Renting a car for an upcoming trip it is often one of the last details that people focus on in the overall travel planning process. However, if done properly this is yet another area where you can usually save yourself some money. If you haven’t done so already make sure to read over the tips and guidelines for renting a car. After that you can work through these steps using the best car rental sites to find the cheapest rates.
Step 1: Search for rates using the following websites that seem appropriate for your trip given their descriptions.
KAYAK.com is a great site to start with. It does an excellent job of giving you an overview of what prices are generally available from all of the major car rental companies in locations all over the world. Once you have started an initial search for pickup at a particular destination you can customize the search by selecting and deselecting various data points on the left hand of the screen. Notice that it gives you a total price with all taxes and fees. Once you have a general feel of what prices and cars are available then you can use the following sites which should more than likely help you save even more money.
CarRentals.com claims to work directly with their suppliers’ inventories without any middlemen, and their prices prove it. They can rent you a car for as little as $8.98 per day, and they work with 7 major car vendors in 15,000 locations. They also offer the ability to do one-way car rentals where you drop off your car at a different location than where you picked it up. Likewise you can modify your reservation online if the needs arises.
Hotwire.com offers discounted, sometimes extremely discounted, prices for car rentals from Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar (international only), Hertz, and National. You will not know which of these rental car companies you would be renting from ahead of time, but for most people this is not a problem. Do remember though that your purchase is nonrefundable.
RentalCodes.com is a great site to find out what sort of special deals the major US car rental companies are offering. When you select one of the names of the car rental companies on the right side of the screen you can easily find out what kinds of discounts and promotions that particular rental company is offering at the time. Whenever possible please help TheBestTravelWebsites.com by cutting and pasting the appropriate discount code and using it in this link: Orbitz Car Rentals Tab. You put the code in the ‘Additional search options’ section where you first must select the rental car company that the discount belongs to. You will get the same great deals while also helping me keep this site running and up to date with new information – thanks!
CarRentalExpress.com specializes in searching independent car rental agencies and mid-tier franchises. CarRentalExpress is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, and they have a renter rating, called the Consumer Reliability Index (CRI), which allows consumers to rate the performance of the agencies so that others can rent with confidence. They claim access to over 300 smaller car rental companies with more than 1,500 locations throughout North America, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, India and Europe. For these geographies this is a fantastic site to make sure you get access to many of the independent rental companies that other sites often do not search and often have lower rates than the major brands. Many of these agencies are located at airports, and others have shuttles to the airports. This information is usually posted with their listings.
AutoEurope.com actually covers much more than Europe. Their major suppliers which have more than 6,000 locations in total can also be found in Australia, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North Africa, South America, South East Asia and South Africa. They work with local and multinational rental companies.
ebctravel.com is the website for Europe by Car which is a family owned car rental company that has been around for more than 50 years. They also cover several countries outside of Europe – see the drop down box beside ‘destination’ on the website. They likewise offer tax-free leases of 17 days or more in Europe which sometimes can end up being a less expensive option than renting. They take great pride in giving their customers the option of calling them directly on the phone if they need to for any reason.
Zipcar.com is actually an auto-sharing program rather than a car rental company, and it is more geared to those who either live in a big city and only need the occasional use of a car and/or to those who regularly travel to big cities. See the current list of covered cities in the US, Canada and the UK as well as exactly where all their cars are located on maps in real time on their website. Zipcar has a $25 one time application fee as well as a $50 annual fee, and then it costs just $7+ per hour or $69+ per day to use the cars. Gas, insurance, up to 180 miles of usage and free parking at Zipcar sites are included. Members can pick cars up anytime after reserving them online or on the phone.
Step 2: If you don’t mind not knowing the major name brand of the car rental company ahead of time and you are fairly certain that you will not need to cancel or change your reservations then you can also try bidding on a car rental.
Priceline.com allows you to bid or ‘name your own price’ on rental cars. Similar to Hotwire when you bid for a car on Priceline you don’t know which car rental company your vehicle would be coming from ahead of time, but you do know it will be either Alamo, Avis, Budget, Hertz or National – the other car companies that Priceline does regular searches for are not part of the bidding program. Again like Hotwire though if your bid is accepted then your rental is nonrefundable, and you cannot change your reservation in any way. If your situation allows for these conditions then you have a great chance of saving money on a rental car this way. Here are some basic steps for bidding:
Step 1: Find the best prices you can with the websites and tactics discussed in Step 1.
Step 2: Check for the best prices you can get on Hotwire.
Step 3: Determine the amount you want to bid while knowing that if your bid is not accepted then you must wait 24 hours to bid again unless you change one of three things – car size, dates or location. Generally speaking if you don’t have much time to work with then bid about 20% lower than the best price you found using the sites from Step 1 and Hotwire. If you have time to spare then start with an even lower bid and work your way up every 24 hours until your bid is accepted. (Again, if you don’t want to wait 24 hours to bid again then you will need to change the car size, dates or location.) The more time you have to work with the lower you can start, especially if it is low season.
To see what bids some people are winning with go to biddingfortravel.com. Keep in mind that the terms given for changes and cancelations when renting a car using the methods in Step 1 are generally much more flexible for you than using Hotwire or the bidding process on Priceline. Hence it makes no sense to use these opaque methods unless you can get a better price.
Do not wait until you are at the rental car company’s counter getting ready to sign paperwork before you think about insurance coverage, because the rental car agent is often incentivised to sell you insurance policies, often overpriced, whether you really need them or not. There are two major coverages to consider – collision and liability. Both are important to have, but you may already be covered somehow for one or both. And even if you are not already covered there may be a less expensive alternative to obtaining that coverage than by buying it from the rental car company.
Collision coverage, often called Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) by the rental car companies, is for any damages to the rental car due to things such as dents, scratches and theft. CDW typically also covers ‘loss of use’ which is the money not made on the car while it is being repaired. If you have collision coverage on your own auto insurance policy it will often transfer to a rental, but you need to call your insurance company to verify. And if it does transfer find out the specifics such as coverage amounts, whether loss of use is included, and if there are any foreign countries not included if you are traveling overseas.
The next place to look for possible collision coverage is the credit card you use to pay for your rental. If there is credit card coverage it is usually secondary coverage which means that, within set limits, it picks up what your auto insurance (primary coverage) doesn’t cover. If your auto insurance is good enough, then the credit card coverage may end up merely paying your auto insurance deductible. Usually American Express, Visa, Mastercard and Diners Club offer collision coverage, but you should always call to verify. Make sure to tell them what kind of car you are planning to rent, because sometimes this makes a difference. For example, some say they will not cover SUV’s or trucks. If there is coverage, you need to find out the limits as to the amounts, how many consecutive days of rental are allowed, and which foreign countries are excluded if traveling internationally. Likewise, you need to ask if loss of use is covered. Some credit card companies are reluctant to offer loss of use coverage due to difficulties in getting fleet utilization logs from rental car companies, however it is definitely worth calling your credit card company to find out for sure.
If you conclude that you don’t have collision coverage from your auto insurance or credit card or if you find it insufficient, then consider purchasing Premium Car Rental Protection from American Express if you have their card or consider purchasing travel insurance that includes car rental coverage through a travel insurance comparison site such as SquareMouth.com. Both options are almost always significantly less expensive than insurance from the rental car company, and American Express says they will even cover loss of use upon receipt of the fleet utilization logs.
Liability coverage is for damages to someone else’s car or property and for any personal injuries that you cause, and it is completely separate from collision coverage. The rental companies call this by different names such as Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI) or Additional Liability Insurance (ALI). Much like for collision, often your liability coverage through your auto insurance will transfer to your car rental, but again you should always call to verify this as well as to whether or not rentals in other countries are also covered. If you don’t have liability coverage through your auto insurance you will most likely need to purchase it from the rental car company, because neither credit cards nor policies you can buy from Amex or companies like Travel Guard cover liability. The only other option would be to buy a non owners car insurance policy that you make certain covers liability for your rental circumstances. However, this would only make financial sense if you rent cars fairly often.
And remember that for all these coverages there is usually fine print in the contracts that state coverage is void if you don’t follow the terms of the rental contract. For example letting someone not named on the rental agreement drive the car or driving out of state or out of the country when you weren’t supposed to could end up costing you a lot of money if something goes wrong.
If you need coverage click here to research, compare and purchase travel insurance at SquareMouth.com.