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Five Ways to Save Money on Car Rentals

by Kevin on December 28, 2012

When it comes to travel, people do their homework with airfares and hotel accommodations. But often getting less attention is the third common travel expense, car rentals. There are ways to save money here, and you can save a lot if you are renting a car for a week or more. Try these tips and see if you can’t whittle down the cost of your next car rental.

Sign up for Triple AAA

You can save anywhere from 5% to 15% on the cost of car rentals just by being a member of AAA. Though it’s not worth it to pay the membership for AAA just for the purpose of a single car rental, there are so many benefits to having AAA that it’s worth having anyway.

AAA get you discounts at most hotels, in addition to car rental companies. You can also get discounts at many other places, such as car repair shops, restaurants and other outlets. Membership also brings valuable services, like free towing for your car. Saving $70 on a single tow will cover much of the annual membership fee for AAA, and the rest will be pure benefit.

If the car rental company offers a 10% discount for AAA membership, you can save $30 on a $300 car rental. But that’s not all. With your AAA membership, you can also add a second driver on a rental car at no charge.

Pass on the loss damage waiver (LDW)

Like most companies we do business with, car rental companies have add-on services that they are quick to encourage you to use. The most common is the LDW, or loss damage waiver. That’s coverage the car rental company offers on an optional basis to cover damage to the rental car while you’re using it.

LDW is not inexpensive. It can run anywhere from $10-$30 per day, and in many cases that can double the overall cost of the car rental. In the past, most people would cover this by charging the car rental on a credit card that offered this coverage as a free benefit. Some credit card companies still do, but it’s not as common as it used to be.

However, even if you don’t have this benefit with any of your credit cards, you’re probably still covered by your regular auto insurance. Check with your auto insurance provider to see what their policy is on rental cars. Though there may be certain restrictions, your rental will most likely be covered.


Reserve in advance

This is especially important if you plan on renting a car during a high travel season, such as the weeks near Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Demand for rental cars is high at these times of the year, and you can generally get a better deal if you reserve your car at least a few weeks in advance. If you wait until just before, not only will you pay a higher rate, but you risk a very limited selection of vehicles.

By reserving in advance you not only lock in the rate, but you can continually check for even lower rates in the interim. Car rental companies will sometimes give you the benefit of a lower rate that is offered after you have reserved.

Rent the cheapest car – they’ll trade you up if it isn’t available

I’ve had this situation happen several times. I reserve an economy car, but when I get to the car rental company, the vehicle is not available. They then replace the economy car with a luxury car for the same price. Higher value vehicles are usually more available precisely because everyone is going for lower-priced cars.

With most business transactions you try to shoot high, then work your way back. But with car rentals the process is the exact opposite. Your best benefit is by starting low, then moving up from there.

This is not a strategy that you can count on working all the time. Though I’ve had it happen a number of times, it really is hit-or-miss. When you reserve an economy car you have to be prepared to go with it. But the trade up is always a welcome event.

Get on mailing lists and look for specials

We all hate junk mail and junk email, but if you rent cars on fairly regular basis you will want to get promotions from car rental companies. They may be offering a certain percentage off the regular price, special rates on select vehicles or limited time savings offers.

The offers may not be blockbuster deals, but if they cut your rental cost by 10% – 20%, or chop a few dollars a day off your rental, it can add up. This is even more true if you use the specials in combination with the techniques above.

Without to much effort the cost of renting a car can easily be one of the smallest travel expenses you have.

What other tips do you have to cut the cost of car rentals?

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