Rental Car Shenanigans and Savings

Last week, I had to rent a car on sh0rt notice.  I flew into the Norfolk military terminal but hadn’t reserved a car because I wasn’t convinced that we were going to get a place on the AMC flight.  Once I realized that I was on the flight, I hopped onto to research my options.  I was traveling with all four kids, aged 13-9, so I researched minivans and large sedans.  The sedan option was about half the price of the minivan, so I thought that the kids could suffer a bit to save some money.  Once I’d picked out the best deal at Kayak, I went to the rental car company’s website directly and found a marginally better deal.  Alamo was the winner price-wise and I’m glad that I decided to choose them.  I am positive that the rest of my month is going to be better because the agent was so great.

By the time I got to pick up the rental car, I had heard enough bickering for the entire trip.  I threw myself on the mercy of the rental car agent.  “I know I’ve only reserved a standard, but I’ve just spent the night with four feuding girls.  What can you do for me that isn’t going to cost a lot more money?”  The agent was awesome!  He found me a Ford Flex, which is that huge station wagon that sort of looks like a hearse.  It seats 7 people and has a large trunk.  More importantly, by the time he did something magical with the military and USAA discount, it only added $5 a day to my total rental cost.

I don’t know that there is any single magic formula for finding the absolute best price on rental cars, but there are certainly many things that you can do to lower the cost.  First, use a large travel search engine like Kayak or Travelocity to see what will be a good price for you.  Then use any discount program that you might have, like USAA discounts, AAA, the Entertainment book, or any other deals you can scrounge up.  Lastly, go directly to the website to see if they can beat any of the deals you’ve found so far.  Once you’ve got the best deal you can find online, book it and move on to phase two.

Once you arrive at the rental car counter, put your people skills to work.  Being charming and friendly can do wonders in this type of negotiating situation.  Remember, you want this agent to like you and want to make you happy.  Looking like a reliable customer can help, too.  This might not be the best time to wear your favorite Saturday schlepping around the house clothes.  Start off with a warm introduction and take some interest in the agent.  Ask how their day is going, comment about their cute hairdo, whatever will make them feel the warm fuzzies towards you.  Then start with your situation.  Ask for what you want, offer to pay for it, but tell them that you are on a tight budget.  I figure that this works at least 9 times out of ten.  If you carry your rental car discount club card, be sure to have it out when you hand them your credit card and driver’s license.  Mention that you’re military or whatever discounts you’re trying to use – there might even be more deals that the website shows.

If the agent is able to help you get whatever you need, whether it be a bigger car, a GPS, or some other perk, be sure to say thank you and be appreciative.  A nice note to the company will help everyone who comes behind you, plus will help the agent feel rewarded for their efforts.

Renting a car can be expensive, but there are lots of ways to find the best deal.  A little effort can pay off in a big way.

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.
  • JIMD

    I recently had the same type of experience with HERTZ at the Philadelphia Airport and also saved just with a few common courtesy’s on my part

  • jax

    just tell them you want the government rate, most places will give it to you with not questions asked

  • Anna

    Government rate is only available when on orders. You can always get a military discount if u ask though. After working at Enterprise Rent A Car for two years, I can tell you that a nice customer will always get a nicer car, a better price and friensly service. Oh, and if you buy their insurance every time, you will have a red carpet rolled out for you and the employees vying to get to write your contract…we would run over each other to get to the counter to help insurance regulars!!

    • CPT Danny B

      I have never had a problem with Enterprise until recently. They are now trying to nickel and dime me for scratches and dents that are smaller than a quarter and charge me for preexisting damage. This has happened to me at Dulles International IAD in VA and ORD in Chicago. Since it happened twice, I think it may be a policy. Be careful. Take photos and make them identify each and every imperfection.
      Better yet… use a different company.

      • Alvin

        when you rent a vehicle, it’s the customer responsibilty to inspect the car and point out damages. The agent won’t be charge for it. You will! Read your rental agreement!

      • Isa

        Good tip, CPT! Thanks! I’m heading to ORF tomorrow and any intel counts.

  • Betty

    I too had never had a problem with Enterprise until this Spring. When returning a rental, the agent found a “mark” on the bumper which we could not see and which he claimed was damage. Once we got right on top of it, we found it totally could have been rubbed out with a cloth but the agent would not let us. Then the company sent us a letter wanting hundreds of dollars to repair the “damage.” I am now cautioning everyone I know to avoid Enterprise anywhere at all costs.

    • Alvin

      rental car companies carry no insurance on their vehicle. They have a choice either pass the damage cost on to the customers or eat it. If it’s something you could rub out, it probably mean you hit something or someone hit you. If you didn’t inspect the vehicle prior to leaving, don’t complaint about charges you receive. If you feel that it too much, ask them for the full break down of the cost. Remember rental car companies also charge for the days the car been out of service.

  • Night Stalker

    Enterprise is owned by a former USN officer, a retired Admiral if memory serves. What you should be VERY aware of is Enterprises’ pricing structure. Enterprises’ rates are higher at military locations, like their onpost office at Ft. Campbell, KY. Rates are higher onpost because the company knows that the cars will generally be driven longer distances, due to service members and their families renting vehicles to travel “home,” across statelines and several states at a time. Local offices usually see their civilian clients drive far fewer miles on average. I’ve carefully checked this out at locations where Enterprise has been given access to military posts and bases. First, checking the prices on post/base, then checking the local offices and those at the nearest major airport. It’s time that DoD takes notice and removes Enterprise from the “favored” vendor lists and kick the Ret. Admiral and his rip-off rental agency to the curb.

    Night Stalker

  • Jay R

    Do a search on “Enterprise RAC sucks”.

    You’ll find lots of complaints. …too many.

  • wayno

    It’s a shame Enterprise has fallen so far down on customer service…a firm I believe was started by a Navy veteran.