How to Save Money on Car Rentals

Renting a car can be a frustrating experience. Lots of times you feel like you’re paying way too much for that bright orange sub-compact you’re assigned. And then the person behind the counter makes you feel like an idiot for declining the insurance and tries to convince you that you should let the rental car company should fill the tank with $8-per-gallon gas when you return the car.

You can save money when you rent a car. Here are eight tips to help you do that:

1. Just say no. When rental car companies ask if you want to upgrade, always say no. The rental car companies sometimes ask you if you want to upgrade when they’ve run out of the type of car you reserved. In those cases, you’ll often get an upgrade without paying for one. As gas prices rise, you may not want even a free upgrade if it means driving a Ford Expedition rather than a Ford Escort.

2. Timing is everything. If you have a choice, rent a car on a Wednesday or a Saturday. By Wednesday, many business travelers already have their cars, and renting on Wednesday means you’ll have your car before others, particularly big-city dwellers, who wait until Thursday or Friday to rent a car for the weekend. Saturday makes sense because rates sometimes are 10 percent to 20 percent cheaper then.

3. Know where to rent. If you can help it, don’t rent a car at an airport, where you will be typically charged the highest rates and get hit with high airport taxes and fees. Just about anywhere else makes more sense.

4. Shop around. Check travel websites. Find out if your credit card company offers discounts. If you’re a member of a group, such as AAA or AARP, find out what they offer. After you find the best price, call the rental car companies and ask for an even better deal. Sometimes they have unadvertised deals for people who bother to call.   

5. Decline the insurance. Your auto insurance policy very well may cover you, and you may have coverage through your credit card company. Find out before you pick up your car. If you don’t have insurance, buy it from your insurance agent, who often will sell it to you cheaper than will the rental car companies.

6. Pump your own gas. Rental car companies may charge you twice as much for the convenience of not having to find a gas station near where you rented the car.

7. Check your watch. If you return your rental car even a few minutes late, you may get charged for a whole day. Some companies have grace periods that allow you to return a car as much as two hours late. When you reserve or pick up the car, find out about any grace periods.

8.  Examine your bill. Study the bill when you return the car to make sure you weren’t charged for services you didn’t request. This happens more often than you would think.