All things considered, renting a car is usually the easiest part of making travel arrangements for your trip. But here are ten things to keep in mind to help you maximize your car rental.

  1. Last-minute rentals are often the cheapest   Unlike booking a plane ticket, booking a car closer to your travel dates often offers lower rates than booking in advance. That’s because there is a lot of supply in the major car rental markets. Check for these last-minute specials in the “Special Offers” or “Deals” sections of each car rental company website.
  2. Don’t be afraid to reserve ahead of time  Yes, we just told you that last-minute reservations are often the cheapest. But if you find a decent rate while you are making your other travel arrangements, go ahead and reserve that car because with nearly all of the major rental companies, you can cancel at anytime with no penalty if you find a better rate later. (Please note: This does not apply to Priceline and Hotwire car rentals, which are final.)
  3. Apply promo and corporate codes   Use promotional coupon AND corporate codes for rate discounts on a car rental agency’s website in their “special offers” section to see what discounts are available on daily and weekly rates.  If you don’t want to bother with looking for these codes, use Costco Travel. They automatically apply the best promo codes to your car rental booking for many popular agencies like Budget, Avis, Enterprise and Alamo.  And if you aren’t a Costco member, find a friend who does. You only need an active membership number to book a reservation.  The best part about booking through Costco Travel is no credit card is required to make the reservation.
  4. Use a travel search engine    Check for rates on Kayak.com to make sure you are getting the best price.  Search engines like Kayak will compare prices across multiple websites and car rental agencies so you can get an idea of what car rental rates are going for on your dates of travel.
  5. Book a package    Try booking a car together with a flight and/or hotel. The large online travel agencies, like Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz, have good negotiated rates on car rentals and hotels since they do a lot of sales volume. So you can often save by booking your car rental together with a flight and/or hotel.
  6. Decline the pre-paid gas option   If you have time to fill up your rental car upon return, do it. The pre-paid option is a big money maker for the car rental companies. That’s because even though the fuel prices on the pre-paid option are less on a per gallon basis than the local gas station, the rental companies charge you for a full tank. And rarely do renters manage to return the car back on an empty tank. So unless you don’t need to save money or will be short on time when you return the car, decline the pre-paid option and fill up the tank yourself before you return the car.
  7. Check if your credit card or personal auto insurance covers car rentals   This is another big money maker for the car rental companies. But often your credit card company and/or personal auto insurance provides coverage, so you should definitely look into what coverage you already have if you want to save money on the expensive insurance rates provided by the rental companies.
  8. Book a weekly rental   Weekly rates (on a daily basis) are cheaper than daily rates. If you need a car for more than three days, you may find a total rental price less if you book for 7 days and return the car early. So make sure to find out what the current weekly rate is instead of the daily rate when booking your car rental to get the lowest total car rental price.
  9. Book your car in 24-hour increments   The car rental agencies always ask for a pick-up and drop-off time to better manage their supply of cars. But keep in mind that your car rental is charged another day for a total of 2-days even if you rent the car for 26 hours (the grace period is usually one hour, and anything greater is charged another day). So enter a drop-off time in a 24-hour increment because you never know if you’ll end up changing your travel plans and need the car longer.
  10. Pick up at a local neighborhood location   If possible, rent your car at a non-airport location. If you can pick up at a non-airport, neighborhood car rental location, you can often save a lot of money because the airport concession fees and taxes are always unbelievably high. They often make up 20% to 30% of the rental costs.
  11. Enroll in frequent car renter programs    Waiting in a line is the last thing you want to do after a long flight, so here is a time-saving bonus tip.  Once you book your car, make sure to enroll in the car rental agencies frequent renter program.  Having your personal information (driver’s license, credit card, etc) on file with the rental company will help you speed through the check in process instead of waiting in long lines to get your car.

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