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Finding Cheap Rental Cars: 21 Ways to Get A Better Deal

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Its common knowledge that rental cars aren’t exactly cheap, but there are some strategies you can adopt to getting a sweeter deal. If you’re looking to know how to find cheap rental cars, then you’ve come to the right place.

We’ve taken many road trips over the years, including 18 months around Australia and 12 months around the USA, so we’ve got a lot of experience with using rental cars.

young girls sticking head out of car
Road tripping life

In this guide, we’ve shared our top tips to finding cheaper rental cars and suggestions for websites to use to help with your search, so you can hit the road and start exploring without breaking your wallet.

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.

But here’s how you can road trip with an affordable rental car…

What is the cheapest website for car rentals?

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. So, to make things quick and easy for you, if you want to find the best website for the cheapest car rental deals, the best place to look is on price comparison websites such as DiscoverCars.com.

DiscoverCars.com is a rental car comparison website, and is the quickest way to compare rental companies. It searches all the major car brands at once and checks which supplier offers the best rental prices for your chosen dates and location.

We always start with DiscoverCars.com when searching for cheap rental cars, and use our search results to negotiate a better deal with the supplier directly (though sometimes they won’t negotiate on the price, and in which case we will just book through DiscoverCars.com).

car by side of the road with coastline views
My rental car in Nafplio Greece

It’s a site we have booked through several times over the years, whether we’re traveling in Australia, the USA, and Europe, and have had great experiences with them.

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

Another site worth checking out is RentalCars.com, which is the world’s biggest car rental booking service (part of the Priceline Group) and in one quick search you can compare all the major car rental agency like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, Europcar, Enterprise, Thrifty, and Dollar.

DiscoverCars.com are in 150 countries and RentalCars.com is in 160 countries. Both websites are easy to use and book through in multiple languages and currencies.

There are more reasons why we use DiscoverCars.com when searching for prices, such as:

  • No credit card fees
  • You can cancel or amend your booking online quickly and easily
  • Free cancellation up to 48 hours before your booking date
  • 24/7 phone support
  • 1.5 million customer reviews
  • They offer Theft Protection and Collision Damage Waiver

Some other sites you can use to compare rental car prices are Autoslash, Kayak, Costco Travel, Expedia, and Hotwire (which is great for last-minute Hot Rate deals).

19 Ways To Find Cheap Rental Cars

car next to coastline
Karathos beach

Now you know where to look to begin searching online for cheap car rental deals, it’s time to show you a few strategies and tips to be aware of so you end up booking your best deal.

Here are some of our top strategies to getting the best car deals…

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!

IT’s especially important when renting a car in Europe that you book small vehicles. But be aware that trunk/boot sizes will be smaller, so pack lighter. It can be complicated figuring it out if traveling with a larger group. See our tips for planning a trip to Europe and essential tips for when you visit Europe.

5. Avoid picking up from the airport

Off-airport locations are typically cheaper than airport locations (they tack on fees). When selecting your pick-up location and drop-off locations, 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. 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.

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. Some require you to drop it off with a full tank.

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.

We always prefer to rent the car with a full tank, which makes it easier to return it full. Otherwise, if it’s less than you have to judge how much to put in. Often times I end up returning it with more fuel than was in to begin with, which means I lose money and the rental car company gains – and we can’t have that!

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.

In fact, some rental car companies require you to be over 30 in some countries, so it’s always good to check this in advance.

11. Additional driver fee

Extra fees typically apply for additional drivers. However in some states and countries spouses are mandated extra drivers by law.

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.

Don’t lie about where you are taking the vehicle, because if you have an issue you probably won’t be covered by car rental insurance!

It can work out cheaper for you to drop a rental car off at a city near the border, cross over the border, and pick up another rental car on the other side.

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 car rental from Sydney without any issues.

14. Save on Insurance

If you use a certain travel credit card, such as Chase Sapphire or American Express Platinum Card, to pay for your rental car, you may not need to pickup the rental car 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. Some credit cards have additional perks and extras such as exclusive deals with rental companies, so it’s a good idea to check with your credit cards first, too.

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!

You may also be able to do this with your travel insurance coverage. Our annual Allianz travel insurance policies cover us for the car rental insurance so we can politely decline this from the rental company. Always check with your travel insurance company to be sure. We share our recommendations on our travel booking resource page.

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 veterans, senior citizen, AARP, 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.

Sign up to the newsletter service for the car rental websites mentioned above, and you may receive a discount code in your emails on occasion.

18. Inspect your car before driving away

You don’t want to be held liable for damage from a previous driver. So before you drive away with a rental car, 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.

This isn’t about saving money in the beginning, but saving on potential fines at the end.

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.

20. Use Car Sharing Instead

Do you need a rental car for just a short journey? Then try using peer to peer car sharing apps instead, such as Turo, ZipCar or GetAround.com. These apps allow vehicle owners to rent their cars out when they are not in use, as well as find ride shares.

BlaBlaCar is a popular car sharing site, where drivers traveling between destinations can car pool their car and split the cost of fuel with a passenger. It’s much cheaper than renting a vehicle with someone since they already own a vehicle.

They are more common in Europe, and are an ideal choice for those who are looking to get to a different location that isn’t accessible with public transport.

21. Negotiate Directly With The Rental Agency

Once you’ve used a price comparison site to find the companies offering the best deals, phone them or email them and ask if they can offer you a better rate.

You are more likely to be successful at negotiating a better deal if you book in advance. They may say no, but the likelihood of them offering you a better rate is quite high, considering it means they don’t lose commission to the booking service.

Final Thoughts

views overlooking valey and coastline
View from the road

When you travel overseas or interstate and don’t have your own vehicle, you’re going to need a cheap rental car deal.

We hope this guide helped you save time and money on finding a rental car and gave you some useful strategies to adopt and get a good deal.

If you have any more tips, let us know in the comments!

More Money Saving Travel Tips

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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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