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 want something not too small and with enough room for 2 suitcases, but besides that, a car is a car. Occasionally we do splurge, like when I got a Dodge Charger for our drive from Phoenix to Las Vegas.
There’s a law of diminishing returns when it comes to travel planning. Putting a little extra time into the trip can save you time, save money or give you a better experience. This is very true when renting a car.
When I used to fly to Orlando (before we lived here), I was very brand loyal and always rented from National. They were a huge company, and I could always use a discount coupon to lower my cost. Eventually, I got upgraded to Emerald Aisle membership so I could book a standard car and then pick any car available when I arrived. At the time, I found this to be very cool. Nowadays, I’m not as big of a fan of picking out my own car.
After checking, I found the prices with National were going up compared to other companies, so it was time to shop around. I stayed away from the smaller companies or ones that didn’t have a great reputation because a good rental experience does actually matter and from what I’ve found, they really didn’t give me that. I ended up bouncing around between Dollar, Avis, Alamo and Hertz. I signed up for all of their programs (which are free), so picking up a car was as simple as possible. If they have your information on file, you miss the hassle of an agent trying to sell you every coverage and upgrade. I want to get the car I booked and leave. Thank you very much.
Here’s my current system to rent a car: (Hint: If you’re in a hurry, just skip to step 3)
Step 1 – Look at a major website
This may seem like a simple 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 the lowest price that places are willing to offer. In other words, it gives me a reasonable baseline price.
Step 2 – Check a Wholesale Club site (or two)
If you have a Costco or BJ’s membership, check out Costco Travel or BJ’s Travel prices. I’ve often found outstanding deals and booked them 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. You need to send them a request with the online form on their website and you’ll get a comprehensive quote by email, usually within minutes.
The way I use the website is to find the lowest price from either step one or two. I’ll also put a request into Autoslash to see a complete list of rental companies prices. Then I book whichever car has the lowest price I can find.
Most importantly, no matter who I’m booking with, I’ll still go and enter 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, AMEX Plat, USAA, BJs Wholesale, Costco, etc.). If they find a lower price, they’ll send you an email asking you to rebook. I’ve personally had a rental go down over $180 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; they do all of the work.
Step 4 – Don’t forget about corporate rates
In this pandemic-recovery phase of travel, I’ve found that even the tricks which used to save me hundreds of dollars on car rentals weren’t working as well as they’d done before. One way I was able to find reasonable rates was to use the corporate code from my employer. It’s totally legit and the website says it’s fine to use the code for both leisure and work rentals.
Step 5 – 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. You can use several more tricks to search for a lower price, but 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 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, there are plenty of online posts offering 6, 8, or even 12 steps on how to get a cheaper rental. IMHO, it’s not worth spending that much time or effort to save a few dollars.
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