Renting a car can give you freedom and flexibility when you’re traveling, and in some parts of the world it’s the only feasible way to get around. But a rental car can also add complications to your trip, like trying to find the best deal or sorting out exactly which insurance options you need.
Choosing a Vehicle
Think carefully about what kind of vehicle you’ll need. If you’re traveling with children or with a lot of gear, you may want a large sedan or SUV. If you’re simply looking to save money on rental rates and gas, you’ll want to reserve the smallest available model.
Booking Your Car
You’ll find major international car rental agencies all over the world. But depending on where you’re traveling, locally owned companies could offer lower rates; before booking, read reviews to be sure their companies are up to the standards of the majors.
Always shop around. Check the major booking engines and aggregator sites (such as Expedia, Priceline and Kayak) to get an idea of what rates are available, but you should also visit the car rental companies’ websites as well — they often offer exclusive discounts.
To lower your rate, ask about discounts for any major national organizations, frequent flier programs and credit card programs to which you may belong. They’ll frequently offer deals on car rentals. (Those offered through AAA can be very good.) If you’re employed by a company that frequently rents cars, they may have a negotiated rate. Make sure to check.
Before you book online, do an Internet search for promotions.
If you haven’t already booked, consider joining your car rental company’s loyalty program when you book. These vary by company, but most of them are free and entitle you to certain privileges when picking up your vehicle; your information will be on file ahead of time, allowing you to jump into the car and go rather than standing in a long line or filling out paperwork. You could also be eligible for special discounts or free upgrades.
The newest way to save on rental cars is to hook up with a car share service. If you live near a major city or you’re a frequent renter, you may save money by joining a car share such as Zipcar.
Understanding Your Rental
If you’re booking online, read the terms and conditions carefully before confirming your reservation. If you’re booking over the phone, ask the agent about restrictions. Be sure you understand the conditions of your reservation. Is there a penalty for no-shows? How long will the car be held if you’re stuck in traffic on the way to the pickup station? Is there a fee for additional drivers and must their names be listed in the contract? Is your 20-year-old daughter old enough to drive the car? (For liability reasons, this is important.)
If pertinent, ask about any restrictions on travel across state or country borders. For your own protection in case of breakdown, be sure the company offers 24/7 road assistance.
For one-way car rentals, ask about drop-off charges. They can be exorbitant.
Always get a confirmation number. For airport rentals, be sure to give the customer service representative your flight number and scheduled arrival time. This will usually protect your reservation if the flight is delayed.