Saving Money on Rental Cars

Rental cars are useful, but boy are they expensive.  I am currently in possession of a rental car because my car isn’t really long-trip worthy, and we aren’t repairing or replacing it since we think we’re PCSing in the summer.  It was an expensive choice, but the best of the options available to me.

There are several ways keep the cost of car rentals down to something nearly manageable.

  1. If you are a member, go through USAA.  USAA has agreements with Avis, Hertz, and Budget and I rarely find better deals elsewhere.  I always look, but I rarely find them.  I’ve also found good deals through the Entertainment book, AAA, and internet specials.  Also look for coupons and make sure that they are properly applied when you make the reservation.  Some companies will not honor coupons if they don’t show up in the record before you arrive, or won’t apply coupons within a certain time before the actual rental.
  2. Don’t rent from the airport location if you have other choices.  Most airport locations have hefty surcharges – the one near my house is 10% of the rental.  Also, if you live near a different jurisdiction, check to see if their taxes and fees are dramatically different.
  3. Double check with your insurance company and your credit card to make sure you have adequate coverage, then decline the insurance that the car rental company offers.  Accept the fact that an accident may be a paperwork nightmare but save yourself a bundle of money.
  4. Carefully consider your needs both in terms of vehicle choice and how long you rent the car.  For most rentals, the smaller car is less expensive, but play with the variables a bit to see what is actually the best for you.  Then look at time.  On occasion, a slightly shorter or longer rental will be significantly less expensive.  For example, on my current rental, what time of day I return the car decides whether I am at the weekly or the daily rate.  Which is less expensive depends on your specific dates, discount codes, and any coupons you might have.  In my case, it is much cheaper to stay with the daily rates and therefore I’m pushing to get the car back before the magic hour.
  5. Be nice!  (I think I just wrote the same thing a few posts ago, but it works.)  Being friendly and pleasant may result in an upgrade or a better choice amongst similar cars.

Rental cars are rarely inexpensive but they are often the best choice for a particular situation.  Make sure you get the best deal possible by using these tips, and please add your suggestions in the comments. I’m sure you have more ideas that I hadn’t even thought of.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.