Gas prices are high enough, add a rental car and ouch! it’s darn expensive. Though I can’t help you much with the cost of gas (though I do have a few pointers that I’ll include in a future post!), I can definitely help you save some of your hard earned cash when it comes to renting a car.

Since car rental companies generally charge by the day (which is calculated from the exact moment in time you pick up the vehicle to the moment you drop it off), ensure that you are arriving later in the day than you’re leaving– otherwise you’ll find that you’re paying an exorbitant amount of money for the last few hours of your trip– ideally, you want to give yourself a cushion so you aren’t charged any overage.

Booking the vehicle:
First, check the prices at www.kayak.com (a site that checks ALL of the major travel sites at once) to get a price baseline– now you have a general idea of what you’re dealing with, pricewise. Next, you should call the rental car companies directly and see if you qualify for any of their discounts, advertised or not– throw everything you got out there, i.e. corporate discount, Amex/Visa/Mastercard card holder, alumni of X University, X State Resident, Teacher, Military, AAA member, Sam’s Club/Costco/BJs, what have you– to see if you qualify for a discount.  Also check for rental car discount codes at rentalcarmomma.com. Regardless of whether or not you get a discount, go ahead a reserve the car whichever company provides the lowest price and do so online at a site like Travelocity or Expedia  (and be sure to click through ebates for some cashback, too!)– even when you book a car you’re under no obligation (you can generally cancel at ANY time with no cancellation fee!) and you want to ensure that you aren’t left carless.

 

FabuLESS tip: Check different locations, including OFF airport locations– doing so will often save you significantly versus renting at the airport and most rental companies will let you return the vehicle to the airport for no additional charge.   Last summer, I saved 60(!)% off the cost of our rental car costs by renting a location in town rather than at the airport, well worth having to take a cab (with three kids in car seats that I had to install and UNinstall, no less!) to an in town location.

 

Now, the real fun begins– enroll on each car rental companies websites to receive special offers via email– and, believe you me, they will fill your inbox up with offers– if you can grab one that’s cheaper than your current reservation, book it to hold the low rate. Check Visa and American Express’ websites for exclusive cardholder discounts, too.

As you get closer to your departure date, do another round of calls to the rental car companies and see if you can beat that low rate– oftentimes, there are great, last minute rates available. Make sure that you are always comparing apples to apples and that the rate (including ALL fees, taxes, unlimited mileage and/or insurance– if you need them, etc)

Just before you leave, go ahead and check Hotwire or Priceline– and see if you can beat that rate down even more. If you can, great! If not, don’t worry– I have one last trick up my sleeve.

Once you get to your destination and get to the rental desk– ask if there’s a lower rate available than the one you booked– you can also ask if they can upgrade you for free. Ask nicely (very nicely!) and you’d be amazed at what you may receive– I’ve ended up with a minivan or a convertible when I booked and paid for only an economy car. Also, if there’s any snafu whatSOever, immediately ask for a discount– the last time I travelled the computers were down at the rental car agency so I was left waiting for over 45 minutes with a cranky husband, 3 fidgety kids and no vehicle– the agent immediately discounted the rate for my entire trip by 20% AND waived the additional driver fee– that saved me over $100 over and above my already low, low rate.

Insurance:
Call your insurance agent and find out EXACTLY what your auto policy covers when you are renting a car– get a copy of your policy and carry it with you.   Next, call your credit card companies and find out what coverage they provide, if any.

Do NOT waive the additional insurance unless you are certain you are covered by one or both of the above options– it’s not worth being penny-wise and pound foolish.

Fuel Charges:
Don’t prepay for gas– gas is ridiculously expensive enough, don’t overpay that much more when you can easy top off the tank just before you drop off the car– just ask where the closest gas station is before you leave with the vehicle.