As summer approaches and vacations draw closer, it's time to start thinking about car rentals. Renting a car is one of those things that, if you aren't careful, can get very expensive and blow your entire vacation budget.
Here are six car rental tricks that will save you cash the next time you visit the counter.
1. Skip the insurance
Car rental companies will ask you if you want their collision damage waiver (CDW), which waives you of responsibility if you damage the car. It's not bad coverage if you're not paying for it -- but since you are, you may be able to skip it.
If you have auto insurance and you're renting a car for personal use, your auto insurance will cover the rental car. There's one big difference -- you're still responsible for your deductible. The car rental insurance has no deductible, but your personal auto insurance will, so in the event of damage or loss you'd still be personally responsible for the amount of the deductible.
Also, many credit cards come with car rental insurance as a benefit already. It typically falls under the travel protection perks, and almost every major credit card offers some kind of coverage. Review your credit card's specific policy and pick the card with the most generous benefits.
2. Skip the airport rental
You might want to avoid renting a car from the airport because those typically charge the highest rates. Car rental companies know that if you are renting a car from the airport, you don't have many other options. If you fly into an airport, it's not practical to rent from a non-airport car rental company because it's difficult to get to the facility. If you fly into an airport and need a rental car, there's also a high likelihood you're there on business and your company is paying for the car. All those signs point to higher rates.
If you have flexibility, search for a car at a non-airport rental location and you'll often pay less. If you are willing to take an extra step and the city has a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft, you could always use one of those services to get you to and from the facility. Depending on the difference in prices, this extra step may be worth it.
3. Remember member & corporate discounts
Car rental companies have a lot of partnerships with other organizations, such as corporate partners. If you work for a large corporation, chances are there is a corporate rate you can use even for personal travel. At one firm where I worked, there was a code we could use on corporate or personal travel for discounts at car rental companies. We were encouraged to use it for all bookings, since it increased the total value of the partnership.
Stores like Costco also have relationships where you can save big on car rentals. When searching, remember these separate search portals so you get the biggest discount available.
4. Don’t forget travel rewards
As a frequent flyer, I'm always on the lookout for promotions to earn extra points. (You can find an expert guide to credit cards for racking up airline miles here.) Many airline loyalty programs have partnerships with car rental companies; it's a natural pairing, so you can often earn points for renting from the right companies.
5. Ask for upgrades
When checking in to pick up your car, the representative might try one last time to sell you on an upgrade. A car that sits in the lot is one that isn't earning money, so they're always trying to get you to pay a little more. Oftentimes, these upgrades at the counter will be cheaper than on a website or when you book earlier in the week; it's their one last chance.
If you would consider an upgrade for a small price and they don't ask you, ask them. Sometimes they're willing give it to you for free, especially if they need to get rid of a car on the lot or at a significant discount.
6. Beware additional driver, age, mileage, & other add-ons
When comparison shopping, keep these fees in mind. There are a lot of fees all rental companies collect, like those related to the airport, municipality, state or federal authorities, but there is still a laundry list of fees they assess on their own.
For example, if you are renting a car and under the age of 25, there is a fee. Some car rental companies will limit your daily mileage, charging if you exceed the limit. Don't forget these potential gotchas or you'll have a very big surprise at the end of your vacation.
Lastly, don't forget to fill up the gas tank before you return the car and save the receipt. If there is a dispute about fuel, you can show the receipt as proof you filled up right before you returned the vehicle.
Remember, the less you pay for your car, the more you can pay for souvenirs.