How to Rent a Car for Cheap

Get Where You're Going Without Breaking the Bank

Renting a car can be intimidating, especially if you're planning a family vacation on a tight budget. Relax! There are plenty of ways to get around paying top dollar for a rental car, if you take the time to do a little bit of smart shopping.

Consider How Much Car You Really Need

The size of your rental car will depend on the size of your family. You’ll obviously need room for kids and luggage, but it’s smart to err on the side of smaller to get the best deal. A compact SUV, for instance, is typically one of the more economical options, but it’s roomier than you might expect. Chances are good that the company will upgrade you anyway because most sites tend to run out of economy cars quickly.

Here are some more tips on how and when to rent for the best deals.

Plan Ahead

Book your vehicle two to three weeks in advance for the best rate. You might find that prepaying deepens your discount. If you’re booking a vacation, check if there’s an option to include a rental car in your vacation package, as that could mean another discount.

Shop Around

There are many rental car companies, and sometimes all that competition can work to your advantage. It’s easy to go online and plug your itinerary into the various websites to see which company has the best deal for you.

Consult an Aggregate Site

Kayak, Priceline, and similar sites can be extremely useful in finding the best rate. Once you’ve found what looks like a good deal, though, it doesn’t hurt to check the rental company’s site directly. Sometimes, there’s an additional perk you might otherwise have missed.

Use Membership Perks

Memberships with companies like Costco, USAA, AAA and AARP can sometimes be leveraged into discounts on auto rental. Some credit card companies and frequent flyer programs offer you discounts on rental cars, and you’ll also earn extra miles for renting. Additionally, look into becoming a member of the rental car company itself: Companies such as Alamo and Enterprise offer members VIP perks that include discounts and upgrades.

Be Flexible

The airport may be the most convenient spot to pick up your car, but there might be extra costs involved. Check different locations of the same rental car company to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal.

Rent the Week

Sometimes, renting for five days costs more than renting for a week. Especially if your vacation days are flexible, take a few minutes to plug different timelines into the website’s calculator. If you end up with more days than you need, you might be able to return the car early for a prorated refund. Just make sure to read the fine print, since some companies charge an early return fee.

Skip the Extras

You probably don’t need to purchase the insurance, because often your own car insurance will cover you; check with your provider to make sure. You can also check with your credit card company, as many types of cards provide car rental insurance, as long as you use that card to rent the car. It's not necessary to prepay for gas or rent a transponder for toll roads either, as you can usually manage both for a lower cost on your own. It’s a good idea to choose one driver, rather than adding an additional driver, which incurs an extra charge.

Always Look for Coupons

Sites like RetailMeNot and often have rental car discounts that you might not know about if you didn’t look. Once you think you’ve nailed down the best rate, check with a coupon site to see if you can drive it down even further.

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