J.R. Tolkien

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R. Tolkien

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Budget Travel Tips: Smart Car Rental

1.  Compare airfare
2.  Smart car rentals
3.  Hotel hustle

I love the freedom of the open roads, especially when someone else is driving (usually my poor husband)  So I try to squeeze in a few short road trips here and there when I can.  I've picked up a few tips along the way to help lower the cost of car rentals.  Check out some of my techniques, there's even a super secret deal at the end!      

Road trip in Ireland. Ballaghisheen Pass, Ireland
Use your own insurance. The one sure way to save money on car rental is to use your own car insurance.  Generally, your personal car insurance coverage travels with you to whatever car you rent (this is true with State Farm).  Check with your insurance company just to be sure.  Rental company will be very persuasive in convincing you to take their coverage, so be firm!  Keep in mind you'll be assuming the risk and it can affect your personal insurance premium.

Use your credit card.  Did you know that most major credit cards will provide secondary insurance coverage for your rental car? This means, it'll cover any cost not covered under your car insurance.  Chase Sapphire provides primary coverage, meaning even if you don’t have car insurance, your credit card should cover you.  Check with your credit card company for this and other travel perks (ours covers lost luggage too).

Take advantage of your memberships.  Your credit cards and memberships usually can get you discounts.  Costco members receive nice discounts if they book it directly at the Costco website.  Car companies also offer discounts to AAA members, veterans, and American Express card holders.

Sign up for membership. We use Thrifty and Dollar a lot because they usually offer the cheapest rate.  By spending just a few minutes online to sign up for their FREE membership and pay online, we get instant online discounts and save a lot of time at checkout.  On our last trip to Charlotte, we felt like superstars. Our shuttle called ahead to let the front desk know we were on our way.  As soon as the shuttle arrived, the rental car was waiting outside, engine on, and paperwork ready.  In Vegas, we went straight to the garage to pick our car without waiting in line like the other suckers :)

Use aggregate sites.  Like airfare, use aggregate sites to compare prices on several car rental companies at the same time.  My favorites are: Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak.  Once I have an idea of which car company offers the best rate, I then go directly to the company's website to book my car.

Consider Hotwire.com.  I recently saved $150 on car rental with this site.  The catch: you won't know the name of the company until after you paid.  They will provide you with the essential details such as features, type of car, pick up, drop off etc.  My booking also showed a list of companies you're guaranteed to get the car from.  I was happy with the list as it contains names of all the major companies.  I ended with Hertz and very happy with the price.

Try a package deal. Booking car rental along with your flight or hotel as part of a package can save you a lot of money.  I recently added car rental to my flight and saved $100+.  Happy camper here!

Super Secret Deal.  Remember those coupon books the kids sell?  A friend shared this link that will allow you to get the same discount as those coupon books.  The link will give you a free upgrade and a few other discounts.  I'm guessing next year it will be enterprise.com/ent16.  Enterprise also offers free pick up and drop off!

Other things to keep in mind:
  • Read the fine print.  Make sure you get unlimited mileage (especially important for interstate travel) and look for any other restrictions on your rentals. 
  • Check your rental car for dents or any damage before you drive off the lot.  Report immediately or you might have to be responsible for them. 
  • Car companies usually offer a cheaper rate if you rent for a whole week.  So play around with your dates.  You  might end up paying the same for a 3 day rental as you would a 5 day rental.  
  • Book early, especially around the holidays, to save money and also to make sure you get the type of car you want. 
  • Most agencies have less compact car in stock, reserve a compact car and your chance of getting an upgrade is very high.    
  • Avoid filling up near the airport, the gas stations there are usually more expensive.
  • If convenient, consider renting at an off airport location, you'll avoid the airport tax.  
  • Search for online coupons by simply put in "coupon code" + "name of rental company". You might find some good codes to apply to your rental.  
What are some techniques you've tried? Check back next week for some tips on hotel travel!