How to Avoid Overpaying for a Car Rental

A hand holding the keys to a Mercedes
Roland Denes

Rental car companies know how to make money, that’s for sure. From buried-in-the-fine-print fees to tempting add-ons, it’s nearly impossible to actually get the car for that enticing price you saw advertised when you reserved it. But these tips will help you avoid unnecessary costs, making your rental car as kind to your wallet as possible.

Skip the Airport

There’s no arguing about the convenience of walking a few feet from your airport gate to a rental car counter in the terminal, but that simplicity comes at a steep price. Airport rental car locations charge more than their off-site local branches because they often carry airport concession fees and other surcharges. You can save money by taking a taxi or Uber to an in-town rental agency instead.

Do Research and Book in Advance

Last-minute booking is almost always more expensive than booking in advance. Car rental prices are like airline tickets: the closer the date you’re going to use them, the higher the price. This means you could potentially save hundreds of dollars on your rental by booking just a few weeks ahead.

Of course, research also helps. Some car rental agencies offer lower rates across the board while others offer better discounts or promotions. If you don’t compare all of your options, you risk committing to a much higher reservation cost than necessary.

Also, keep in mind that many credit cards offer discounts with specific rental car partners. For example, some Citi cards automatically offer 20% off at Hertz, while Chase’s Sapphire Reserve cardholders receive discounts at National, Silvercar, and Avis. Check online or call a customer service representative to get details or news about special deals.

Skip the GPS

There’s nothing rental car companies love more than taking even more of your money through add-on features and special “extras.”

GPS is a great example. You have the opportunity to pay an extra fee to access GPS in your rental vehicle, which sounds good—except that you already have GPS via your cell phone, don’t you? In many cases, you can connect the phone to the car system, too.

Say No to Insurance and Gas

Car insurance companies offer their own insurance policies. They also train their employees to sell the heck out of those extra insurance options, collision damage waivers, etc. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into purchasing coverage you don’t need. The supplemental liability insurance policies offered through rental agencies cost up to $40 a day—often as much as the car itself—effectively doubling your daily rate.

If you’re paying with a credit card, it most likely provides rental car insurance. Your own auto insurance policy may also cover rental cars. And your homeowners or renters’ insurance should cover your personal belongings. Check with your carriers, though, just to be aware of any limits, and only buy the rental car coverage that you lack.

While you’re at it, decline prepaid gas options as well. If you leave the rental car company in charge of refilling your rental’s gas tank, you risk being charged for more than you were obligated to refill. The price per gallon might also exceed the cost at the local gas station. It’s always best to refill the tank yourself before returning.

When all is said and done, advance preparation and attention to detail will help you enjoy your rental car—and avoid a nasty shock when you see the total bill.

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