Reduce car rental costs

Cutting Rental Costs
There are many ways to reduce the cost of your rental- some are obvious, many less so.

Shop Around Online
As stated on the Car Rental Advice page, you have 3 main options for renting your car – One of the big multinationals, a broker site or a local company. There are plus and minus points for each. Once you’ve made your choice, if using a broker site or one of the big companies, try checking prices using a variety of web domain prefixes –you may find that some are cheaper than others.

For instance, a random check for a weeks car rental in Munich using the www.AutoEurope.com site, reveals that the www.AutoEurope.FR site (the French prefix) is 15 euros more expensive than the .COM, .ES (Spain) , and .BE (Belgium) prefixes.

Checking the same rental on the Hertz website variants produced even greater discrepancies –

.Com was 263 Euros, .DE and .UK were 240 Euros, .FR was 233 and .ES was 219. It shouldn’t matter which country you’re based in which prefix you use, if the booking is accepted and a voucher is issued the rental company must honour it.

Which Car?
First consider what sort of car you need –if there are only two of you, maybe the smallest model will do. If you use a local company, ask what the roads will be like at the time of your visit –will you need a 4×4 or will a small saloon car suffice? When booking, check if any extras are included in the price and if you don’t need them see if you can strip them out. For instance, the rental company may base the price on an air conditioned car in many parts of Southern Europe. If you’ll be visiting in Winter, you may not need A/C so ask if they have a cheaper model without this function.

Which Location?
Next consider where you’ll pick the car up from. Most companies will charge extra if you pick up at an airport, train station or ferry port. As stated below, it’s actually better not to pick the car up on arrival in a new country if you can. See if the company has an office in the town centre and arrange to collect it there. Similarly, the company may agree to deliver the car to your hotel. They’ll usually charge for this so if the office is nearby you could save a lot of money by walking or taking a cab there.

Which insurance?
Think about what insurance you’ll need. In some countries, such as Israel and Italy, the excess insurance /CDW is compulsory but in others its optional. You need to consider the risk and whether you want to pay extra for full insurance to avoid hefty charges in the event of any damage. Its often cheaper to buy a car hire insurance excess policy from a specialist broker before you depart than paying the rental companies CDW Rates. Some companies such asnow offer a daily rate which makes their product an option even for short trips. Theres more details on this on my Car Rental Insurance page. Also think about whether you need additional drivers. You’ll pay more for this so if its unlikely more than one person will drive, don’t bother paying for cover for an additional driver.

Check the Terms
If you book online check the terms of the rental carefully. Some prices are guaranteed in dollars or the local currency, so fluctuations in the rate may mean you end up paying more than you thought. Some companies have small print which allows them to add on additional charges locally –this seems quite common in some African countries. Check whether there is a penalty for late collection and return. Being charged for a late return is common but I’ve also been charged in Portugal for arriving an hour late due to a delayed flight.Also check whether the car has to be cleaned before being returned and whether the tank should be full or empty upon return. You need to make sure you never give the rental company the opportunity to charge you for re-fuelling as the charges will be exorbitant. Some companies give you half a tank of fuel and ask you to return the car with the same amount. This is a money making tactic on their part – they know you’ll always over estimate to make sure you don’t incur a re-fuelling charge so will always put in too much fuel. My advice is to avoid a company who adopt this tactic if you notice this when booking.

Avoid one way Rentals.
You’ll pay more for a one way (open jaw) rental and if dropping the car in a different country the charges can be huge. Therefore don’t book return flights from different locations until you understand how much it will cost in car rental charges. Look at other options if needed. Eg can you drop the car close to an international border and travel the remaining distance by other means. It may even be cheaper to arrange two separate car rentals –one in each country. The fee for dropping/collecting at the border may well be cheaper than an international one way rental.
Avoid Sunday pick ups and drop offs – You may find in many countries that the only outlets open on a Sunday (and sometimes Saturday) are airport and train station locations. As stated above these will invariably cost more so if you can avoid Sunday pick ups you should do so.

Request a Diesel –The fuel is cheaper so the cost per mile will be less than if you rent a petrol car.
Pay in the Local Currency – You may be asked if you want to pay for the rental via Direct Currency Conversion. This means you can pay in your own currency which sounds like a good thing, but you will find that the exchange rate used is favourable to the rental company not you. Therefore you’ll actually pay more than if you accept the charge in the local currency.

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1 comment


  1. Hotwire recently got me a 3-day rental in northern California (near Sacramento) for $83. Including all fees. Was with Budget, where they were perfectly nice and didn’t make me feel like a bad person for using a third-party site. Highly recommended.

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