Rental Cars

Rental Cars: How to Get the Best Rate

Whether you’re planning a family road trip across multiple states or a weekend getaway within driving distance, renting a car is often a necessary part of your travels within the United States. However, rental car rates can vary significantly depending on when and where you book, as well as the rental company and location.

By following some simple tips, you can ensure you’re getting the best possible rental car rates for your trip. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore a variety of strategies for finding and booking affordable rental cars throughout the USA.

Shop Rates Across Multiple Companies

Don’t limit your rate search to a single rental company. While brands like Dollar and Thrifty aim for budget customers, larger operators like Enterprise, Hertz and Avis often prove equally affordable or cheaper after comparing full prices.

Use rental car search engines and travel booking sites to quickly view rates across companies. Sites like Kayak, AutoSlash and aggregate rates to reveal the lowest available price for your dates.

You may find one company has a better promo or price for your specific trip details. Once you have a few options, check rates directly on each company’s website in case they offer lower prices without third-party markups. Continuing to compare as your travel dates approach can also uncover better last-minute deals.

Limit Additional Drivers When Possible

Most rental companies charge $10-15 per day for each additional driver beyond the primary renter. While it’s convenient to add spouses, partners or friends, those daily fees add up quickly.

Some companies waive additional driver fees for spouses/domestic partners or immediate family members. Verify each company’s specific policies. AAA and USAA members often qualify for free additional drivers too with select rental partners.

If no fee waivers apply, consider designating one person as the primary driver and only adding others if absolutely necessary to share driving duties. You may save over $100 by limiting extra drivers to your reservation.

Opt Out of Non-Essential Extras

Rental agents are incentivized to sell additional products that boost profits but cost you more in fees. Unless you truly need them, opt out of extras like:

GPS Navigation

Your smartphone these days likely has robust GPS navigation capabilities through apps like Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze. Rely on your phone’s data plan for turn-by-turn directions rather than paying $15 or more daily in rental fees for an in-vehicle unit. Modern phones offer features like voice guidance, traffic alerts and customizable routes. You’ll avoid extra charges while keeping your travel budget intact.

Toll Passes

Many major highways and bridges in metropolitan areas now utilize electronic tolling that charges your rental car account. Rather than paying the daily rental company fee on top of tolls, research getting a local toll pass yourself for a much lower rate. For example, an E-ZPass for the Northeast corridor states saves substantially versus per-use toll charges added to your rental bill. Do some advance trip planning to identify toll routes and passes accepted there.

Prepaid Gas

Some rental companies allow you to prepay for a full tank of gas to avoid fueling up yourself, but fees tend high. Consider your route, planned stops and estimated miles to determine if prepaying makes sense financially versus filling up as needed. Factor in gas buddy apps showing nearby prices to help decide. Prepaying only provides value if you’re unlikely to return the vehicle with close to a full tank already.

Car Seats

If traveling with young children, most rental agencies charge $10 or more daily for each infant or booster seat required. Contact family and friends in your destination city to see if borrowing seats is a viable alternative before paying rental fees. Community groups also sometimes loan car seats. Even buying a cheaper seat may save over paying the rental company daily. Safety should always be the top priority, but checking alternatives can save costs.

Roadside Assistance

Many personal insurance policies and major credit cards include free roadside assistance that covers services like lockout help, flat tire changes, jump starts and towing within a certain distance. Verify if you already have this coverage before paying the rental company another fee for an arguably unnecessary extra. Knowing how to change a flat or contact your existing provider could save unnecessary charges.

Focus on necessities only to avoid paying for unused extras just because they’re offered. You’ll keep more cash in your pocket that way.

Consider Prepay Options Carefully

Consider Prepay Options Carefully

While prepaying for your rental upfront seems like an easy way to save on “Pay at Counter” rates, it eliminates flexibility if plans change. Prepaid rentals are also non-refundable if you need to cancel.

However, if you know your dates won’t change, prepay options can save 10-30% off unrestricted rates. Just be sure any potential savings outweighs losing your entire payment if life throws you a curveball.

Another strategy is to waitlist a prepaid rate but continue shopping for better last-minute deals. If nothing lower appears, you’ve locked in savings. But you haven’t committed funds early in case a better flexible rate emerges later.

Use Membership Rewards Programs Strategically

Rental car companies run frequent targeted promotions through their loyalty programs. Signing up for programs like Hertz Gold Plus Reward, Enterprise Plus, or National Car Rental Emerald Club is free and gets you emailed deals.

Deals may include 50-75% off weekly rates, free weekend days, or points for future rewards. Look for promotions tied to your travel dates and book within the limited-time windows.

You can also earn points just from renting that go towards free days. Use points for longer weekend trips versus paying cash. Combining membership perks with other savings tactics can supercharge your savings.

Consider Alternatives When Possible

While renting provides flexibility, it isn’t your only transportation option. In major cities with robust public transit systems, you may save significantly by relying on trains/buses rather than a rental.

Carsharing services like Turo, Getaround and Maven allow you to rent privately-owned vehicles by the hour for as low as $10-15/hour. This works well for airport trips or short-term local use.

Ridesharing, taxis and shuttle services also prove more affordable than daily rental fees for limited use cases. Weighing all options helps you choose the most cost-effective solution for your trip needs.

Read More: Experience the Future of Mobility with Razor’s New Electric Scooter with Seat

Timing Is Everything for Deals

Advance booking typically nets the lowest rates. But waiting too long means the best cars may be taken. For balance, aim to book major rentals 2-4 weeks in advance when rates stabilize post-initial-discount period.

You can also keep checking prices up to your trip. Rates sometimes dip closer to travel dates when inventory fills. Natural disasters or other events can also unexpectedly lower prices. Sign up for rental price drop alerts to pounce on last-minute steals.

Likewise, avoid peak travel times if budget is a primary concern. Summer weekends and holidays command premium rates. Opt for spring breaks, fall trips or mid-week getaways when rates relax. Flexible dates open doors to potential savings.

Know The Fine Print

Thoroughly read rental agreements and policies to avoid unexpected fees. Pay attention to details regarding minimum rental periods, mileage limits, refueling charges, insurance coverage and responsibilities like parking tickets.

Understand change and cancellation policies too for peace of mind. Natural disasters or illness could disrupt plans. You’ll want flexibility or the ability to recoup prepayments if needed. Negotiate special circumstances politely with customer service.

Always opt-in to loss/damage waivers for protection from accidents or theft. While your personal insurance may cover some scenarios, waivers provide comprehensive peace of mind coverage during rentals. The few extra dollars are worth one less worry.

Return To Home Branches For Perks

Rental companies often reward loyalty by offering better rates or perks when returning vehicles to their original rental locations. One-way rentals also tend costlier than roundtrips due to repositioning fees.

Plan multi-leg trips starting and ending at the same city branch when possible. You’ll save while building rewards tier status over time. It’s worth factoring one-way drop-off fees into routing if significant.


In conclusion, with a little research and flexibility on your dates and locations, you can save substantially on rental cars for your next domestic road trip or vacation. Applying tactics like avoiding airport surcharges, leveraging memberships, limiting extras, and timing your booking strategically will help lower your total bill. Always compare rates across multiple companies and locations. Returning vehicles to home branches builds rewards too. Most importantly, taking the time upfront to find the best available deal ensures more of your travel budget can go towards making memories, not renting wheels to get there. Happy travels!

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