How I Saved Nearly 50% on a Rental Car

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Are you planning on renting a car soon? Perhaps you’re going on a trip and need one when your flight lands.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to rent a car on the cheap.

I recently went through the process of renting a car for a road trip I took. By applying some savings principles from money expert Clark Howard, I did my research and was able to save nearly half the original price of the rental car.

How Much Is a Rental Car?

With news of a rental car shortage, you may be wondering how much a rental car costs these days.

In my experience, the few neighborhood rental car lots I checked didn’t have many vehicles at all. And among those that did have cars, it seemed like the prices were higher than normal based on my previous experiences.

As for the major car rental companies, from the lots I saw, they seemed to show no severe signs of a car shortage, although I was looking less for empty car spaces than for my exact rental.

When I recently researched car rental prices in Atlanta, Georgia, for a five-day trip, the prices ranged from $56 a day for a compact car to more than $160 a day for a midsize SUV.

Your cost would, of course, depend on several factors including your location and the rental company you use as well as the car’s make and model and how long you plan to keep it. (Remember that gas prices and the amount of fuel you use will also figure into the total cost of your rental car.)

Here are the steps I took to save money on a rental car:

1. Comparison Shop Online

Car rental sites online search

I began my car rental search online and first checked with some of the major travel sites. I opened several tabs in my internet browser and searched for the same dates across different websites.

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You may wonder if it matters whether you shop online anonymously (in your browser’s incognito mode) or regularly, but it didn’t seem to make a difference in my case.

I checked rental car prices on Priceline, Kayak.com, Hotwire, Expedia and AutoSlash. Because I’m a member, I also shopped for a rental vehicle on AAA.com.

Here is a sample of the prices that came up for a full-size car:

CompanyPrice for 5 Days
Priceline$527
Kayak$491
Hotwire$485
Expedia$504
AAA via Hertz (* without discounts)$471*
AutoSlash$370

When I signed up for AutoSlash.com, the service sent a price alert to my phone and found me the cheapest price with a rental car company called Routes. But when I called Routes, the person to whom I spoke told me that the company’s policy provides rentals only to out-of-town residents with proof of airfare.

That meant that I had to go with the AAA option, and there were some pluses to that: I was able to add an additional driver at no cost, and I was able to use a Hertz discount that AAA provided.

2. Airport Location vs. Non-Airport Location

Clark is a big proponent of renting a car at a non-airport location to avoid the fees associated with airports. And those fees can be significant!

For example, when I reserved a rental car through AAA, I initially chose a vehicle from the airport. Instead of $355, the price shot up to $471. Here’s a breakdown of the add-ons:

  • Weekly Rate: $355.18
  • Taxes & Fees: $116.61
  • Car Total: $471.79

A major caveat about using non-airport locations is that they typically operate only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. So depending on when you plan to pick up and/or return the car, you might have to rent from an airport location.

Because I planned to leave early in the morning, that was the situation I found myself in when I was booking my rental car. So how did I continue to save money?

3. Look for Coupons

Coupons on AAA.com gave me the option to save up to $25 off the base rate for a day, $20 off the weekly rate or $40 off monthly rentals. Once I put the code in for the weekly rate discount, that dropped my price another $25.

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Because I had more travel planning to do, I went ahead and booked the rental car for $446 for a week.

4. Monitor Prices

So now I had a rental car secured, but I was confident I could do better in price.

Clark always says to be on the lookout for a price drop up right before your trip.

“When I book my flight weeks or months before the actual date of travel, I also book my car rental at the same time,” Clark 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.”

Because I had reserved my rental car without a credit card, I had the option to continue to rebook if the price dropped with no risk of being charged.

I took Clark’s advice and looked at rental car prices again through AAA.com a couple of days before my trip to see if I could get a lower price — and I did!

I found a five-day rental for $222. 

To recap, I went from paying $471 to $222 for a rental car. That’s a 47% savings!

5. Pay the Right Way

Amazon Rewards credit card

When it was time to pick up my rental car and pay at the counter, I used a credit card that provides car rental insurance. 

My Chase-issued Amazon Prime credit card allowed me to decline the rental company’s collision insurance, which is usually overpriced.

Check out this list to see if your credit card offer car rental insurance benefits.

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Final Thoughts

In my experience, booking a rental car the right way may take some time, but it more than makes up for it in money saved.

By putting forth a little effort, I saved more than $200 on a five-day rental car. The key is to follow Clark’s advice and check for price drops after you’ve already booked.

A few final tips: 1) Always remember to compare apples to apples when it comes to car rentals. 2) Be clear about the add-ons included in the vehicles you’re considering. Do all the cars you’re comparing have navigation systems? How about free cancellation? Is there a fee for additional drivers?

As for me, what I saved on my car rental more than pays for the $48 I pay yearly to AAA.

More Car Resources From Clark.com:

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