How to Get the Best Car Rental Rate

So, you’ve picked out your location, put in your time off requests at work, and you’ve booked the hotel. It looks like you’re all set for your vacation-except for one small thing: the rental car. You probably have that gnawing feeling in your stomach as you think about the whole process. What size will you need? How many days? Will pickup and drop-off be convenient? Insurance or no insurance? Most importantly, how do you go about getting the best possible deal?

There are several ways to ensure that you get the lowest possible price on your car rental. First, treat a car rental the same way you would an airline booking: be sure to book in advance. Car rentals companies tend to charge higher prices for last minute getaways than they do for advanced bookings of two to three weeks.

Another thing that airlines and car rental agencies have in common is their fixation on what day of the week you’re traveling. If you’re willing to add a Saturday stay to your trip, you’ll often find that the cost of renting your car will be lower.

Second, consider exactly what type of car you’ll need for your trip. Sure, we all like to spread out in a big, roomy SUV for a road trip, but the expense of a rental car isn’t limited to just the car itself. You have to put fuel in that beast, and gas prices aren’t likely to decrease anytime soon. It may be that a little thoughtful packing might enable you to downgrade into an equally roomy full-size model, thus saving money not only at the rental agency, but at the pumps, as well.

Having said this, it pays to do a little research. Visit multiple rental agency websites to ensure that, if you have a particular car in mind, you select the correct class of rental car. What is considered mid-size at one agency can actually be priced at a higher standard class at another.

If you decide to book online, consider using independent sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, or Kayak. These sites work by receiving a certain number of airline seats, hotel rooms, or rental cars for a discounted rate, which is passed on to the consumer. Be careful to go over the rules and restrictions associated with booking at these sites. If you make a change to your reservation that costs you money in excess of your original booking, and you’ve failed to follow the rules, there’s often nothing that the agents at these sites’ 800 numbers can do to help.

If the prices go down, on the other hand, online bookings have the advantage of allowing you to ask for the lower price. Sites like Orbitz advertise a low price guarantee, offering rebate checks in the event that your booking costs less after you make your reservation. While other sites may not have this guarantee in writing, often a simple phone call can result in a refund of the difference.

If you’re renting from an office, however, avoid renting your car at the airport. It may be a small inconvenience, but airport rental agencies often have to pay additional fees to the airport in exchange for having a presence at that location, and they, in turn, pass that extra cost onto the customer. If you live in a larger city, you’ll likewise want to seek out a suburban rental office in order to avoid in-city taxes and surcharges. In addition, you may want to consider smaller agencies. They may lack the inventory of a Dollar or an Avis, but they can make up for that in low overhead, which means less cost for you.

Some additional ways you can get value from your next car rental:

Match your rental car class to the days of the week you’re traveling for extra savings. SUV’s, vans, and large pickups rent more cheaply during the week, while luxury cars cost less on the weekends.

If you rent several times a year, consider joining a frequent customer club. The savings can add up quickly.

If you’re going to rent from an agency in a larger city, book an economy vehicle. These tend to be in short supply in urban markets, and will oversell quickly. When you arrive, the likelihood is greater that your requested vehicle will be unavailable, and you’ll be upgraded to a higher class at no charge.

Learn more about the best car rental rate here.