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Renting a vehicle for vacation is expensive! Typical rental car rates can easily cost as much as your accommodations – which can put a huge dent in your travel budget. Recent disruptions to travel have made renting a car in 2021 even more challenging. To help you save that hard earned money on your vacation, we are sharing our top tips for renting cars to ensure you get the best deal!
How To Get A Cheap Car Rental
When we became full-time travelers in 2014, we sold almost everything we owned…including our cars. While we prefer not to drive when traveling abroad, anytime we are visiting our home country, the United States, renting a car is a necessity. As budget-conscious travelers, we have learned a few car rental tricks and have discovered the best way to rent a car at an affordable price.
How Much to Rent a Car?
If you are asking the question, ‘How much does it cost to rent a car?’ there isn’t a simple answer. The actual cost to rent a car depends on so many different variables.
Where are you renting a car? How long are you renting a car? What kind of car are your renting? Do you need insurance for the rental car? What extra fees are being charged?
How much a rental car costs depends on all of these factors – some of which are completely out of your control.
Rather than generalize car rental costs in an attempt to answer the question ‘How much does a rental car cost?’, we are going to share our top tips and car rental secrets on the factors you can control and help you save money on your next car rental!
Tips For Renting Cars
As budget travelers, there is nothing we loathe more than overpaying on trip expenses. Our car rental tips and tricks are tried and true car rental strategies that we actually implement when searching for the best deal when renting a car.
#1 Compare Prices On Car Rental Websites
The best car rental pricing strategy for how to choose a rental car within your budget is to compare prices online using a robust search engine. We think Expedia is the best car rental website because, in our experience, they offer the best rates on a consistent basis.
In addition to entering destination and dates, with Expedia you can also select characteristics – like type of car, company, car specifications and fellow customer recommendations – in order to tailor the list to your specific needs. Other top features that make Expedia the best car rental search engine is the ability to see the discounted AARP rate (verification required at rental facility) and the map search feature (which we talk more about in a minute!).
Although we think Expedia is the best car hire search engine, it is always a good idea to check a second source before making your booking. Our backup source for finding cheap car rentals online is Priceline. Similar to Expedia, on Priceline you can easily make comparisons of rental car rates – and, in a few cases, we have uncovered the best car rental deals on Priceline (even if it was only by a couple of dollars).
We also recommended checking back on these sites as your car rental dates get closer. Since car rental reservations are almost always free to cancel, you can sometimes find last minute deals! If not, no problem, just stick with your original car rental booking. However, if you do find a better deal on a car, just remember to cancel your first reservation so there’s no confusion!
Pro Tip: Another reason we love Expedia is that you can gain rewards points for every booking (cars, hotels, and more!). Those rewards add up, providing savings on future travels!
#2 Look Beyond Price Per Day
When looking for car rentals online, never price compare using the displayed Per Day price. Instead, search by Total Price.
The listed Per Day price is usually offered at an attractive low rate in order to lure you in – but it does not include taxes, fees and other charges that are included with the rental. Moreover, the pesky charges are not the same for all rental cars; they differ between companies, pick up locations and other tricky factors. So, in many cases, an appealingly low Per Day price can easily equate to a larger Total Price sum.
Online car rental sites, like Expedia, let you search by Total Price rather Per Day rates.
Pro Tip: One of the other details to check before renting a car is whether or not it has Unlimited Mileage. Often, fixed mile rental cars are offered at a lower rate, which can be enticing. However, car rental companies can charge hefty fees for exceeding the Mileage Limit – so, if you do opt for fixed mileage, make certain you don’t go over!
#3 Book a Weekly Car Rental for a Better Rate
One of the best tips for cheap car rental is to make a weekly booking. This, of course, only works if it fits within your travel plans – but weekly car rental deals can save you bundles. If you are going on vacation and, perhaps, are only planning on renting a car for a few days to sightsee the region, we recommend checking rental rates for seven days. In our experience, we often pay less for a full week than we would for just five days.
If you have an extended month-long trip, it might seem unthinkable to rent a car for the entire time – however, just like weekly rentals, monthly car rentals are deeply discounted. In fact, we have seen instances where the monthly rate is the same as it would cost for two weeks.
Pro Tip: When booking weekly or monthly rates, there is one thing to be cautious of: Early Return Fees. Some rental car companies will charge a fee for early returns, which could negate any savings you would have realized for a weekly rental.
#4 Avoid Renting Car At Airport
If you are looking for the best car tips for how to rent a car cheap, then this is it: Do Not Rent a Car at the Airport. Huge fees are buried in the car rental price when you pick up from car rental companies at the airport.
Instead, book a car from an off-site location near the airport – and take an inexpensive Uber from the airport to the pick up the car. It might be a bit of a hassle when arriving to a new city, but this is one of our favorite car rental hacks that has saved us hundreds of dollars.
Pro Tip: To find the best priced car rental away from the airport, search by city name rather than airport code. On car rental websites, like Expedia, you can also use the Map feature to search for the locations that are closest to the airport.
Interested in tips for finding the best flight deals? Use our Guide to Booking the Best Flights!
#5 Use a Credit Card to Cover Rental Car Insurance
When searching for the best car rental deals, one of the things they will try to get you to buy is the Collision Damage Waiver (also known as CDW or a Loss Damage Waiver). This provides insurance for the car in the case of an accident or other damage (like dinged doors and chipped windshields) – and it is wildly expensive. However, in most cases you don’t need to buy it if you have your own CDW.
One of the best car rental tips is to use a credit card for the rental car that also includes CDW. There are several credit cards that provide the coverage, but the absolute best one is Chase Sapphire. Not only will you get double the points when you use the card to reserve your rental car, but Chase Sapphire provides primary CDW on rentals – meaning there is no need to get your personal car insurance involved.
Pro Tip: There is an annual fee for the Chase Sapphire credit card, but we think it is well worth the price – not only for the car rental CDW, but for the many other perks. We use Chase Sapphire Preferred and get double the points on travel purchases, no foreign transaction fees and an extra boost when we redeem our points for travel expenses. Apply using our special referral link and you will earn additional bonus points!
Bonus Tip: Check Parking Fees At Accommodations
This isn’t really one of our rental car booking tips, but rather a tip for staying on budget. One fee that can sneak up on travelers when renting a car is the cost of parking. Many hotels charge hefty overnight parking fees, which can add up in a hurry! On the other hand, some accommodations don’t provide a place to park at all, which will leave you scrambling to find a place to park each time you return to your lodging. When renting a car for a trip, always check the fees for parking in advance!
Other Advice For How To Save On Car Rentals
One of the best ways on how to save money on car rental is to, in fact, avoid renting a car altogether! We have a few tips on what to do when even the cheapest car rental is too much for your budget.
Car Rental Alternatives
We shared our best vacation car rental tips, but if you can’t get a car rental to fit within your trip budget, we have a few alternative hacks.
If you are renting a car on vacation to get to attractions, instead consider joining a tour. Sometimes packaged tour deals are a great value (and are less stressful!) than planning the adventure on your own – especially if car rental rates are too high. We use Viator to find top-rated tours.
If you only need a car for transportation to a few places, it could be monetarily beneficial to simply use Uber a few times rather than renting a car for your entire trip.
Car Share Programs
Car sharing programs – like Turo – are a unique way to rent a car. Similar to the original idea behind Airbnb, with car sharing programs, you pay to use other people’s personal cars.
If you are fortunate enough to be traveling to a city with a fabulous public transportation network, riding the subway or city bus can be a fantastic way to save on the trip budget! We always recommend checking for additional discounts – like weekly tourist cards.
Riding a bike or a shooter is another great alternative to renting a car. Many cities offer bike and scooter sharing programs – and heaps of hotels (and even some Airbnb hosts!) offer free bikes as well!
We love exploring new places on our own two feet! It helps us to slow down, observe our surroundings and really get to know a place. Plus, it’s great exercise and of course, absolutely FREE!
Looking for ways to save on accommodations, too? Use our Top Tips for Booking the Best Accommodations!
We Want To Know: What are your top tips for renting cars? Share your advice in the comment section below!
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