Some cities, like New York City and Boston, make it easy for travelers to get around without renting a car. Others, like Los Angeles and Miami, make it all but impossible. Keeping the cost of renting a car manageable can be a challenge. There always seems to be a host of extra charges when you arrive at the rental counter. If you are planning on renting a car in the near future, here are a couple of tips to help keep the cost down:
1. Be savvy about insurance. Rental car insurance is very difficult to understand. I used to sell auto insurance and I still find it confusing. Contrary to what the counter agent will tell you, most renters do not need to buy additional insurance from the car rental company. Many individual car insurance policies cover you for rental cars. (Ask your agent before you travel if you’re unsure.) In addition, many credit card companies offer car rental coverage for their cardholders who use their credit card for the rental fees. Unless you don’t own a car and are paying with cash or a debit card, you probably already have insurance coverage. Do your homework before you get to the counter and save yourself some dollars, find more info here.
2. Buy your own gas. Make sure to leave time (and energy) to stop en route to the airport to fill up the gas tank before you return the car. The car rental company will be only too happy to do that for you…at around four times what you would pay at the pump. OUCH!
3. Rent small. Unless you have a specific need (such as a ski rack or room for golf clubs, etc.), rent the smallest car in which your family will fit. Car rental companies tend to have more mid-size cars than small cars (for their business customers.) If they don’t have the size car you requested when you arrive at the counter, they’ll usually give you a larger one at no additional charge.
4. Check the weekly rate. Car rental companies define a week as five days. That means if you rent a car between four and seven 24-hour periods, you qualify for a weekly rate. The weird part is that the weekly rate is often less expensive than four or five daily rates. It makes sense to ask.
5. Buy a package. If you are planning on staying in a hotel or flying to your destination (as opposed to taking the train or a bus), you might get a better deal by combining all of the components in a package. Airline tour desks and travel sites like Orbitz and Expedia offer a variety of fly-drive packages. However, don’t just blindly assume that the package is cheaper; it pays to compare the prices yourself.
6. Ask at the counter for a better rate. Although this practice generally works better with hotels, it never hurts to ask one last time when you arrive at the car rental counter whether you have the lowest possible rate. Some companies, particularly independently-owned or franchised locations, have some leeway about rates and may offer a better price during a slow time of year.