When it comes to renting a car, often you feel like you’re at the mercy of the rental car companies. You’ve just landed in an unfamiliar city, and you need a car, so you follow the airport terminal signs to the rental car counters, and that’s where the games begin: The cars you want are gone, and you have to choose between the sports car convertibles and the extra-large SUVs, both of which will cost you way more than your budget allows. And that’s before you buy insurance because you’re not sure if your auto insurance policy will cover you.
Well, here’s some good news: You can be in a position of power over the rental car companies. Here are eight tips to help you be in control and save money:
1. Never upgrade. If you are asked if you want to upgrade, decline the offer. Sometimes you’ll be asked to upgrade if the rental car company runs out of the type of car you reserved. In those cases, you very well may get an upgrade without paying for one. Keep in mind that you may not want to upgrade if an upgrade means going from a Ford Escort to a Ford Expedition. The extra amount you spend on gas might make it a bad move.
2. Know when to rent. This isn’t always true, but if you have a choice, rent a car on a Wednesday or a Saturday. A lot of people, particularly people who live in big cities and don’t own cars, wait until Thursday or Friday to rent a car for the weekend. If you rent on Wednesday, you’ll have more selection. And Saturday makes sense because rates sometimes are 10 percent to 20 percent cheaper then.
3. Know where not to rent. Airports typically are the worst places to rent a car because they usually charge the highest rates as well as high airport taxes and fees. Just about anywhere else makes more sense.
4. Be a smart shopper. Check travel websites. Find out if your credit card company offers discounts. If you’re a member of a group, such as AAA or AARP, find out what they offer. Then see if the rental car companies will beat the best price you found. They may have unadvertised deals for people who bother to call.
5. Find out beforehand if you need insurance. Your auto insurance policy may cover you when you rent a car, and you may have coverage through your credit card company. You need to know this before you’re asked to buy insurance. If you’re not covered, buy it from your insurance agent, who often will offer you a better deal than the rental car companies.
6. Just say no. Rental car companies want to fill up the gas tank for you because they charge as much as twice what you will pay if you do it yourself at a gas station near where you are supposed to drop off the car.
7. Know about late fees. Rental car companies have different late-fee policies. Some will charge you for a whole day if you are just a few minutes late. Some have grace periods of two hours or more. Before you return the car, find out about late-fee policies.
8. Don’t ignore your bill. This makes sense whether you’re in a restaurant, at a home improvement store or at a rental car company. When you return the car, make sure you weren’t charged for services you didn’t request. It very well may be because of an honest mistake, but you don’t want to have to pay for someone else’s honest mistake.
Photo Credit: NathanF