Airfares and hotel rates may keep on rising, but at least one part of your vacation won’t be any more expensive this year than it was last year. In the 2012 holiday season, the average price of a car rented on Hotwire was about $40 a day, about 6 percent lower than the 2011 holiday season. That follows a recent trend. Rental car prices for 2012 overall were about 3 percent lower than they were in 2011, and cheap car rentals look to remain the norm throughout 2013.
Double Check Your Rate
The best way to get the best possible deal on a budget rental car is to book your ride early, and then check back frequently to see if the prices have dropped. The fact is that most rental car companies run frequent promotions and there’s a lot of price volatility, especially as you approach holidays. The nice thing is that almost none of them charge you a cancellation fee, so if you find a lower rental rate elsewhere, you won’t face a penalty for canceling and rebooking your rental car at a lower price.
Don’t have the time to keep checking back on your rental? Check out AutoSlash.com. The relatively new travel website intends to do for car rentals what other sites have done for cheap airfares. You can search for cheap rental cars on AutoSlash, which will allow you to compare rates at all the major rental car companies, and book your car rental through them using discount coupons and codes. Even better, if you’ve already booked your rental, you can set up your account with AutoSlash to automatically track your rate and notify you if a cheaper rental becomes available.
Use Online Comparison Tools
While the online comparison tools for car rental companies are nowhere near as sophisticated or plentiful as those for cheap hotel rooms or discount air fares, there are a few that are worth checking out. On Kayak, for example, you can do a map view of your destination city to see the location of neighborhood rental car dealers so you can decide if it’s worth a little travel to pick up a cheaper car.
How much difference can that make? The author of the NY Times article found that traveling across the river to a Budget location in Jersey City to pick up a weekend rental car saved him $360 over the Avis office closest to him in Brooklyn. Even in the Big Apple, that will buy you a nice night in a hotel.
Where should you be searching? Hotwire (http://www.hotwire.com) tends to turn up the best deals, and CarRentals.com (http://www.carrentals.com) will turn up a lot of the independent car rental companies that don’t show up on the major travel comparison sites. You’re not going to find the cheapest car rentals on sites like Orbitz or Expedia, largely because it’s just not as profitable for those companies to invest in great online comparison tools. With car rental companies only paying 2 to 5 percent commission on bookings, most of them prefer to focus their energy on hotel and airline bookings, which can net them up to 40 percent commissions.
Score Savings with Discounts and Coupon Codes
Got a membership with AARP? Check with them for car rental discounts before you book your rental car. Likewise if you have a AAA membership, or if you have a BJ’s or Costco membership – and that’s just for starters. You’ll find rental car coupons and discounts all over the place if you take the time to look, and they can take anywhere from 10 to 30 percent off your rental rate.
Fill Up the Gas Tank Yourself
It may be convenient to pre-pay for a full tank of gas when you pick up your car and let the rental company worry about topping it off when you return the car, but you can end up paying an extra $4 to $10 a gallon for the convenience. Fill the tank yourself after you get off the lot, and schedule in time to refill it before you return the car and save some serious dough.
Check the Price for Options
Need a car seat in that car? Is a GPS system a must for your travel plans? Options like car seats and GPS systems can add a pretty penny to your discount car rental, and they can hit you out of the blue. Check prices for those options when you’re shopping for cheap rental cars – and don’t forget to check coupons and discounts. AAA members get a free child car seat when they book with Hertz, for example, and a free additional driver with USAA. Likewise, rental car companies charge $10 to $15 a day for a GPS unit. Save that money by bringing along your own portable GPS unit – or use one on your phone. If you travel frequently, an inexpensive $75 GPs will pay for itself in one or two business trips.