Car rental stock

11 Ways to Save Big Money on Your Next Rental Car (+ an Amazing Rental Car Hack)

Who wants to pay more for car rental reservations than they need to?

Travel costs add up fast so knowing how to save money on a car rental can mean sticking to your trip budget or not.

So, in this guide, you’ll find 11 tried and true tips that’ll help you save money on your next car rental. I also share my secret weapon for saving money on car rentals that can be stacked with many of the other ideas listed. 

Are you ready to save BIG on your next car rental?

11 Ways to Save Big Money on Your Next Rental Car
(+ an Amazing Rental Car Hack)

student typing on a computer

1. Use an Aggregator to Compare Prices.

Use a website like Kayak to search your rental car dates. Prices and car types will show up from hundreds of car rental sites so you can compare and choose the best deal. 

During the search, you’ll have the ability to filter and sort the results based on what you want. Car rental locations vary by destination. In smaller or international places, you might discover a car rental company you weren’t aware of that offers significant savings over other brands.

ProTip: When comparing prices on Kayak, be as flexible as you can with your dates, pick up, and drop off times. You might be surprised to find prices go down with a few tweaks.

2. Join Car Rental Loyalty Programs.

Members of loyalty programs have the ability to earn rewards, get free upgrades, and even skip the line when picking up the car. Car rental loyalty programs also alert members to upcoming deals and send member-exclusive promotion codes for additional savings. 

As a member, you may also find better pricing when searching rates directly on the car rental company’s website.

3. Reserve the Rental Car Only for the Days You Need It.

If your vacation starts in a big city, there are likely to be hotel shuttles and public transportation options to help you transfer from the airport and get around the city. Not only will you save money on your car rental costs, but you’ll also save money on parking.

Once your itinerary is set to move to the countryside, pick up your car rental from a city location (more on this in the next point) and start your road trip. For example, when traveling to London, I use public transportation while I’m sightseeing. When it’s time to visit the Cotswolds and the English countryside, I get my rental car and go.

4. Choose a Pick-up Location Somewhere Other than the Airport.

car rental parking lot at an airport

Car rentals are the priciest at airports because, of course, the majority of visitors arrive at the airport! What’s more, local laws often add specific taxes just for airport rentals, which are added to your bill.

If it’s convenient, take public transportation into a city or a hotel shuttle to your accommodation and then rent a vehicle from a nearby city location.

ProTip: Do the math if you need to take a taxi from the airport. Will the cost of a taxi still work out to be less than if you rented the car at the airport? In some cases, the answer may be yes. Just remember to factor in any parking-related fees, as well.

5. Rent Only the Type of Car You Need.

Don’t pay for more car than you need. Think about the following.

  • How many people and bags need to fit in the car?
  • What type of roads will you be driving on?
  • What will the weather be like?

There’s no sense paying for a bigger vehicle if it’s just 2 people who each have a single bag. Bigger vehicles also need more gas and those costs can add up especially if you’ll be doing a lot of driving. As tempting as it is to splurge sometimes, paying for a convertible to drive around Europe in winter will be a waste. 

6. Do Your Homework on Insurance.

taking notes to save money on car rentals

Rental car companies charge high per day insurance fees. It can feel overwhelming when an agent talks through all the options at the rental counter.

To avoid this and paying more than you need, check with your own car insurance to see what, if anything, is covered for car rentals. 

It’s smart to pay for the car rental with a credit card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, that includes primary car rental insurance. You can comfortably decline the CDW or collision damage waiver at the rental counter because the card protects you from theft and damage to the vehicle whether you’re in the U.S. or abroad. You’ll also earn 2x the points for travel expenses like car rentals.

Other cards like the Chase Ink Preferred and the United Explorer Card also offer primary car rental coverage.

7. Ask About Discounts at the Counter.

As a teacher, I always ask businesses if they offer any teacher discounts. It’s a simple way to find out about additional savings and all I have to do is show my teacher I.D. card. 

Are you a member of AAA or the Military? Are you a senior? If yes, keep your I.D. card in your wallet and ask. You’d be surprised how many companies offer discounts but don’t necessarily make it publicly known.

8. Skip the Bells and Whistles.

Any extras will add to your overall cost. It’s better to not pay for them if you can.

  • Instead of GPS, download and save maps to use offline with the Google Maps app.
  • Drive a car with a manual transmission. Especially outside the U.S, don’t pay extra for an automatic.
  • Adding extra drivers comes with extra charges. Short drives for day trips typically don’t need an extra driver.
  • Prepare music playlists and download podcasts and audiobooks instead of paying for a satellite radio upgrade.
  • If you have an EZ Pass toll responder at home that’ll work in your destination, bring it. Don’t use the electronic toll responder “provided” by the car rental company.

9. Fill Up the Tank Yourself.

Car rental stock

Be wary of taking a pre-paid fuel option, which allows you to return the car without refilling the tank.

It may be convenient but you’ll pay the rental car company’s refueling rate. Not to mention, the car rental company will charge you a full tank price regardless of how much gas you’ve actually used.

Instead, use an app like Gas Buddy to find the cheapest gas prices near you and refuel before returning the car. Be sure to pay for the gas with a gas rewards credit card, like the Chase Freedom Unlimited or the Chase Freedom (during a gas bonus quarter).

10. Take Advantage of Memberships. 

Memberships to organizations like AARP and stores like Costco offer promotions and special pricing for car rentals. Rentals booked through Costco Travel can come with significant savings. AARP members can save up to 30% off car rentals booked directly with companies like Budget or Avis or through the AARP Travel Center.

11. Obey All Traffic Laws. 

Hopefully, this is one is obvious. Speeding, illegal parking, and reckless driving will likely result in tickets and fines, not to mention the danger to yourself and others.

Read all signs and respect all local road rules. It’s not cheap when your rental car gets towed because you parked it in the wrong place. (Totally not speaking from experience here…eesh!)

How to Save on Rental Cars with Autoslash

Autoslash is my secret weapon for saving money on car rental reservations.

Here’s how it works.

Make a car rental reservation with a travel booking site like Kayak. Reservations don’t need credit card information, and you won’t be charged ahead of time.

Once you have completed your reservation, head over to Autoslash and enter your confirmation number and booking details. Autoslash will now track your reservation and search continuously up until the date of your reservation for cheaper prices.

If/When a lower price is found, you’ll get an email with the details.

Nearly every time, I get an email from Autoslash telling me they’ve found a cheaper price. The rate is typically between 15-40% cheaper than what I was originally quoted and, many times, it’s from the exact same rental car company I previously booked.

Simply re-book with Autoslash and cancel the previous reservation. You can even track the new reservation with Autoslash again and re-book again if the price drops again. I’ve done this sometimes 3+ times to save more and more.

And, on the off-chance, Autoslash doesn’t find a better price, there’s no harm or cost in having Autoslash track your reservation. You have nothing to lose and potentially a bunch to gain!

So, how do you save money on car rentals?

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11 Ways to Save BIG on Your Next Car Rental + 1 Secret Car Rental Weapon!

18 thoughts on “11 Ways to Save Big Money on Your Next Rental Car (+ an Amazing Rental Car Hack)”

  1. I haven’t rented many cars in my life (I don’t even have a driver’s license, so I always depend on my travel buddy for driving), but I’m always surprised about the MASSIVE difference between various rental companies. I’ve seriously been quoted everything between £50 and £200 for the EXACT same days/type of car/etc. Crazy!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      You don’t want all your savings to go down the tube for 1 speeding ticket, right Sarah? 😉

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks, Lotte! Sounds like you have 2 great trips coming up! Hope you can save some cash on your car rental.

  2. ” If you’re driving in snowy weather, make sure the car has 4-wheel drive.”
    That’s easier said than done, at least for the US. I’ve been trying very hard to book a 4WD vehicle for a trip in December, and so far have found no agency that can guarantee I will actually get 4WD or AWD.
    If anyone has different experiences, I’d be happy to get a tip.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      So sorry to hear you’re having a rough time guaranteeing a 4WD or AWD vehicle for your trip in December, Johanna. To guarantee, maybe try calling the actual location you are picking up from. Talking to an actual agent there may get you more specific information. Thanks for reading and sharing your experience.

  3. These are some good tips to shave the bill down a little. I would like to add that you should always read the contract before you sign it. They should have an itemized statement about all that they are charging you for, so you can make sure you’re getting the deal you are supposed to be getting.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Rochelle. Agreed! You need to make sure you’re paying what you were quoted. Always beware of added charges.

  4. Additional tips:

    In my city, teachers and Board of Education staff get HUGE car rental discounts. So check to see if there are any “affiliate discounts” you can exploit.

    If you do buy the car insurance option from the rental company, it may save you your deductible. However the insurance claim may still go through your insurer so you are not immune from points, risk pool upcharges, etc.

    Also, insist on seeing the car insurance options and costs RATE SHEET, and choose the minimum rental coverage that you are comfortable with. Then make sure they gave it to you. I’ve been switched without my approval to a higher tier of coverage and had to make them redo the rental contract.

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