Being the frugalist that I am, booking a car rental is not something I take lightly. Car rental is always one of our biggest expenses for our trips and so I am not hasty to make reservations without making sure that I am getting the best bang for my buck. Booking a car rental is usually an all day event for me, as I search the web fervently for the best deal. At times the activity has spilled out into a several days project….but in the end I feel victorious knowing we got a great price and saved money for our family (or at least freed up some funds for some fun things on our vacation….hello pedicure 😉 )
In my years of Northern living I’ve learned some tips and tricks that save us cash each time we rent. We have tried a few different car rental companies and have found pros and cons to each one.This year, though, I figured out a few car rental “secrets” that now will not only save me money, but also much time!!!! After testing it and proving it successful, I’d now like to share this with you to help you save money on all your future car rentals!
I should preface this by saying, these secrets are based on a “normal” car rental. For someone who does not have any government discount codes or otherwise (like our family) so if you DO have such a discount, you might want to experiment a bit to see which gets you the best deal.
First I will reveal the “secrets” then you can find below my actual car rental savings breakdown for our recent car rental, just so you can see these savings in action!
Secret # 1 – DONT BOOK YOUR ENTIRE RENTAL FROM THE AIRPORT!
This is the MOST important step in saving on car rentals. Did you know that the airport car rental companies charge a much higher rate at airport locations for the convenience? By picking up your car at another location, even with the same company, you can save hundreds on your rental (depending on length of rental).
How to make it work:
If you are fortunate to have family or friends nearby, perhaps they can drive you to the nearest car rental location once you arrive, and make it super easy for you.
In the past, we would take a cab to the nearest car rental pick up location in the surrounding area. Even with factoring in the cost of a cab, we still saved so much money that it was worth the inconvenience. Remember cabs down south charge per ride and not per person, so for us it worked out to be an even cheaper cab ride than if we had taken a cab across town in Iqaluit!
Alternatively you can also see if your hotel offers a free airport shuttle. If it does, take the shuttle to the hotel and pick up your car rental at a nearby location from there. Some car rental companies also offer a free pick up service to nearby hotels (but they wont pick you up at the airport….we tried that already).
A word of caution:
The tricky part of making this secret a success is when your flight arrives after usual business hours (9 to 5). Many of the car rental locations are only open until 5 or 6pm during the week and some are closed on weekends. (Thats one of the reasons airport car rentals charge more for the extended hours that they are open to cater to travellers) There is a way around this (see secret #2) but for those of you arriving before 5, just be sure that the rental location you are picking up at is close enough to get to it in time. We use mapquest.com to estimate distances and travel times. Factor in if you will be arriving during rush hour traffic. Alternatively, it may be that you could get away without a car for one night by using a cab or airport shuttle and then you can simply pick up your car the next day. If these options dont work for you, do not fear, read Secret #2
Secret #2 CHECK THE RENTAL COMPANIES DROP OFF POLICY
Did you know that you can drop off your car at a different location from where you picked it up? Some companies will charge a fee for this (usually $50-$75), while others will allow it at no cost (within the same city) . In either case, it means that you can drop off your car at the airport even if you didn’t pick it up there, to make it for an smooth transition on your way back. No need to worry about dropping off your car and then cabbing back to the airport with all your luggage (Yup, we’ve done that before too). By learning the policy’s of different companies we were able to save the $75 drop off fee that some charged and found one that allowed FREE drop off. You can also use this policy in your favour if you really need a car rental as soon as you land (and cant be bothered with the inconvenience of the suggestions in #1) as described below.
How to make it work:
Book in advance a one day, one way, car rental from the airport. Choose the most economical vehicle that you and your luggage will fit in for that one day. Be sure you know the drop off policy for dropping off the car at a different location. (if its free or included). Also book in advance a car rental for the entire duration of your trip, picked up at another location, preferably close to wherever you are staying for the first night. The next day, drive your one day rental car to the other location and drop it off. AT THE SAME LOCATION you can now pick up your NEW car rental, that you will use for the duration of your trip! Its that easy!
Thats the loophole in the system! It still allows you to have a car directly from the airport and to the airport, its just a one stop of trading in cars for a moment to make it work. And now you have saved hundreds of your hard earned dollars!
A word of caution:
Incase you were wondering why we recommend going with the smallest/most economical car for your one day rental, it is for a couple of reasons: One, so it saves more money (of course! In some cases it might even be the same cost or cheaper as a cab ride would’ve been!). Secondly, so if the car rental company were to ask why you are switching cars you can say that you needed something bigger and hopefully won’t question the “loophole” in the system 😉
Secret #3 SEARCH FOR DISCOUNTS AND COUPON CODES ONLINE
Once you have decided on the car rental company that you will use, use an internet search for the company and the words “Coupon Codes” and/or “Discount”. For example, “Budget coupon Codes Canada or ‘Budget car rental Canada discounts” (you may want to include Canada since many of the results will otherwise be American). Often times there are new coupon codes or specials each month through a variety of coupon websites. The site will simply give you a code that you enter in your reservation request and the savings are immediately applied. These might include a percentage off the full price, a free upgrade, a free day rental… just to name a few possibilities. Some companies will also give you a significant discount if you pre-pay your rental (For example with Budget some locations will allow you to save up to 35% of your car rental if its pre-paid!)
A word of Caution:
This can be the most time consuming of the money saving secrets. Some coupon codes may not work, others may be expired, so it can take some time to filter through the possibilities and find one that works. You can always go directly to the company website and look under deals and see if they have any quick deals you can take advantage of.
A FEW FINAL MONEY SAVING TIPS ON CAR RENTALS
Car Insurance – check your own car insurance policy to see if it includes insurance for car rentals. We were able to pay less than $50 a year to have additional coverage and now we can confidently decline the high daily rate prices from car rental companies. You may also have car insurance through your credit card if the car rental is booked on that particular card. **Read the fine print closely regarding this coverage as some will not cover the rental of a SUV or van.**
GPS – car rental companies charge a daily rate for the use of GPS and if you are on a long trip, or rent one several times a year…you may be better off just buying your own GPS and bringing it with you, or using the GPS on your smart phone.
Filling up the gas tank – Most companies have the policy of returning the vehicle with a full tank, otherwise they will charge you to fill it. If at all possible, take the time to fill up on your way to dropping off the car since the rate they charge will be significantly higher for the convenience and its such a simple thing to keep more money in your pocket.
Rewards/Incentives – Check out what rewards and incentives the rental company offers. Dont forget to ask about a frequent customer card (like Enterprise) where you can earn free rentals. Dont forget to ask about reward miles (like Budget that offers Air miles rewards). Make the most of your rentals, these rewards and incentives can really add up. And, of course, book the car rental on the credit card that offers you the most rewards as well!
Book ahead! – some companies prices will increase as the dates get closer. If you know the dates in advance, book ahead for additional savings. If you are not pre-paying for the reservation, then there is no risk in booking ahead as you can always cancel should your dates change (just confirm they do not charge a cancellation fee)
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE IN ACTON:
Here is a brief summary of our families recent car rental:
We were looking for a full size car for 3 weeks in the summer.
We would land in Ottawa after 5pm
If we had booked the entire rental from the airport location at the best deal available, we would have paid $1366.28
Using these secrets, our booking went like this:
Booked a one day compact car rental from the Budget airport location for $50 with a FREE drop off at another location included (saved us the $75 the other company was going to charge us for a drop off fee) Thus with the $75 we saved, and the $50 we paid for the rental, it was overall a $25 savings
We booked our 3 week (less a day) rental from a Budget location nearby to where we were staying our first night. We went in the next day to return the small car and get our full size car. The rental would have been $1000 at this location which would have been a savings of $366.28 compared to the airport location. With pre-paying for the rental we saved an additional $105.51 and got the price down to $894.49. By using a coupon code we found online, we were able to save an additional $84.00 bringing the cost down to $810.49 !!
Its that simple!
Regular Airport Rental Price: $1366.28
secret #1 saved us -$366.28
secret #2 saved us -$25
secret #3 saved us -$84.00
secret #3 saved us -$105.51
3 week car rental cost $810.00
+ one day car rental $50
= total savings using 3 saving secrets is $530.79
If you factor in using our own GPS (as opposed to the rental of $15.95/day) thats a savings of $334.95. By having our own insurance and declining theirs ($30/day) it was a savings of $630. Thats an additional savings of $964.95! A Grand total savings of $1496.23! WOW!
Do you have any tips on saving on car rental? What are your favourite car rental companies to use? Feel free to share in the comments below!