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Secrets To Getting a Cheap Discount Rental Car

Updated on June 6, 2018
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Jesse is as frugal as they come and is always experimenting with new methods of getting better bargains. He wants to help you do the same.

Renting a Car is Cheaper than You Think

Renting a car shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg, and it doesn't if you take a little extra time to learn how to save half of the money you were willing to spend. I have rented vehicles on several different occasions and am always able to reduce the cost of my first estimate. If you are looking for a way to save money on a car rental, look no further. You will find the answers here. If you are thinking this will take too much of your time, you are wrong. Every time I am in need of a car rental, I spend 10-15 minutes per day to implement the following methods. If I told you I could give you an instant rebate of $100 for one hour of your time you would probably jump at that offer, right? Well, that is exactly what I am telling you. Read all of the following segments and implement them with each other to save as much as you can.

Install Honey Today

I know this segment is going to seem like a shameless plug for "Honey", but trust me, it isn't. I don't make any money by recommending Honey and have not placed any link that will earn me referral rewards. I honestly encourage you to join Honey to save you money on all of your online purchases.

What is Honey, you ask? It is essentially an add-on that can be downloaded. Once downloaded, this add-on can automatically apply coupons to hundreds of different sites that you browse for consumer purposes. There are cashback advantages as well with each purchase made but that is a digression that I will not go into right now. On average, Honey can save you at least 10% on online purchases. If you find the right site, however, you can sometimes save as much as 50%. This is a tool that many overlook and think not very useful, but I'm here to tell you I save hundreds of dollars, if not up to a thousand dollars, each year by using Honey. The add-on is pretty intuitive, so check it out by going to Honey's website.

Understanding How Car Rental Companies Estimate Rates

Another little-known secret to the car rental industry is how they calculate the rate per day for a rental. If you didn't know this secret already, you'll slap yourself on the forehead after realizing how much sense it makes. But before I uncover the rate per day secret, I'd like to educate you a little about how these companies try to trick you into thinking you are getting a great deal.

How they get you to bite quicker

The first thing you have to realize about the top car rental companies is that there are fewer than there seem. At first glance, it looks like there are several different companies, when in fact there are actually about three major car rental companies. Budget, Payless, and Zipcar are all owned by Avis. Dollar and Thrifty belong to Hertz, and Enterprise owns Alamo and National. So why so many different names? The short answer is, it lets customers shop around and feel like they have found a better deal and encourages the customer to book immediately because they think they have found something nobody else has yet. This is a win-win for car rental companies because some people will go ahead and book a more expensive car without researching other companies.

The Rate Secret

Now for the big secret on how rental rates are determined. Are you ready for this? The rates are calculated by supply and demand, just as any other service. The secret, however, is how this rate is determined. How do companies determine the demand for rental cars? Understandably, events and holidays play a huge part, but a large part of this calculation is based on air travel. When people deboard an airplane and start requesting rental cars, the price starts to fluctuate. This is why you see fluctuations during a day. If a certain vicinity has more passengers deboard than usual, the price of a rental usually goes up because more people will request to rent a car. If fewer people deboard, there is a good chance the price per day for a car will decrease within a few hours. Needless to say, the prices go up in quicker increments than it decreases. I have witnessed rental price increases of $15 per day in a two-hour time-frame on many occasions. The price will then decrease over the next 48 hours. For this reason, you need to know when and where to book, which I will elaborate upon in the next segment.

Don't be Fooled by Travel Websites

If you are a frequent or even moderate traveler, you have probably heard of companies like Hotwire, Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz, and many others. While these websites can often land you a sweet deal on airfare and hotel reservations, the car rental section will more than often cost you just as much if not more than what you could book the rental for on the car companies' main website. The reason for this is many travel sites make commissions and referral fees off of their transactions. Hotel rooms and airline tickets have a higher ticket price than car rentals, which is why you don't see a huge difference in discount, if any, by booking on a travel site. I won't tell you to completely throw travel sites out of your strategy, but I can say that you will almost always find a better deal by using the car rental companies' main site because you can use promotional codes (the ones that Honey provides). See! It's all adding up now.

Which Companies to Use

I have rented from several different companies. You are going to have good and bad experiences no matter which company you end up choosing. The only thing you have a little control over is the price. So use that to your advantage.

Getting Started with Your Rental

The best way to get started when you are in need of a rental car is to actually use a travel site like Orbitz or Priceline. You are only going to use these to get an approximate estimate from different companies and locations. This is the longest part of the research process and may take you up to 30 minutes but it's well worth it. Search these sites for cities nearby and companies located within a 30-mile radius of that city. The results will show you all or most of the companies within that area. You can either leave that page open for reference or print it to compare prices. Once you have learned which companies are within your rental destination preference, go to those companies' main sites and see how much they charge for the rental. Most of the top companies will have promo codes that can be applied via the Honey add-on.

Reserve without Paying

Sites like Enterprise offer a no payment required reservation. This is very handy if you want to keep searching for cheaper deals. I usually change my reservation at least three times before finally settling. If you find a good deal from the start, feel free to reserve it. You can always continue to look for better deals and make a new reservation and cancel previous reservations. Go ahead and sign up for the rewards program or privilege/plus programs that the site offers. These programs are usually free and provide you with quicker pick-up/drop-off convenience. You'll also have an account on the site, so your reservations will be easy to view, manage, or cancel.

Don't Buy Insurance from the Car Rental Company

All car rental companies offer a damage waiver at checkout. These damage waivers cover any damages that happen to the rental car during your trip, but they don't actually guarantee that you won't have to pay anything. Furthermore, the damage waiver can cost anywhere from $20-$25 per day. There are a couple simple ways around this.

1. You can actually purchase the same coverage directly from the travel insurance site for less than half the price of what the rental company charges. If this is what you prefer, some of the more reputable companies are Allianz, Insuremyrentalcar, and Bonzah. Bonzah is usually the cheaper of the three mentioned, but it is a smaller company also. You can expect to pay approximately $9 per day for these services instead of the $25 per day that the car rental company charges.

2. I prefer to upgrade my current car insurance to include comprehensive and collision coverage. If you only have liability insurance like many people, you can usually upgrade your insurance and your rental car will carry the same coverage. Call your insurance provider to make sure your company can and will cover damages on rental vehicles. If your car insurance company does cover rental cars, you can have them activate full coverage on the day you pick up your rental car and discontinue the coverage after you return your rental car. If you use this method, depending on your driving record, you can expect to pay around $2 per day for rental car insurance assurance.

Either one of these methods can save you $100 easily. I usually rent a car for 7 days, which means I would have to pay $175 if I purchased the damage waiver from the car rental company. By upgrading my current personal auto insurance, I am only charged $15, saving $160.

A Few More Tips

Some insurance companies, such as Geico, have a partnership with car rental companies that provide Geico customers a discount off of their car rental. Most rental companies are also partners with airlines, hotels, or amusement parks and offer discounts off of the total rental price of the car or a discount for a room, airline ticket or attraction. Some major rental car companies offer a price match for their brand, meaning if you find a better rate at one of their locations on a travel site, they will match it and sometimes give you an additional 10% discount.

© 2018 Jesse James


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