flotsam, travel, ups and downs

Seven learnings for saving on car rentals

In a little over a month, I’ll be going new-where. Remember that? I bet you’d forgotten all about it… or thought I had.

Not so!

The adventure is very much still “on” and the details have been coming together. Like for instance, today I swapped out my hotel in St. Louis to one that’s cheaper both on a per-night basis and for the daily parking fee, and happens to be a hair closer to most of the “stuff” I’m planning to see while I’m there. So, you know… win and win. Oh, and win… the cancellation deadline is 6PM same-day now, instead of the day before. So, increased flexibility too.

All good.

Of course, hotels are easy. Not so easy has been the car rental situation.

  • You can get discounts on car rentals, but you have to watch for them, diligently, all the dang time.
  • The good news is that discount codes and coupon codes can be doubled up. So if you can get a discount code, say, for AAA, and then find a coupon code that applies too, you’ll get both.
  • The bad news is that the discount code for “AAA” is different for every single rental car agency. And coupon codes are also really specific.  So it’s really complex to actually search for car rental deals in light of that.
  • If you are on a one-way rental, like say if you are picking up your car and driving it all over creation and then dropping it off several states away? Not a lot of deals available, I’m sorry to tell you.

Here is what I have learned during this process…

  1. Double up your discounts, if you can. Note that coupon codes come out for short periods and with the possible exception of summertime, they don’t come out very far in advance. So again, constant vigilance. One way rentals cost more overall, and there aren’t as many discounts available.
  2. Hotwire.com and CarRentals.com and Priceline.com do a good job of doing searches, but you can only include one discount code so you’re basically choosing up front the agency that will get preference. But if you put in no code, you can compare base prices, which is a good starting point.
  3. The best deal on Priceline is to name your own price. You can save a LOT of money that way. However, you have to pay up front (which limits your flexibility pretty severely) and one-way itineraries are not always available. (In my case, it wasn’t.)
  4. Hotwire and CarRentals sort of link to each other so you can compare them to each other, and for my searches, they were the same price within a penny. CarRentals tells you what company you’re renting from (which matters a bit less to me for a car rental than for a hotel) but it also tells you where you’re assumed to be picking up and dropping off, which is extremely helpful.
  5. Picking up your car rental at the airport tends to be significantly more expensive than picking it up at another location. So you if you can find a pickup location near enough to the airport (and here, again, is where knowing what the pick-up/drop-off points are matters), a short cab ride could save you a lot of money over the length of the rental. (You will need a cab though – rental car locations have a non-compete and (1) they really don’t want you to do this exact thing and (2) if they offer pickup service in general, they won’t extend it to the airport so as not to step on each other’s toes.)
  6. If you rent from off-airport, pay special attention to the hours of operation. Airport rental desks are generally open all the time (or as long as the airport is anyway) but off-airport sites have more limited hours of operation. (I originally looked at a pickup location that closed 1/2 hour after my flight lands; that seemed dangerous but the best I could do was another hour later… which gives me a little more leeway but I could still be screwed by flight delays. Prayers for these not to be an issue are SO appreciated.)
  7. Sometimes the card you charge the rental to can make a big difference, as I learned from this article. Your personal car insurance policy probably doesn’t cover you while renting (though you should check the terms of the policy to be sure). But certain credit cards offer primary or secondary coverage just by virtue of renting the car on the card. If you carry a card that offers primary collision coverage, they actually require you to waive the insurance from the rental car agency. You’ll still need liability insurance (required in most states anyway) and the coverage probably doesn’t cover injury, and even if it covers theft of the vehicle it won’t cover personal items in the car at the time. As always, insurance is a contract… always check the terms, conditions, and exclusions.

So with just a bit over a month to go, I now have all the big-ticket items reserved, and it’s all about the what-to-do’s when I get there.

Are you familiar with any of the places I’m planning to go to (or through)? Let me know… and leave me a comment with any advice as to What Not To Miss when I’m there. I’d LOVE your input!

1 thought on “Seven learnings for saving on car rentals”

  1. Nice post. I learn something new and challengiing on blogs I stumbleupon on a daily
    basis. It’s always useful to read artixles from other writers and prractice a littl something from their websites.


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