Cheap Car Rentals Without Hidden Airport Fees and Charges

If you’re like most travelers, you spend time finding the best possible hotel rates, and the cheapest possible airfares whenever you travel, but you may not realize that you can do the same with car rental rates.

Here are five ways you can make car rental rates as cheap as possible.

  1. Always reserve the smallest car you can: Most Americans don’t like driving compact rental cars, even if they happily drive compacts every day at home. Since car rental agencies are aware of this, they tend to keep mostly mid-sized and full-sized cars in stock. You can make this tendency work for you by always reserving a compact, especially if you’re flying into a smaller city. This is because if you reserve a compact, but none is waiting when you get there, the rental company must upgrade you for free. In larger cities, where this is less likely to work, or if they call your bluff and the compact is there and ready for you, you can always pay an upgrade fee on the spot if you really don’t want to drive it. Note: this tactic is not recommended overseas, where most cars are compacts.
  2. Decline the insurance: Unless you don’t have Car Insurance of your own, you should always decline the car rental company’s insurance. It’s incredibly expensive (they make money on it), and you’re unlikely to need it. Do, however, check with both your credit card company and Car Insurance company to be certain one or both covers rental cars, before you leave home. Knowing exactly what coverage you have will make it easier to turn down the hard-sell you’ll get at the rental car desk.
  3. Avoid airport rentals: If at all possible, avoid renting a car at the airport. Instead, take a shuttle to your hotel, where there will most likely be a rental car desk. Not only do airport rentals cost more in general, but they often include extras like an “airport rental fee” that can be anywhere from $10 to $20.
  4. Watch for hidden fees and extra charges: In addition to the airport rental fee mentioned above, you should watch out for any hidden fees or extra charges that pad your bill. First, be aware that there will almost certainly be taxes and fees, including sales tax, a vehicle license fee, and other such charges that can quickly take the $18/day weekly rate from an advertisement and turn it into a $25/day rate. You won’t be able to talk the agency out of most of these charges, but you should at least be aware of them, and when you compare rates for multiple companies, you can look for their fees as well. One charge you can control is the fuel bill. Do not agree to pay for a full tank of gas – the convenience of returning a car empty is not often worth the escalated price. Instead, be sure the car you rent has a full tank when you take the keys (make them fill it if not), and ask at your hotel for the gas station nearest the airport, so you can top off the tank before returning the car.
  5. Shop around: Not only should you routinely compare the rates and fees for several rental companies, you should also look for special offers. For example, it’s often less expensive to agree to a weekly rental even if you won’t be using the car every day, than it is to pay for four days. Alternatively, by picking up your rental car on Thursday, instead of Friday, you may avoid a higher weekend rental rate. Most car rental companies have their special deals on their websites, so be sure to look online, rather than relying on the phone. One site to avoid when it comes to car rentals, however, is Priceline.com, because their bids are often equal to or higher than the regular prices offered direct from the rental agencies.

When it comes to car rentals, it’s important to remember that rental companies essentially penalize people who don’t know how the system works. The most effective way to find cheap car rentals, then, is to be informed.