19 tips for finding cheap rental cars

Finding Cheap Rental Cars: 19 Ways to Save Money

Need tips on how to find cheap rental cars? If you love taking road trips with kids and your parents, read on.

The 19 tips below and our recommended search website will help you find your best deal so you can hit the road and start exploring.

There is nothing more I love than a good road trip, especially when traveling with our kids. Road trips make family travel more practical and cost effective.

The freedom of seeing a new destination with your own vehicle is our favorite way to travel. It brings you greater flexibility and helps you reach those off the tourist trail places. It’s also more comfortable and easier to carry your luggage.

When you travel overseas or interstate and don’t have your own vehicle, once you’ve booked your flights and chosen your accommodation, the next thing to look for is a cheap rental car deal.

When searching online for cheap rental cars, there are a few strategies and tips to be aware of so you end up booking your best deal.

19 ways to save money on rental cars

1. Book in advance

When you book online in advance you will almost always get a better deal than at the counter. And it’s easier and quicker. The last thing you want to do after a long flight is deal with rental car companies at the airport and negotiate a deal.

Be sure to take all your documents with you as proof of hire and your rates to avoid any hassles (scan and save in your email account).

2. Check prices frequently

Just like when you search for flights it pays to check prices frequently as they do change – different days can have different rates. If you use an aggregator site that searches all the major rental car companies at once, it’s fairly quick and painless.

And compared to flights, the great thing about renting a car is that reservations often times can be cancelled and re-booked without fees, and in most cases your credit card doesn’t get charged until you pick-up the car.

So if you do book early with no cancellation penalties and the price drops before you pick up your car you can always cancel and re-book. Sometimes car companies will drop their prices just before a weekend if they have excess stock.

3. Adjust Pick-Up and Drop-Off Times

When searching for cheap rental cars online, the pick-up and drop-off times are typically in half hour increments. Try tweaking these times and see if it affects your rates.

Sometimes tacking on an extra day to that weekly rental, or even adding a couple of hours to extend it over a weekend, can actually lower your rate. This strategy takes advantage of lower prices aimed at leisure travelers who are more likely to travel on weekends. Weekend rates are great, but weekly rates can be the best of all.

4. Book the smallest vehicle you’ll need

Think carefully about what type of vehicle you need. Sure it might be tempting to go for the big SUV or the fancy sports car, but always think fuel consumption and the practicalities of your car.

Being comfortable is important so you enjoy your road trip. Don’t go small and cheap if you are crammed in like sardines.

Book the lowest class vehicle you’ll comfortably need, and chances are you might get a free upgrade at the counter, which often happens to us! Just make sure you can afford the increased fuel costs of an upgraded bigger car!

5. Avoid the airport

Off-airport locations are typically cheaper than airport locations (they tack on fees). Look in nearby neighborhood locations to save money. Just make sure the downtown branch is not on the outskirts of the city limits meaning a long and costly taxi ride.

This strategy is best applied in cities that have efficient and affordable public transport to get you to the dealer without hassle.

You can’t beat an ‘on-airport’ pick-up for convenience, but an ‘off-airport’ pick-up with a shuttle bus can be much cheaper!

6. Save on a days rental

If you don’t need your rental car immediately, take the complimentary shuttle to your accommodation and book a car for the next day. You’ll save a day’s rental and should pay less being an off-airport location. And do the same at the end of your trip.

7. Be wary of one-way drop off fees

Obvious I know, but one-way drop off fees can be huge and make it difficult to find cheap rental cars. Where possible plan your trip so that you return your rental car to its original location.

8. Check for unlimited mileage options

Make sure your rental includes the unlimited mileage option and you can take your car where you need to go. The last thing you want to worry about is getting stung for any excess miles.

Click inside to learn how to save money on rental cars

9. Check the fuel policy options

Some rental car companies will require you to return the car with the same amount of fuel it had in the tank at pick-up. Others operate a fuel policy where you, the renter, must purchase the first tank of fuel and may drop the car off empty – in which case, there may be no refund for unused fuel.

Where the car hire company charges for fuel, the cost may be higher than it would be at a local petrol station.

10. Age requirements

In most locations, the minimum rental age is 21 years. Additional fees can apply with certain car rental companies for drivers aged under 25 years or over 65 years. They are defined as more at “risk” drivers.

If you’re not yet over 25 years but are traveling with a companion who is, have them be the designated driver to save on this cost.

11. Additional driver fee

Extra fees typically apply for additional drivers. However in some states and countries spouses are mandated additional drivers by law. But you MUST add the additional driver’s name to the contract to make any necessary insurance claims valid.

Again, if you can get by with having only one designated driver you’ll typically save $15 per day. Of course, NEVER run the risk of driver fatigue, a few extra bucks is nothing when it comes to your safety and that of others on the road!

12. Additional state taxes and fees

Be aware of additional state taxes and fees that may apply if you cross state borders or enter another country. And don’t lie about where you are taking the vehicle, because if you have an issue you probably won’t be covered by insurance!

13. Decline the GPS (Navigation system)

If the car navigation system is an extra add on, skip it and use the Google maps app on your phone to save $10-$15 per day. I did that on my last car rental from Sydney without any issues.

14. Save on Insurance

If you use a certain credit card to pay for your rental car, you may not need to pick up the insurance, as the credit card company does that for you. Ask your card carrier before you travel, and you MUST use that card to book the rental. 

Also, check with your current auto insurance company to see whether a rental car abroad would be covered under your current policy. Again, call your insurance provider to see if extra insurance is even necessary. NEVER just assume you’re covered!

But there’s no reason to pay for coverage that you already have!

15. Don’t use your debit card

Book using your credit card. Not only for added consumer protection and rewards points if it’s a rewards card, but rental companies tend to hold a larger deposit for use of debit cards and the hold on your deposit may take days to be returned.

16. Bring your own child safety seat

If you’re traveling with a little one, is it practical for you to bring your own child safety seat to save yourself some coin?

17. Ask about specials

Do you qualify for senior citizen, AAA, credit card and frequent flier program discounts or add-on offers? These discounts can all add up and help you with finding cheap rental cars

18. Inspect your car before driving away

Do a thorough inspection of your rental car before driving out of the lot. If you find any damage fill in the documentation (get a copy) and take pictures with your phone so you have a time & date stamp. You don’t want to be held liable for damage from a previous driver.

19. Check your credit card statement

Once you have completed your rental, double check your credit card statement to ensure any extra charges or fees weren’t added that you didn’t ask for or receive. This can and does happen.

How to search for cheap rental cars

If you are like me and don’t have much free time, the last thing you want to do is spend days looking for a deal. But searching for cheap rental cars doesn’t have to be a pain in the butt.

The quickest way to compare rental companies is to use an aggregator site that searches all the major car brands at once and checks which supplier offers the best prices for your chosen dates and location.

We always start with RentalCars.com when searching for cheap rental cars, it’s a site we have booked through several times over the years when traveling from Australia to the USA, and whilst living in North Carolina for six years.

This site has saved us time and money in the past for finding cheap rental cars and we continue to use them.

In case you don’t know, they’re the world’s biggest car rental booking service (part of the Priceline Group) and in one quick search you can compare all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, Europcar, Enterprise, Thrifty, and Dollar.

To be clear, we are an affiliate of this site and earn a small commission if you choose to book through them (at no additional cost to you). These commissions help keep the lights on at yTravel Blog so we can continue to bring you awesome travel tips and resources!

How to search for cheap rental cars

RentalCars.com are in 160 countries and their website is easy to use and book through in over 40 languages and multiple currencies.

Why else do we search on RentalCars.com?

  • No credit card fees
  • You can cancel or amend your booking online quickly and easily
  • 24/7 phone support
  • 1.5 million customer reviews
  • They offer Theft Protection and Collision Damage Waiver

So, if you are flying to your next destination and you need a rental car, I hope these tips come in handy and also save you TIME and MONEY that you can use for pursuing other travel activities!

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19 tips for finding cheap rental cars. Plus the best website for searching and booking your next car rental.

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