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Travel - Getting There
Written by the frugal nomad   
Thursday, 15 October 2009 14:13
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How To Cut Your Car Rental Bill
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Off Airport for a Deal
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There is also the convenience factor. The major car rental agencies have cars available right at the airport. The second tier agencies might require you to take a two to three mile shuttle ride. Even so it’s time you might not have. If that’s the case, check out the Alamo or Thrifty rates. They tend to have both their counters and their cars at the airport and their rates are usually more competitive than Avis or Hertz.

But let’s go back to the huge 250% divide between picking up a four day rental at JFK versus Seattle. By declining insurance coverage, you can knock off over $50 from the Hertz rate - but that still leaves you with a $300.00 bill. Now, of course most people don’t have the luxury of changing their destinations just to save a couple of hundred bucks on a rental. And that’s where you have to get creative. You can start by checking the rates in Newark. And what a difference that makes. The cheapest quote on for Newark was $109.45. And here’s the rub - it was from Hertz.

How can that possibly be? For one thing, you don’t get to pick it up at the airport. You need to go to go to a ‘back alley’ four miles from the airport located at 1649 Springfield Avenue in Maplewood. Tell them I sent you and check for dead bodies in the trunk before you sign the contract. If you decide it’s worth the hassle - make sure you ask about their business hours. Not that it matters, because you can always use the key drop box. But the end result is that you narrow the gap between a rental in Seattle and one in New York to $10 - a ten percent premium. If you’re going to book a car for a couple of weeks - the savings might be enough to cover your airfare. And chances are, if you’re renting a car in the New York Metropolitan Area, you’re not heading to Manhattan anyway.

The lesson here is that you should always check the car rates before you book a flight. In this particular case, it might convince you that it makes infinitely more sense to fly into Newark instead of JFK. As an added bonus, the flights to Newark tend to be cheaper.

If you’re flexible on your travel dates - you can usually get the best car rental deals during the weekends. That’s also true with airline tickets and many hotels that usually cater to the business traveler. That brings us to another quirky thing about car rentals - If you stay longer, the daily rate might go up because it includes more ‘premium’ business days. In the case of the Seattle example, if you extended the booking from four days to six days, the lowest daily rate went from $15/day to $21/day.

Car rental agencies are nothing like Costco - when it comes to setting their rates, they have their own peculiar madness. Take Miami, you might get the cheapest rates during the high season. Why? Because a lot of retired New Yorkers and New Englanders rent their cars one way and then drop off the vehicles in Miami and they just sit there till the snow birds get ready to drive back north. So there is usually a huge surplus of cars available for rent in the winter.

And these days, the car rental agencies can’t give away SUVs, because they consume so much gas. So, you might actually get a better deal than a compact. That’s the equivalent of paying less for a five star hotel because their room air-conditioners use more electricity. The only difference being that with car rentals you end up paying the fuel bill.

There are a few final tips that might help slash your car rental bill. Don’t forget to top of the tank before you drop off the car. If you think gas prices are high, check out the price of filling her up at your friendly car agency. Don’t show up late - they’ll charge you for another hour or two at nearly the day rate. If you’re going to be renting for a few months, try to get a short term lease from a car rental company. Aside from being cheaper, a lease might help you dodge some of “Tax and Fee Recovery Charges” that apply only to rentals.

Another trick is to rent the smallest or next to smallest car for the lowest rate. Oftentimes you will walk in and they will offer you an upgrade to a larger car. Many times that is code word that they are out of your small car and are hoping to get you to upgrade. People want smaller cars because of the price of gas. Don’t, half the time you will get the midsized vehicle for free.

The Frugal Nomad has travelled to over 40 countries and lived, studied and worked for extended periods of time in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Wellington, New Zealand and Alexandria, Egypt. He calls Seattle home - for now.


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glenn  - try renting away from the airport |2010-10-18 04:28:34
Car rentals at the airport add various airport fees. For long stays (we vacation in Fort Lauderdale for 10 days every year)it often pays to take a taxi to a nearby car rental site off the airport premises.
LeanLifeCoach  - |2009-11-09 22:04:47
12 year warrior here...Last year I rented a car (personal trip) with Amex and did not get extra insurance. Of course I had a wreck that was my fault. Amex covered cost of damage to rental. My insurance covered other car. I had to pay for loss of use to rental agency. 10 days at full rates... ouch!!!

However, still not convinced insurance is worth cost. I rent almost every week for work. Over 12 years of work rentals with no accidents.

If I had always paid for insurance it would have cost much more than 10 days loss of use.
gman  - credit card insurance..... beware |2009-10-25 13:00:39
just be careful that you dont rent a truck either Uhaul or through a car rental agency! most of the time they do not cover truck or van rentals only cars. Some even exclude premuim rentals such as convertables or Prius unless they upgrade you for free......
Omiewon  - Great point using certain credit cards |2009-10-20 22:07:59
I have the insurance coverage also when using a Platinum MasterCard. This is for damage to the vehicle. That coupled with your normal insurance should cover you. One of the first cars I ever rented was broken into when we parked it on the street -- $1,100 worth of damage and every penny of it was paid for by the credit card insurance. So not only was I a "dead beat" by paying my bill in full every month, but I was costing them on the rental insurance too!
Some of the rental agencies will try to pressure you to take their insurance. This was really prevalent in the 90s but some of the states went after the car rental companies. I recently had UHaul give me a hard time and verify my insurance coverage over the phone. Never had that happen in 10 years but I guess they are looking for revenues anywhere they can find it.
Yasmin104  - Car Rental Advice |2009-10-20 11:18:57
Great advice.

As an Expat living outside US, whenever I am home I charge my car rental to my AMEX card. That way I have insurance coverage by AMEX without paying the extra charge.

Probably similar deal with other Cards.
thirdculturekid  - Who knew? |2009-10-19 21:57:18
Wow. This article was a real eye-opener for me. I'll definitely do more shopping around and read the fine print on the insurance before I rent a car. Thanks so much!
lakeview  - Great summary of what I have experienced |2009-10-19 19:47:32
Great synopsis. Its best to decline most of the add-ons that can really cost you. Also, the smallest vehicle idea is spot on. They frequently overbook them, and you get a bigger vehicle at the lower price. Its really best to use one of the travel site to search mutiple companies. Happy travels.
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