Travel

Cheapest Way to Rent a Car: Expert Tips

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At some point or another, most of us will need to rent a car. But how do you know you’re getting the best deal on your car rental? Simply follow the steps below to book your next rental car as money expert Clark Howard does. Clark travels several hundred days a year and he knows the cheapest way to rent a car.

How To Find a Cheap Rental Car

It used to be that to get the best deal on a rental car, you had to call around to all the rental car companies to see which would offer the lowest price. Now, thanks to the internet, you can make sure you’re spending as little as possible on your car rental in no time by following our simple formula.

Quick Links:

  1. Figure Out What Kind of Vehicle You Need
  2. Start Your Research With AutoSlash
  3. Check the Other Aggregator Sites
  4. See if You Can Get a Better Deal Directly From the Rental Car Company
  5. Book the Best Deal
  6. Check Back a Week Before Your Trip To See if Prices Have Dropped

Important Note: Why Clark’s Car Rental Rule Is So Important

Before we jump into the steps, here is Clark’s rental car rule:

“When I book my flight weeks or months before the actual date of travel, I also book my car rental at the same time,” he says. “Then a week before my travel date, I re-shop the car rental rate. At least 90% of the time, I find that I can book a new car cheaper at the last minute, so I just let my old reservation go.”

Clark emphasized the importance of his car booking steps on his podcast:

“My oldest brother and I did this: We booked a rental car the day we booked a trip. We both re-shopped the week before our trip. My rental fell by 70%, and his fell by 50%! What happens if you re-shop and the prices are the same or more? No problem because you have your original booking.”

1. Figure Out What Kind of Vehicle You Need

The first thing you need to do when you’re going to rent a car is to figure out what type of vehicle will suit your needs. Important questions to ask yourself include:

  • How many people will be traveling?
  • How much luggage will I need to stow?
  • Do I need more than two doors to accommodate car seats or special needs?
  • Will I need a vehicle that can handle rough terrain?
  • Do I care if the vehicle is a basic model, or do I want something more luxurious?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you can narrow down what kinds of vehicles you’d be willing to rent. The specific descriptions of vehicles can vary from rental company to rental company, but they generally look something like this (via CarRentalExpress.com):

CarRentalExpress.com

Narrowing down the types of vehicles that interest you is key to making sure your search for the perfect rental isn’t overwhelming. Now that you’ve done that, you’re ready to see what’s out there.

2. Start Your Research With AutoSlash

The first destination in your search for a rental car is a secret to a lot of people, but one that Team Clark has found can save you a lot of money: a site called AutoSlash. Here’s our full review of Autoslash.

AutoSlash homepage

AutoSlash shops the car rental marketplace and uses discount codes, coupons, and membership perks to get you the best possible rental car deal.

It works a little bit differently from some of the travel booking sites you may have used in the past. You start by telling AutoSlash what you’re looking for. Then you’ll get an email with the best price the company can find for the type of vehicle you want, the dates you need it and the location you’re interested in.

Let’s say you’re taking a family vacation to Orlando around Thanksgiving and have decided you’ll need a compact SUV for your trip.

AutoSlash found us an intermediate SUV (it searched for compact SUV or better) from Advantage for $259.41 for the five-day period we requested.

One of the great things about AutoSlash is that the site will monitor the vehicle you select and email you if the price on the rental drops between the time you book and the time you pick it up, allowing you to re-book at the lower price.

Costco is another great resource for finding great deals on car rentals.

3. Check the Other Aggregator Sites

Once you’ve established the lowest price you can get on your desired vehicle through AutoSlash, it’s time to comparison-shop the other sites that aggregate rental car rates. Some of the most popular are:

We ran our search for a compact SUV or better for five days around Thanksgiving in Orlando through all six sites. In this case, Kayak returned the best price — even better than AutoSlash’s: an intermediate SUV from Hertz for $223.

Here are the quotes from all seven sites we checked:

AutoSlashExpediaHotwireKayakOrbitzPricelineTravelocity
$259$271$265$223$259$271$259

This exercise proves what Clark has always said: Comparison shopping really does pay off!

4. See if You Can Get a Better Deal Directly From the Rental Car Company

Now that we’ve established the best deal available from the major travel booking sites, it’s time to see if we can do even better. Sometimes companies offer the best deals directly through their own websites, so we headed to Hertz.com.

The company website didn’t even come close to matching the Kayak deal, coming in at $319, and that’s if you pay in advance. That is something you want to try to avoid with rental cars, as we’ll soon explain.

5. Book the Best Deal

At this point, having gone through the first four steps, you should feel pretty confident that you’re getting the best deal available, so it’s time to book your rental car.

Generally, with car rentals, you’re just reserving the car you want — not paying for the rental. That means you won’t have to give your credit card number to lock in your reservation. It also means that, unlike many airline tickets and hotel reservations, you won’t be penalized if you need to cancel or change your reservation later.

6. Check Back a Week Before Your Trip To See If Prices Have Dropped

Since you’re not locked into your reservation with a credit card, you have one more trick up your sleeve, and it’s one of Clark’s favorite travel tips.

“When I book my flight weeks or months before the actual date of travel, I also book my car rental at the same time,” he says. “Then a week before my travel date, I re-shop the car rental rate. At least 90% of the time, I find that I can book a new car cheaper at the last minute, so I just let my old reservation go.”

(This rule is similar to Clark’s rule for finding the best deal on a hotel room.) As Clark says, this method isn’t foolproof but there’s no harm in repeating steps 1-4 above a week before your trip. At best, you save yourself even more money. At worst, you know for sure that you’re getting the absolute best price on your rental car.

This post was last modified on January 11, 2024 8:35 am

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