With consolidation in the industry, pricey new centralized airport rental facilities, and insurance nearly always billed back to travelers, car rental customers are being taken for a ride.
However, with some know-how, travelers can save money on their next car rental. Here are some of our top tips:
Use a Corporate Code
Using coupon codes and taking advantage of perks built into frequent flyer or credit card programs can save you big. But before you book, ensure you can use those coupons and codes. Most car rental companies check IDs and will not honor a corporate code that isn’t for the company you claim to be associated with.
The same goes for loyalty program perks – many companies have loyalty (or membership) programs that offer discounts on rentals and perks like free upgrades and GPS units. It is worth signing up for these programs even if you only rent from that company once or twice a year.
Also, look for cash-back shopping portals where you can earn a percentage of the money spent on your reservation. These portals often list various car rental discount codes and coupons and may offer even more significant savings than the discounts on the rental company’s website. In addition, some of these services can track prices and notify you if the price drops on your reserved vehicle.
Rent During Off-Peak Times
Aside from the obvious (avoid airport rentals), rental car prices at car rental from the Honolulu airport vary by season and even time of day. Renting during the week or off-season will save you money, as will booking during promotional periods.
Avoid renting during peak holiday seasons, when the prices are highest. You can also cut costs by avoiding additional driver fees, bringing your equipment such as GPS devices or child safety seats, and skipping the extra insurance that is sometimes offered—you may be covered under your primary car insurance or a credit card.
Sometimes, you may be eligible for discounts with specific rental companies. Always ask if these or other promotions are available. And don’t forget to check for other membership perks. Make sure to look into the specifics of any programs before you travel. You don’t want to be hit with unexpected fees at the counter.
Don’t Let the Company Fill Your Tank
Car rental companies can make much money by pitching add-ons like GPS, child safety seats, and gas. You can save by resisting the sales spiel and getting these items before heading to the rental counter.
The rental company can charge you a steep price per gallon to fill the tank after you return it. The best way to avoid this is by refueling shortly before returning your rental car (or buying a full gas tank beforehand). It also helps to ensure the tank has at least 7/8 or 3/4 empty when dropping off.
Before renting a car, check your memberships and travel loyalty programs for discounts. For example, your employer or alums association may have one and offers discounts on short-term and long-term rentals. Paying in advance may also save you a few bucks, but review the fine print of any prepayment deal. Some locations will not allow you to combine a prepayment discount with coupons, promotions, or other discounts. It’s also worth checking the prices at nearby airport locations, as they often offer better deals than the central location.
Car rental rates are a significant expense, and the price can rise substantially when you add in fees, insurance, and optional extras. Check the company’s website for special promotions and discounts to save money. Many companies offer perks for members of loyalty programs from airlines, hotels, and those who use certain travel credit cards.
You can also leverage online comparison shopping tools that compare prices from several agencies. You can enter your car rental criteria and get a price quote in a minute or two. The site will even ask if you have a credit card or loyalty program perks.
Another way to save is by being flexible with pickup and drop-off dates and times. According to NerdWallet, downtown pickup locations are cheaper than airport ones. You can also save by being flexible with the return date and extending your rental period by a few days.
A standard car rental tactic is to offer a free upgrade, but that’s not necessarily the case. This is known as a “sign here” ploy in the consumer advocacy world. The agent asks you to sign on the line, which implies there’s no charge but then adds some fine print with a high price tag.
To avoid being sucked into these upgrades, start by booking the cheapest class available. If they don’t have any smaller cars left, you can argue that they should give you the next tier up for free (although this strategy is more effective if you book last minute at an airport location).
Another way to avoid these upgrades is to check whether your existing auto insurance or credit card provides coverage, which could save you money. Finally, you can always call the company’s corporate number to speak to a representative who isn’t under commission and may be more willing to work with you to find a solution.