Choosing a rental car is not the most glamorous part of vacation planning. When we travel, it usually doesn’t matter what type of car we have. I’d like something not too small and with enough room for 2 suitcases, but besides that, a car is a car.
There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to travel planning. Putting in a little extra time into the trip can either save you time, save you money or give you a better experience. This is very true for renting a car.
I used to be very brand loyal and when flying to Orlando (before we lived here) I always rented from National. They were a huge company and I was always able to use a discount coupon to lower my cost. Eventually I got upgraded to Emerald Aisle membership, where I could book a standard car but I was able to pick any car available when I arrived. At the time, I found this to be very cool.
After doing some checking, I found that National’s prices were going up compared to the other companies, so it was time to shop around. I didn’t really want to rent from Enterprise or Thrifty because a good rental experience does actually matter and from what I’ve experienced, they really don’t give you that. I ended up bouncing around between Dollar, Avis, Alamo and Hertz. I signed up for all of their programs (which are all free) so picking up a car was as simple as possible. It saves you the hassle of the agent trying to sell you every coverage and upgrade. I just want to get the car I booked and leave, thank you very much.
So, what is my system now you may ask?
Step 1 – Look at a major website
This may seem like a simplistic thing to do, but I’ll always start my search by looking at one of the major sites like Kayak or Hotwire. When looking at Hotwire, I can use that price to find what would be the lowest price that places are willing to offer. In other words, it gives me a good baseline price.
Step 2 – Check a Wholesale Club site (or two)
We currently have a Costco membership. Now, while we usually don’t step foot in a Costco more than 4-6 times a year to shop, we still use our membership to make larger purchases from their website and for their travel deals. If you have a membership, check out the prices at Costco Travel. I’ve often found really good deals there and booked on the spot. They tell you the car company before you book and let you put in your membership number so you don’t have hassles when renting.
Step 3- Autoslash
The Autoslash website is the ace up my sleeve when renting a car. I use it for EVERY car rental we make. Previously you could just go to their website and type in your request and get the best price from a bunch of companies. Now I’ve found if you do this you only get a few companies listed. You need to send them a request with the online form on the website to get a comprehensive quote by email.
The way I usually use the website is to find the cheapest price from either step one or two. I’ll also put a request in to Autoslash to see a complete list of rental companies prices. Then I book whichever car has the lowest price I can find.
Most importantly, if not booking through directly through Autoslash to begin with, I’ll still go and enter in my rental information on their website. This is where the magic happens – Autoslash will monitor your rental, applying all coupons they know about as well as any memberships you have (AAA, Entertainment, USAA, BJs Wholesale, Costco, etc.). If they find a lower price, they’ll send you an email asking you to rebook, or if you rented through them they will automatically rebook you at the lower price. I’ve personally had a weekly rental go down over $100 from when I originally booked it, thanks to Autoslash. The best part is that once you’ve set up the alert, you do nothing else; all of the work is done by them.
Step 4 – If all else fails
I’ve had 1 or 2 rentals where all of the above steps didn’t get me a price I liked. There are several more tricks you can use to search for a lower price, but just remember the law of diminishing returns. Your time is worth money. Taking up 24 hours that you could use for other purposes just to save $15 dollars on a car rental isn’t worth it for most people.
If you want to take a deeper dive into the world of car rental discounts, I’ve not found a more thorough write up than the 12 step process described by Million Mile Secrets. I’ve used the hints on using the Citi Thank You travel portal for a cheap rental in Key West.
When prices are high everywhere, I also check the prices from Silvercar (The company we rented the Audi A4 in the picture above from.) They are by no means the cheapest place to rent from but they do occasionally run some good specials that you can find with a quick Google search. By stacking these reduced prices (usually on weekends) with a first time renter discount, we’ve gotten rates as low or lower than those from the other rental companies.
- Learn what you may have to pay for toll roads before renting a car (especially if a road is electronic tolls only, with no cash option)
- What to do if a rental car company overcharges you for tolls
- Learn about the different kinds of insurance a car rental company will offer (and if you should get it or not).
- What to do if you’ve reserved a rental car and there’s no car for you when you arrive?
- Should you prepay for gas with your rental car?
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