These transactions always follow a predictable sequence, so you probably spend according to ingrained habits instead of frugal practices. Use these strategies to steer clear of high rates.
17.1 Plan Ahead
□ 17.1.1 Consider Alternatives
Don’t assume you need to rent. Other transportation may work well enough, especially in cities. Read travel guides for available options. Visit HopStop.com for public transit details and walking directions (in 86 cities and growing). Substitutes for rental cars abound:
- Borrowed cars
- Bike rentals
- Boats or ferries
- Light rail
- Hotel shuttles and van services
- Bike shares
- Car shares (ZipCar.com)
- Hiking Trails.
□ 17.1.2 Know Your Insurance Coverage
Learn beforehand how your insurance covers rental car accidents.
- Coverage for Business vs. Personal Travel. Many auto policies cover personal travel, but not business trips. For work travel, buy the rental agency’s waiver of vehicle collision/damage and seek reimbursement from your employer.
- Collision and Comprehensive. If you own an older car, perhaps you’ve dropped this coverage (see 30.2.1). That’s a good idea for your 1992 Honda, but not for a 2013 Kia rental. Your credit card might fill the gap. See below.
- Deductibles. If you carry a high deductible on your auto insurance (see 30.2.5), you’re at risk for that amount when you rent. Your credit card might fill the gap. See below.
- Credit Card Insurance. Most credit cards supplement your auto policy when you use them to pay for car rentals. Learn your cards’ policies and favor whichever one gives the best terms.
□ 17.1.3 Sign Up for Low Price Alerts
Major travel websites announce bargains via email and social media.
□ 17.1.4 Join Loyalty Programs
All major agencies offer them. If you rent often, sign up.
□ 17.1.5 Rent Twice
Don’t pay for rentals that sit unused while you sightsee. Return the car when you first arrive and rent again for the trip back.
□ 17.1.6 Try Group Buynamics
Vacation with friends and split the costs.
□ 17.1.7 Cut the Rental Length
If you’re scheduled to arrive late, book a hotel by the airport and pick up your car next morning. If you’re departing early, book a hotel near the agency and drop off the car the day before you leave.
17.2 Shop Around
□ 17.2.1 Check Rental Prices
Shop for rentals at these websites:
- Aggregator Sites. Travel sites have proliferated like prairie dogs in predator-free meadows. The solution: aggregators to herd them all. Visit Kayak.com, Momondo.com, or Mobissimo.com.
- Travel Sites. Best accessed through aggregator sites, see above, they include Hotwire.com, Travelocity.com, and Orbitz.com.
- Regional Rental Agencies. Regional agencies such as Ace, Fox, Midway, and Triangle may undercut the price of national chains. Search prices at CarRentalExpress.com.
- Rental Agencies away from Airports. Lower rates beckon, but be sure to factor in your costs of getting there and back.
□ 17.2.2 Reserve Economy Cars Only
When gas prices spike, the smallest cars leave the lot first, so you’ll likely receive a FREE upgrade anyway.
□ 17.2.3 Seek Discounts
Round up the usual suspects: coupons, promo codes, warehouse clubs, loyalty programs, and member deals (AAA, AARP).
□ 17.2.4 Cross-Check Aggregator Results With Rental Agencies
You may get better rates direct from the rental agencies themselves.
□ 17.2.5 Reserve Early, Shop Again Before the Cancel Deadline
This tactic has four steps: (1) reserve a car several weeks before your trip at a good rate; (2) docket the cancel deadline on your calendar; (3) before the deadline expires, search for better deals; and (4) if you find a lower rate, book it and revoke the prior reservation.
□ 17.2.6 Reserve Early, and Later Bid Less on Priceline
If your bid wins, cancel the old reservation.
17.3 Save at the Rental Agency
□ 17.3.1 Pack Smart
Save money and time with these items: driver’s license, credit card, receipt/itinerary (for online rentals), digital camera, GPS device (or map), and a copy of this checklist.
□ 17.3.2 Decline Insurance
You’ve planned ahead, so you already know you’re covered. Don’t pay twice.
□ 17.3.3 Decline All Upgrades and Extras
Stick to the basics and save.
□ 17.3.4 Agree to Return a Full Tank
Almost always, it’s cheaper to return a full tank than to pay the rental company to top it off for you.
□ 17.3.5 Photograph the Car
Take a short video or several photos to prove the car’s condition when you picked it up. Zoom in on any damage to keep the rental company from sticking you with liability later.
17.4 Drive Around
□ 17.4.1 Note Nearby Gas Stations as You Leave the Lot
You’ll want to visit one of them when you return the car.
□ 17.4.2 Know Where You’re Going
A good navigator or GPS system saves time and gas.
□ 17.4.3 Use the Gasoline Checklist
Most tactics work equally well for rentals. See Chapter 39.
17.5 Drop Off
□ 17.5.1 Fill the Tank
To avoid fees, top off at a gas station as you near the rental lot.
□ 17.5.2 Arrive on Time
Most agencies impose penalties for late returns. If you’re tardy, plead for a waiver.
□ 17.5.3 Check for Personal Items
And save the replacement cost.
□ 17.5.4 Check the Receipt
Confirm its accuracy before you leave the lot. It’s much tougher to resolve disputes if you wait until you get back home.
□ 17.5.5 Photograph the Car Again
In case the agency tries to stick you with damage that occurs after you return the car.
□ 17.5.6 Retain Paperwork
Keep contracts and photos for a few weeks in case of any disputes.