Tips and tricks for getting the best car rental deals online or onsite

Sometimes, it seems like finding good car rental deals can be a notoriously daunting, but it’s not impossible. Car rental rates can change from day to day and/or even from location to location, but instead of settling for the first rate you find thinking you’ve gotten the deal of a lifetime, you should do a little extra online research to get the car best car rental deals on those wheels you’ve been thinking on.

There are many tips & tricks to finding a good auto rental rates online and I will be listing some of those in this article along with tips I have received from a previous car rental agent that will give you the tools you need to keep more money in your pocket and get the best deal possible.

car rental deals
Follow this simple tips and tricks to get the best car rental deals

Looking through travel sites (such as Kayak and CarRentals.com) to compare rates/availability options and finding the best deal having the travel sites do the footwork for you and follow these simple suggestions:

  • If your itinerary is flexible, try adjusting travel dates and times.
  • Play around expanding your search into nearby locations.
  • Explore within the different vehicle categories (See “Car Rental basic do’s and don’ts“)

Many of these travel websites will offer insurance for your rental, but make sure you read through it carefully as most will:

A)  Will Not cover third party (i.e. if you hit someone else).
B)  Will not cover certain kinds of vehicles (luxury, specialty or commercial).
C) Will have a low maximum coverage.

Then, after you’ve gotten a rough idea of trending availability and rates, I suggest going directly to the car rental company’s site that caught your attention and most likely, you might find an even steeper discount that way (particularly with “Pay Now” options. But keep in mind that rentals paid in advance are typically nonrefundable).

Note: Make sure to read the company’s terms and conditions since most travel deal websites will most likely not have the full disclosure listed (see below).

Too many times, you will see Yelp or TripAdvisor reviews and hear people saying “They didn’t tell me that there was a cancellation fee”, or “I was not aware that additional drivers weren’t covered” and so on, but guess what… It all comes down to disclosure, disclosure and more disclosure.

Due diligence neglect on your end, it doesn’t translate into failure to disclose by the car rental company. If you didn’t take the time to read the company’s rental agreement/terms of services or didn’t ask the necessary questions before renting a car, booking a limo service, hotel room, etc, chances are that should you need to litigate any “failure to disclose” matter, you will lose arbitration.

Live Example: A Yelp reviewer exhausted all arbitration resources (credit card issuer, Consumer Affairs & The BBB) trying to beat a $25.00 cancellation fee from a Car & Limousine service company.
Because the limo service company could prove to all arbitrators involved that the cancellation fee was properly disclosed all over the website, the checkout portal and on the reservation agreement, this person lost all arbitration attempts. On his frustration, he opted for posting bad reviews wherever he could as a form of retaliation against the limo company for not waiving the $25.00 cancellation fee (link to Yelp’s cancellation fee retaliation review post).

Tip: Make a checklist of questions you need answered before committing into a car rental agreement, limo service, car hire, hotel booking, etc.

Age and Geographical Limitations: Most companies will state that you need to be at least a certain age to rent a specific car category and that you will only being able to drive the vehicle in certain states without being charged mileage.

Payment Method Restrictions: You can rent at most companies with both a debit and credit card but there might be some restrictions like not being able to rent with a debit card at an airport location. In some cases, if you are renting with a debit card there are certain categories you can’t rent and some documents you will need to bring with you (ex: utility bills, bank statement, etc…).

Deposits: Most companies will attach a deposit to your rental price at the time of your booking but will return it to your form of payment when you return the vehicle. The deposit may vary (can be $100-$2500) depending on the type of car category that you’re booking or if it’s a specialty/luxury vehicle.

Cancellation fees: I cannot stress enough about really doing your “Due Diligence” here and find out all you can regarding cancellation fees. When we are renting a car, booking a hotel room, flight or hiring a limo, we rarely consider that we might need to cancel the reservation for any given reason.

Notes: Even after you book, keep shopping. If you didn’t book a nonrefundable rental, you can cancel your reservation if you find a better price.
While most car rental companies don’t have a cancellation fee (unless you booked with a non-refundable/Pay Now agreement), the hotel and car hire/limousine industry usually have a cancellation policy (It’s in your interest to know before you commit).

car rental tips & tricks
The do's and don'ts of renting a car (image credit: WikiMedia Commons =>Travelarz)

Renting from an airport location – Whenever possible, try and avoid renting from the airport’s car rental hub. apply so much more taxes, it’s borderline insanity.

Paying for extra accessories – they’re pretty much useless. GPS- use your phone, Satellite Radio-connect your phone via Bluetooth and use Pandora, and Prepaid Gas-fill it yourself, it’s cheaper.

Telling the rental agent upon arrival at the desk that you don’t want coverage or extras right off the bat – The money signs in their eyes will go away and they will much less likely interested in helping you. Let them get through their sales pitch and then politely decline. Or even better, add on a couple of extras as it might lead to the offer of a free upgrade and then at the end of the conversation say you changed your mind about the extras. If the agent takes it away now it makes it obvious they’re just after your money and not your convenience (no company wants to make that too obvious).

Letting someone not listed on rental agreement drive – If someone else is going to drive the rental make sure they are listed on your contract. If you did purchase the rental company’s insurance and someone else damages the car you will be held accountable. In another words, you’re screwed.

Inspect the car before driving it off the lot – If you find damages you should report them to a rental agent on the spot, taking pictures with your phone and presenting them later as evidence is not enough.

Always ask if they have discounts available (it doesn’t hurt) – For example, many offer discounts for having AAA membership or being an US soldier.

Try to be flexible if it would lead to better rates – Some companies have a weekly rate that ends up being cheaper on a per day basis. Sometimes a week-long rental will be the same rate or even cheaper than a two or three-day rental, insane right?
Reserve small rather than large vehicles – Economy and Intermediate vehicles tend to go extremely quickly which means if you book one within these categories, you have a high chance of getting a free upgrade or two.

Make sure you return on time – Many companies will charge you an extra day just for being 15 minutes late. Ask the agent about their return time policy. Some will give you a grace period and others will not.

Check what your own car insurance and/or your credit card will cover – That’s right, your personal car insurance policy and/or your credit card will cover your rental should any claims should arise (next section).

renting a car with credit cards
Does renting a car with a credit card automatically provides insurance coverage?

Renting with your credit card and attaching your own personal auto insurance policy may not cover third party claims or “loss of use” but it may cover roadside assistance, physical damage to the vehicle, etc (you must contact your credit card issuer and verify auto rental coverage).

Your comprehensive complimentary coverage varies depending on your credit card company and/or your personal auto insurance underwriter. Therefore, you must determine if the complimentary coverage of the credit card you’ve chosen to rent the car and your auto insurance insurance policy will provide you with all the coverage you need (always remember that it’s better to have it and don’t need it than to need it and don’t have it).

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