What Is the Cheapest Way to Rent a Car?

Travel

Whether you’re planning a vacation, a business trip, or need a temporary car while yours is in the shop, renting a car can be expensive. But there are plenty of hacks you can take advantage of to keep the bill down.

car rental

So, before you book the first rental car offer you see online, take the time to explore your savings options. You might just be surprised at the amount of money you keep in your wallet.

1. Become a Member of a Rental Car Rewards Program

Like other travel industries, most rental car companies have a rewards program. It’s usually free to join, and you can get free upgrades and bypass the lines. The free upgrades alone can save you some money if you have specific requirements for the kind of car you need.

Many car rental companies also offer a separate (and often better) rewards program for businesses if you have a side hustle or small business. In fact, you can benefit from as much as 25% off just by taking advantage of this opportunity. Compare offers to determine which is the best when considering rental cars.

2. Search for Discount Codes

You search for discount and coupon codes for every purchase you make online, so why not for car rentals? You’ll likely find many car rental deals available, such as $25 off your total rental amount, or a free day if you book at least seven days. Rental car companies often offer weekend deals. This makes it an easy and affordable way to explore new places within driving distance.

This is another place where it’s wise to compare multiple options. Depending on your needs, one company may offer a deal that works better for you. They are constantly changing, so make sure the dates on your discount code correspond to when you’re ready to book.

3. See If You Qualify for a Discount

There are tons of car rental discounts available. Here are just a few that you may qualify for:

  • AAA members
  • AARP members
  • Active military members
  • Amazon customers
  • Corporate discounts
  • Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s members
  • Doctors, nurses, and health practitioners
  • Frequent flyer programs
  • Government employees
  • Hotel loyalty programs
  • Police, firefighters, and first responders
  • Seniors
  • Teachers, students, and alumni
  • Union members
  • Veterans

This is by no means an exhaustive list of car rental discounts. Plenty of other organizations offer them. If you are a member of an organization, check to see if they provide a car rental discount for being a member.

4. Utilize a Deal Finder Website

Online travel aggregator sites, like Kayak and Expedia help you compare rates for air travel and hotels. However, they also help you find the best car rental as well. Toggling between search functions allows you to quickly change your filters to find the best savings.

Depending on your travel dates, you can set different calendar parameters and see which rental car company has the cheapest rates. If you make a refundable reservation, you can keep checking these sites for better rental car deals.

5. Compare Rental Car Prices at Discount Brands

You’re probably familiar with major car rental companies like Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty. But there are actually many other options you can choose from and often at a lower price tag.

Just how much can you save with a discount rental car company?

Often, you can save at least $5 per day and sometimes even more. This may not sound like a huge discount, but take a moment to think about it. For example, saving $5 on a seven-day trip keeps an extra $35 in your pocket. Depending on where you’re headed, that could easily translate into a nice dinner out with a drink or two.

6. Prepay to Save Extra

Getting a refundable car rental reservation has its advantages. You can cancel it for free if you see a better deal or end up changing your travel plans. But prepaying can also be beneficial, so check it out before making up your mind.

What’s the benefit of prepaying for car rentals?

In most cases, you can see some significant savings in your overall rate. In fact, you could see a discount of as much as 20%. That’s definitely worth considering.

The downside, of course, is that prepaid car rentals are usually non-refundable. So, if you discover a better deal or have to cancel your trip, there’s not much you can do.

7. Avoid Renting a Car at the Airport

car rental companies

Getting off the plane and immediately heading to the car rental counter may be convenient, but it comes with a price.

Just how much?

You could potentially pay between 10% and 30% more for car rentals that originate at the airport. Avoid this surcharge by taking a cab or public transportation to another nearby car rental location. You may even be able to secure a cheap rental car through your hotel.

Get creative and compare your pickup location options if the airport location looks too expensive.

8. Only Use One Driver

When traveling with friends or extended family, be wary of the extra daily fee for additional drivers. Otherwise, you could end up paying as much as $13 more for each day of your car rental. On a one-week car rental, that would add a whopping $91 to your total bill.

You can designate a single driver for the trip. But there are usually many other ways you can avoid this extra fee. For example, sometimes, you can get it waived for spouses or domestic partners, as long as the addresses on your driver’s licenses match.

Loyalty program members can also typically get the fee waived for immediate family members. The same is true for co-workers who book with a corporate account.

9. Check for Partner Benefits with Your Existing Travel Rewards Programs

Don’t forget to see if any of your existing travel rewards programs overlap with a rental car company. This could be in the form of a travel rewards credit card or a partnering brand. For example, United Airlines’ Mileage Plus program lets you accumulate extra miles when renting a car through Hertz.

Other perks you could potentially take advantage of?

Free insurance and waived fees. This might not be the case with every single travel card, but it’s worth exploring before you make your reservation.

10. Opt-out of Insurance

Even if you don’t have any travel rewards credit cards, you likely have something in your wallet that can get you out of the loss damage waiver and personal effects coverage

Insurance programs protect you in the case of an accident or other damage. However, they can definitely cause your cost to creep up. In fact, rental car insurance can add on between $20 and $40 per day. That’s a lot!

Here’s how to avoid those extra fees.

First, check with any of your credit card companies. Usually, they offer free insurance. Your existing car insurance may also extend to rental cars, so call and check with them, too. If you’re an AAA member, you can also likely get free car rental insurance.

11. Use Your Own GPS and Toll Road Transponder

You may not have known it, but you can rent both a GPS and a toll transponder from the rental car company. Unfortunately, both come with high daily fees. Since you probably have Google Maps or something similar on your smartphone, save yourself $15 a day and skip the GPS rental.

A transponder can cost as much as $25 per day, depending on what state you’re driving in. If you’re in a toll-heavy area, consider picking up a one-time use EZ Pass at a local convenient store. The one-time cost will run you about $25, which is close to the rental car company’s daily rate, regardless of how much you use it.

12. Make an Early Return to Get a Lower Rate

This is definitely a hack to get the cheapest car rental, but you need to check the fine print to make sure things work in your favor.

Ready to learn a smart trick?

Get a lower rate by making a week-long reservation, even if you only need the car for a few days. It’s especially helpful to add on a weekend day since those typically offer lower rates. You can then simply return the vehicle early and enjoy a pro-rated refund.

Just make sure you have a refundable reservation and that there aren’t any extra fees associated with returning the car early. Unfortunately, some heavy hitters, like Hertz, do make you pay more for this service.

13. Think Critically About the Type of Car You Need

This may seem obvious, but it’s helpful to remember when trying to save money on car rentals. Give an honest assessment of your trip, how much room you’ll need, and how many people will be joining you.

You may be able to get by with an economy car, which can greatly reduce your costs. However, before you reach the rental counter, make up your mind because the agent may try to upsell you.

You’re much better off using one of our tips for a free upgrade than paying for one you don’t need. So pack light and save more!

14. Consider Short-Term Options

Depending on where you’re traveling, you may not even need a rental car. Weigh the final cost with other options you have available, especially if you’re sticking to an urban area. For example, you could take advantage of a service like Zipcar or Enterprise Carshare and just rent by the hour as you need a ride.

Alternatively, you could likely save by simply using Uber or Lyft if you just need a few short rides throughout the city. A couple of $10 trips a day may end up costing less than a daily car rental. Plus, you don’t have to worry about parking fees or moving the vehicle when there’s a time limit.

There are many ways to save money when renting a car. Even implementing just a few of these ideas can result in more cash staying in your pocket. After all, a little forethought can go a long way when it comes to getting a cheap car rental.

Cheap Rental Cars FAQs

What are the best websites to use to book a rental car?

No website offers unbeatable prices every time, but some sites consistently have great deals. Skyscanner, Expedia, and Travelocity often have the best rental car prices.

Other websites to consider when looking for rental car deals include Orbitz, Kayak, Hotwire, and Rentalcars.com. All of these websites offer convenient search tools that allow you to compare car rental prices and find the best deal.

What is the best car rental app?

The best car rental app depends on your individual needs, budget, and location. Popular car rental apps include Turo, Zipcar, Getaround, and DriveMyCar.

  • Turo is a peer-to-peer car sharing app where you can rent cars from local car owners. It offers a wide range of vehicles at competitive rates.
  • Zipcar is another popular car rental app that offers hourly and daily rates with no membership fee.
  • Getaround is a car sharing platform that makes it easy to rent cars from local owners.
  • DriveMyCar is an online marketplace where you can rent cars from car rental agencies and private owners.

All of these apps have different features, so it’s important to compare them to find the best one for your needs.

How much does it usually cost to rent a car?

The cost of renting a car depends on a variety of factors, including the type of car, the rental period, and the company you rent from. Typically, the cost can range from $20 to $100 per day.

When is the best time to rent a car?

The cheapest time to book a rental car is usually during the week, when there is less demand for rental cars. It is also typically cheaper during the off-season when fewer people are traveling.

Additionally, some rental car companies may offer discounts for renting during certain days of the week or at certain times of the day.

Is it cheaper to rent a car in advance or on the spot?

It depends on the location and the time of year, but typically, it is cheaper to book in advance.

When you book a car rental two weeks or more in advance, you have the best chance of getting the lowest possible prices. Car rental agencies tend to offer discounted rates for early bookings, so it pays to plan ahead.

That said, you can also often find good last-minute deals on car rentals if you’re flexible and willing to be spontaneous. If you book during peak travel times, such as holidays, it’s best to book as early as possible to secure the best rates and availability.

Does my personal auto insurance cover rental cars?

Your personal auto insurance will usually cover rental cars, but you should always check with your insurance provider to be certain.

Is it cheaper to rent a car from an airport or from another location?

It depends on the location and car rental company. Renting a car from an airport is typically more expensive than renting from another location due to airport taxes and fees. However, there may be discounts available if you book in advance or use a specific car rental company.

Are there any additional fees I should be aware of?

Yes, there may be additional fees such as taxes, insurance, and refueling fees. Be sure to ask the car rental company about any additional fees before you sign the rental agreement.

Lauren Ward
Meet the author

Lauren is a Crediful writer whose aim is to give readers the financial tools they need to reach their own goals in life. She has written on personal finance issues for over six years and holds a Bachelor's degree in Japanese from Georgetown University.