what’s otherwise available, I’ve seen savings greater than 50% at times but other times it’s not meaningfully better than booking direct. Since rentals are prepaid you can’t drop price later, I only like this option when the savings is big. And prepaid Hotwire rentals may not offer the same additional insurance coverage through a credit card that renting direct does, so there are tradeoffs, but the savings can often be worthwhile. (Priceline has a similar prepaid model, and can be a couple bucks cheaper, they don’t display the price up front — you might try searching Hotwire and then bidding about 10% lower at Priceline.)

  9. Chase travel portal and Costco travel offer good prices. Chase is prepaid but refundable.

  10. Sign up for frequent renter programs. The obvious benefit is expedited check-out, having your information on file gets your name and car space number up on a board with major brands like Avis and Hertz where you go straight to the vehicle and drive away. But the additional benefit can be free rentals — rental points with Hertz, credit towards free rentals with National. And there may be a built-in discount, e.g. 10% for Avis Corporate Awards members.

  11. Earning miles from rentals. Again not a discount, but can serve as a rebate, you can claim 1000 SAS miles per 1-day rental at Avis for instance or 9000 Cluib Carlson points on a 3-day rental.

  12. Make your booking through a cash back or mileage portal. Ebates and the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall offer rebates on your bookings for instance, just start at their sites and click onto the travel provider to make your reservation.

Update: After writing this post, Rapid Travel Chai posted his presentation on rental car savings from this past weekend’s Frequent Traveler University. I wasn’t able to attend the talk, but I’ve heard great feedback from many of the participants about how excellent it was.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have found that I get overall the best price by using the AAdvantage code on Budget. I don’t particularly care about the AA miles I earn but it actually gets better rates too.

    Also I use my Chase United card for the primary insurance in the US (outside US I use my AMEX extra coverage for $17.95 per rental).

  2. Be cautious about renting cheaper and hence older cars. I had a rental at Dollar recently in Las Vegas. The tire blew out on the freeway. I attribute that to a car with high miles on it and most likely poor maintenance. My next rental was from Avis and it was a brand new car. The rate was just a few dollars more. Well worth it for safety purposes.

  3. What about RelayRides? They have cars both new and old and are often up to 40 percent cheaper. Most of the cars are in major cities.

  4. be careful with #5… several places have started to charge penalties for early returns!

  5. I’ve been using Autoslash for about 3 years. I’ve had rates start at $250 for a week and drop down to $105 (for an Avis car in FLL). While that’s the extreme, I’ve still received alerts with multiple price drops offering savings.

  6. Addendum to #4 – often times you can get the price even lower if you rent off airport and return at the airport. You are doing them a favor by getting that inventory to the airport so they can then use it to gouge the aforementioned price-insensitive business travelers.

  7. I just love your blog, I read it everyday.
    But, as a renter of vehicles, where ever you
    might go, the one thing you did miss, is have
    your own vehicle sitting on that island, just
    begging for your return. — OGG in my case.

  8. I just love your blog, I read it everyday.
    But, as a renter of vehicles, where ever you
    might go, the one thing you did miss, is have
    your own vehicle sitting on that island, just
    begging for your return. — OGG in my case.
    Maui just sux to have to rent a car. JMHO.

  9. Thanks but after looking at all the trivial gotcha expenses coming and going to Seattle I have to wonder why the air porter, public transportation, Lyft and Uber doesn’t trump in both convenience and cost………….$55 overnight parking at the Olive 8……….

  10. I 2nd Bruno’s comment. RelayRides.com is awesome. It is literally Airbnb for Cars. For what you can get a shitty compact car for from the major rental car agencies, you can get a Prius or SUV from RelayRides.

  11. I’ve found the Capital One portal is significantly better than Chase. You can pay with cash, you just need a Capital One card for access.

  12. Two other tricks I use:

    1) when I travel with my kids, I use AAA discount codes and rent from Hertz via the AAA website. AAA members get free car seat rentals from Hertz and at $8-12 a day from most competitors, that can be a huge savings for a longer trip.

    2) In Hawaii, always check aloharents.com — they get you corporate rates with additional driver fees waived. Not always the cheapest (especially as prices often drop as you get closer to your rental period), but they’ve worked for me about 50% of the time.

  13. Look to rent from Florida in Spring from April 1st to May 31st when National & Alamo have $9.99 rates with zero drop off rates for one rentals as long as you drop out of that state. These companies need to move fleet out of Florida to meet the Summer rental demand everywhere in the country. The opposite happens in the winter. i was renting cross country to NY to LA this past Easter weekend for a crazy cross country adventure. None of the tricks described in this post would work. Yes I tried literally all of them. Cheapest rates with coupon codes or even Costco were $1600 for a Corolla like car even from no name of which there are few on the east coast. After hours of research I chanced on this Florida idea. We changed our itinerary a bit. Rented one way from New York to Jacksonville for 3 days $350. Dropped the car off in JAX and then picked up an SUV for $80 5 day rental to LAX!! Amazing deal through National. Our changed itinerary helped us too. Better weather down South anyways.

  14. It all depends on where you are. And what you want. If you want something nice, H nationwide seems to have the nicest high end. There are several private companies that will do luxury car rentals but I don’t get involved just bc of the insurance issues. If you’re looking for the cheapest transportation at the best price, it was almost always hotwire or pline, however now that travel is picking up, you don’t get those last minute emails that really chop the rate if you just shop hotwire a lot with cookies enabled and a registered email. Yes the cookie thing stinks but if they know where you are and you’re shopping and you don’t buy they used to actually email you even lower offers as the date got closer. Travel is up though. Haven’t seen it lately .

    The new twist is the mileage earning part. Doesn’t make sense usually because the rates unless you are corporate and have a strong relationship aren’t worth the miles. But to me I already know how to get the best number but if you can Match that number and still get the mileage bonuses on TOP well then that’s just gravy. And some of the mid to lower end players are getting aggressive with promos, just keeping fingers crossed the miles show up. And obviously, if you don’t really need a rental, none of this applies just take a shuttle , cab or private car to your resort.

    Oh and rental cars have real value if you don’t mind driving in that they are Unlimited mileage contracts. Now given the propensity of some of the lunatic fringe to do a one day turn Heartland to sydney, that’s a dangerous thing but if you can work it so it connects you between airports and you enjoy the sights in between.

    By the way, I miss Cramer saying the word ” POTASH” over and over.

    What could be better?

    Have a great week.

  15. I’m not against renting off brand like Fox or Advantage but they can be a pain if your in a hurry. For example renting from Fox at LAX where they take you down the road to a third world bus stop type facility and you wait in long lines with screaming kids and slowwwww counter people asking tons of questions, etc. Then when you get done you go a block down into a dingy parking garage to find your car. It’s an experience. Another is Advantage in San Antonio. It’s at the airport in a loose sense of the word. It’s like a dusty salvage yard office. Fun times. However both of these times (as well as others) I’ve gotten super cheap rates uner $10 a day.

  16. Love renting from National and use my Executive status that comes free with my Amex Platinum. I always rent a mid size car and have access to the Executive Aisle where I am always able to get at least mid size SUV but most of the times I got full size SUVs or Mini Vans paying the rate of a mid size car. My experience is that National offers newer and nicer cars than Hertz.

  17. I agree with Santastico: National consistently offers the best customer experience in the travel industry if you are an Emerald Club member (which is free: there are marginal advantages to being an Executive elite in their program). If you’re willing to play around with the codes and coupons (Flyertalk has a good list), you can usually get the price competitive with anyone else. I almost always regret when I rent with someone else to save a buck. Also, everytime I rent overseas, I look for the convenience and comfort of renting from National in the USA!

  18. whoops — that was “LONG for the convenience.” Renting cars overseas is often a PITA.

  19. Just rented in Italy. I wanted an automatic. Mercedes A1 was all avis/budget could come up with. In Italy , theft protection is required, and CDW while purported to be able to be refused, is priced into the rate. Try refusing it!
    The rates are outrageous! $510 euros for a 4 day rental.
    I searched every rental agency and even went through foreign sites. Priceline and hotwire are worthless because they either don’t work there or won’t allow you to select a car. Budget UK site wouldn’t let me book, kept failing.
    So, I get to the counter and the agent lowered the base rate so he could tack on $0 CDW (CDW in Italy is an excess coverage , leaving you with up to 2500 liability),
    and the agents get a commission for selling it, I am told.

    Well, I got back at them by unintentionally wrecking the car, lol.

  20. Hi, I read this site regularly. I rent a lot in Europe and the UK.
    Did you all know that Alamo and National are now part of Europcar, France? They are now all under the same umbrella in Europe (and I am told the USA) and try dealing with that situation in France!! Horrendous. I have been ripped off by one of the French Airport rental offices for damage I did not do, etc. I have had dreadful dealings with Europcar and the French offices never respond to disputes. Also when I called the USA number, you get through to the French number. Nasty all round. Does anyone have any of a similar experience and or advice.

  21. Anyone have advice for how to find the best rate when; 1)Looking for mid-size or bigger SUV and 2)One way rental from the NorthEast to the West? Thanks!

  22. I just got a great rate from Sixt on a BMW in downtown Paris for 4 days in June to drive to Normandy……I have used auto Europe in the past but Sixt beat their prices by a healthy percentage………

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