Renting a car can make a big dent in your holiday budget. And it’s more than just the rental rate. Insurance and other fees can add up quickly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. On a regular basis I rent a car in Vancouver from Friday to Monday for a weekend rate of $9.99 a day. Because my credit card covers insurance costs, my total rental cost including taxes is $37. I’ll usually spend more on parking.
These deals aren’t once-in-a-lifetime either. You just have to find them. Note that there are huge differences between rental companies and even between different locations of the same rental company, so the more time you spend researching, the more you’ll save.
Here’s how to find the deals and save your money:
- Start your search early. Like airfares, car rental rates tend to go up the closer you get to your rental date due to dropping inventory and increasing demand.
- Use aggregator sites like Travelocity and Expedia to get a good overview of rates. You’ll be able to compare rentals between companies and even between branches.
- Once you’ve found a rate that you think is acceptable on an aggregator site, check the rental company’s site. Compare rates at different locations of the same company. You may find one branch is significantly cheaper or offers special discounts.
- Sign up for email notifications of special deals.
- Book off-airport if at all possible. Airport locations are often much more expensive than downtown.
- Search online for coupon and promo codes – many offer substantial savings.
- Look for weekend specials, but be aware many come with fixed mileage allowances.
- Remember that weekly rates are often much better deals than daily rates.
- Use a credit card that provides car rental insurance. In some places your current car insurance policy may already cover you or you can pay a small amount to get car rental insurance through your insurer. Always check coverage details with your insurer as vans, trucks and “premium” vehicles may not be covered.
- If you reserve an economy car for pick-up late in the day, you’ll often get a free upgrade because all the economy cars have been rented out.
- Don’t take “low cost” upgrades offered at the rental desk. Chances are that the company is out of your requested class of car. Just say no and you may just get the upgrade anyway.
- While not a great deal, you can book a rental with frequent flier points to save cash.
- Sometimes it’s a better deal to use a company that has slightly higher rates if they offer pick-up and drop-off service. You could save big on taxi fares.
- Ask if there are fees for extra drivers or driving into neighbouring provinces or states. Not all rental companies charge for this and over a long rental period the extra daily fees can add up.
- Reserve your rental in advance, online, for free. You can even make several reservations and then cancel the ones you don’t want. There’s no cost to do this. I’ve picked up a car for $15.99/day by reserving in advance and then stood beside a walk-in customer who was quoted $54.99/day.
- In most cases, it’s better not to prepay for gas and just bring the rental back with a full tank.
- If you rent a lot, join the rental company’s customer loyalty program.
- If you’re a member of CAA or Costco, check to see if you’re eligible for a discounted rate.
- Remember that prepaying for a rental sometimes nets you a better deal, but then you’re stuck if plans change.
And finally, just ask for a lower rate. The old rule is true: don’t ask, don’t get.