Finding the best rental car rates is as difficult as finding the best air fares,
perhaps more so. Whether you are renting at an airport or some other location, there
are many large and small car rental companies to consider, and rates will most likely
vary considerably among companies. Finding a low rate can save hundreds of dollars
over a one-to-two week trip. And like air fares, finding the best rates and making
a reservation is most easily done on the Internet. However, unlike air fares, rental
rates generally change less often and to a lesser degree, over a given period of
time. So “getting lucky” and finding the right rate at just the right time does
not come into play as often as it does with air fares. But there are still bargains
to be had, particularly if you can wait to book until you are quite close to your
travel dates. Sometimes published rates for those dates or specials will offer some
very attractive pricing, because of a surplus of vehicles for those dates at those
locations. Of course, if the reverse happens, vehicles may be hard to find and rates
may be very high, so booking a reservation early may be advantageous. Here are some
tips on getting a good rate.
1. Once your travel dates are firm, start searching the Internet for rental car
a. The first step is to identify rental companies that do business at the airport
you will be arriving at. Pull up the web site for the airport and this information
should be available. Of course, most of the major car companies will rent cars at
the airport, and perhaps one or two smaller companies will also.
b. But do not limit your search only to companies that do business at the airport.
Most of the time, rates at airports are higher than local rates, do to both the
perceived “convenience” factor, and because airports usually charge rental companies
very high surcharges, which are passed on to you. Sometimes rates can be 25% or
more higher. If you are staying at a hotel not at the airport, chances are they
have free shuttle transportation available from the airport, or the cost of a shuttle/taxi
will be minimal. Since, at many airports, you have to get on a shuttle to get your
car in any case, the convenience is not much different. Once you are in town, you
can pick up your rental car at a local location not connected to the airport, and
perhaps save a considerable amount of money on the rate, and even reduce the number
of days you need to rent the vehicle. When your trip is completed, you just return
the vehicle to where you picked it up and get the shuttle/taxi back to the airport.
c. And if you are considering renting “downtown,” make sure you consider smaller,
less well known rental companies. They can have some great pricing. A little research
will probably let you know if they have a good reputation and can be trusted.
2. Now that you have identified potential companies and rental locations that
will fit your plans, decide what kind of vehicle you need.
a. Assuming you do not need a specialized vehicle, like an off-road vehicle, luxury
car or sports car, it’s just a matter of deciding what size and type of car (or perhaps
SUV or van) will be best, keeping cost in mind. But be careful, some rental car
companies define vehicle sizes differently, even though they use the same terms like
compact or mid-size.
b. Generally, small vehicles are less expensive to rent and cost less to run. Given
the price of fuel today, if you plan on traveling a lot of miles, this is an important
consideration. However, given supply and demand, and what vehicles are expected
to be available, sometimes large vehicles cost very little more, upgrades are available
to larger vehicles at no cost or, in rare instances, large vehicles may even be priced
at a lower rate. So, if you know exactly what kind of vehicle you want to rent, just
concentrate on finding the best rate for that vehicle. If you are flexible on type
of vehicle (taking into consideration fuel costs), do not limit your search just
because you think smaller vehicles are less expensive. This is particularly true
if you are shopping for rates near the dates for your trip, or actually on the first
day of your trip. And be sure to ask if any free upgrades are available when you