how to get a cheap rental car

How to get cheap rental cars – 20 clever rental car hacks

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Want to know how to get cheap rental cars? I’m here to explain exactly how to find the cheapest rental car so you can save money on your trip and travel on a budget.

Rental cars can be an important part of your trip, especially if you want the freedom to explore a location on your own terms and see everything you want to see. Although it may seem more difficult to get good deals on rental cars than to get cheap hotels or to find cheap flights, it’s totally possible to save money on this part of your trip too. I’ll tell you all about the keys to getting the best prices on rental cars. In this article, I’ll explain where to look for rental cars, how to find the best deals, and the many other things you need to take into account to save money on your rental car.

Ready to see the 20 best tips for finding rental car deals? Let’s get started!

1. Book at the cheapest rental car company

The ideal way to find cheap rental cars is to use a website that compares companies’ prices so you can choose the cheapest option. The best cheap rental car websites to use are RentalcarsOrbitz, and Expedia.

Compare rental car companies, how to get cheap rental car

1. Book at the cheapest rental car company

These sites track rental car websites to find you the best deals. There is usually a variety of ways to sort the results, such as by price, vehicle type, or other features, so you can make sure you get everything you’re looking for. We usually use Rentalcars, since that’s where we always find the best prices. Sometimes the prices that you can get in Rentalcars are two and even three times cheaper than booking your rental cars through the final rental company.

2. Avoid airports and get a cheap rental car

Airports are high-traffic places. Lots of people rent cars there since it’s easy and convenient to get off your flight and hop straight into a rental car. Unfortunately, this also means that prices on rental cars are higher here, so they’re not the best place to rent a car. The same thing happens at train stations.

The cheapest site for rental cars isn't the airports or train stations

2. Avoid airports and get a cheap rental car

Even if you haven’t been able to make an online reservation, it’s better to avoid these types of places if you want to get the cheapest rental car. At large airports, where there are lots of companies, you might be able to find a good deal, but even so, you’re better off checking all of your options. Sometimes your cheapest option might even be taking a taxi to the city center and renting a car there instead of renting it at the airport.

3. Car rental hack to save a lot of money – Book with free cancellation

This is probably one of the easier car rental hacks– Book multiple cars with free cancellation, and then cancel the ones you don’t want as rates get lower.

A good way to get the best rental car rates is to make bookings with free cancellation. If you find a cheaper deal later, you can cancel the previous reservation at no cost to you and nab that cheaper deal. This may not be possible for all rental reservations, but it is something to keep in mind. If you use Rentalcars, most reservations on their website will give you free cancellation.

4. If you want to get a cheap rental car, skip insurance

When you rent a car, whatever company you rent from will try to get you to buy their company’s insurance. If you really want to get a cheap rental car, avoid this option, because they usually increase the prices on the insurance. In fact, many people’s own vehicle insurance covers rental cars, making buying the car company’s insurance totally unnecessary.

Have a look at the elements included in your own car insurance, and when you book a rental car through a company, look very carefully at what’s included and only buy what is necessary.

Avoid extras is the cheap ways to rent a car

4. If you want to get a cheap rental car, skip insurance

My advice is to book a rental car through Rentalcars without taking out any insurance. Once you collect the car, you can always take out insurance there. Rentalcars works by selling super cheap rental cars and then hiking up the price of their insurance. Rental cars on their website can sometimes be up to three times cheaper than booking them through the official company, but the insurance Rentalcars sells is super expensive compared to the insurance you can buy at the counter when you collect the car. Additionally, the insurance Rentalcars sells is “unofficial” insurance, so if you have an accident, you’ll have to pay the rental car company and then try to get Rentalcars to reimburse you, which is a total mess.

To make a long story short, book your rental car with Rentalcars to get a good deal, and if you want to buy insurance, don’t get it until you pick up the car.

5. Do you really need a cheap way to rent a car?

Assess if you really need a car for your entire trip. One of the best cheap ways to rent a car is to only rent it for the days you’ll actually use it.

Cheapest way to rent a car for a month if you do a route

5. Do you really need a cheap way to rent a car?

For example, if you’re going to be in a city for a few days, it might be easier and more convenient to just use public transport while you’re there. I would suggest not renting a car for the days you’re there, which might save you a lot of money.

When we’re going to be in a city for several days and then take a road trip, we don’t pick up our car until we leave the city.

6. Pay upfront and get the best rental car prices

Another great way to get the cheapest rental cars is by paying for your reservation in advance.

If you find a good price on a rental car, there are companies who will offer you up to a 35% discount if you pay for your reservation upfront. However, reserving a rental car this way normally doesn’t include cancellations, so I recommend this option only if you’re completely sure that you’ll make your trip and that you’re satisfied with the price.

Rentalcars, for example, has some offers if you prefer to pay in advance and aren’t worried about cancellation.

7. Use your rewards credit cards to book a cheap rental car

Some credit cards give you points for hotel and flight reservations, regular purchases, and even car reservations. A clever way to get cheap rental cars is to use the points you’ve accumulated from these credit cards when you book your rental car. That way, spending money also saves you money.

We know of two credit cards that give you this option: the Capital One Venture Rewards card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

How to get rental car discounts with credit cards

7. Use your rewards credit cards to book a cheap rental car

With the Capital One Venture Rewards card, you earn unlimited 2x miles per dollar and 50,000 bonus miles if you spend $3,000 within three months of opening your account. One of the best parts about this card is that your miles don’t expire and there are no blackout dates for using them. You can fly any airline and rent a car using the miles you’ve earned.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card is another fantastic travel credit card. You earn 2x points on travel and dining expenses and get 60,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 within 3 months of opening your account (that’s $750 in travel credit). Plus, you can get 25% more value for your points if you use them toward flights, hotels, car rentals, and more, so you can use those points to get cheap rental cars.

8. Book a flight + hotel + rental car package for cheap

If you’re wondering where to find the cheapest rental car, it might just be in a vacation package. Some websites offer a hotel + flight + rental car package, which can sometimes be cheaper than booking each of these elements separately.

Travel package for reserving a rental car cheap

8. Book a flight + hotel + rental car package for cheap

To get the cheapest rental car, I recommend comparing hotel, flight, and rental car prices separately and then looking at packages so you can book the best overall option. If this option works out for you, you might be able to save money, not only on renting your car, but also on your entire trip.

The cheapest sites for rental cars if you want to look for packages are Orbitz.com and Expedia.

9. Peer-to-peer car rental – The best way to get a cheap rental car

To get an inexpensive rental car, sometimes you have to think outside the box. Rental car companies can often offer their vehicles at very high prices.

Turo, a good website to find cheapest rates on rental cars

9. Peer-to-peer car rental – The best way to get a cheap rental car

To get around this, you might want to try renting another person’s car. I recommend turo.com. This website is the most popular peer-to-peer car rental website in the USA. They have cars in many destinations around the world and even offer free cancellation up to 24 hours before your trip. If you’re worried about safety, Turo tests cars to make sure they meet their safety standards, and they also offer 24/7 roadside assistance.

10. Big car rental companies are not always the cheapest ones

There are many different types of companies that rent cheap rental cars: low-cost; large, international companies; and small or local ones.

The low-cost companies might not always have the cheapest rental cars, although they do usually have good offers. I recommend reading their contracts carefully because they usually hide extra charges in the fine print.

Big or local car rental companies, what is the cheapest rental car company

10. Big car rental companies are not always the cheapest ones

The large, international companies tend to offer more expensive rental car options, but they are very convenient to use because they have so many offices and locations all over the world.

Finally, local companies are perfect to use for islands or smaller destinations, since they’ll offer you more competitive prices.

The bottom line is: keep your options open. Do some research on all of your different rental car options. It may seem easiest to just pick the big, brand-name rental car company, but you might be able to get a much better price from a smaller company.

11. Don’t rent a GPS with your rental car 

One of the main ways to get the cheapest rates on rental cars is by avoiding extras like GPS. Satellite radio and navigation may sound really tempting and even useful, but they can make your rental car much more expensive. An extra $15 a day doesn’t sound that bad, but it quickly adds up over time.

Avoid these extras, and if you’re traveling somewhere where you won’t have Internet, use the Maps.me app on your phone as GPS. Maps.me is perfect because the app doesn’t require Internet to be able to use the maps.

Avoid GPS and extras to find lowest rental car rates

11. Don’t rent a GPS with your rental car

You will need to download the maps using Internet beforehand, but once it’s done, you don’t need Internet for Navigation. We’ve used it plenty of times on our travels, and although there were times that the roads weren’t updated or we got a little lost, we’ve saved a lot of money thanks to this app. If you’d prefer not to use an app on your phone, you can even go old school and use a physical map.

12. The oldest person should drive to get the lowest cost rental car

A lot of rental car companies will charge you extra if the person renting the car is under 25 or 30 years old because young drivers are considered more of a liability. If you want to get a cheap car, let someone over 30 drive.

If, for example, you’re going on a trip with a group of friends and one of you is over 30, let him or her reserve a rental car and drive it. It will save you a lot of money.

Sometimes rental car companies even rent based on your years of driving experience, so, in that case, make sure the person with the most experience reserves and drives the car.

13. Extra drivers increase the rate of your rental car

If you want to get the best rental car rates, it might be best to only have one person drive.

Don't add extra drivers for inexpensive rental car

13. Extra drivers increase the rate of your rental car

Renting a car is often cheaper when only one person drives, as some rental car companies add an extra cost when there is more than one driver. If you really want more than one person to drive the rental car, check if you can find a rental car option where there’s no extra cost for another driver if that person is a family member or partner. Certain US states, such as California, Illinois, and Oregon, will allow you to add your partner as a driver for free.

14. Avoid these days of the week if you want to rent a car for cheap

Although sometimes it may be unavoidable, if you can, I would avoid renting a car on a Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday because it’s more expensive on those days.

If you can balance your trip around the best time to rent cars, it will save you a lot of money. Other expenses such as accommodation and flights will also be cheaper during the week, so this tip can help you save on your entire trip.

You might also be able to get great car rental deals if you avoid these days. For instance, many Enterprise locations offer reduced rates if you book Friday through Monday.

15. Full/full. The fuel policy to help you save on your rental car

Some rental car companies will offer you the option of prepaid gas or a fuel plan. They might even allow you to return your car with a less-than-full tank if you purchase a full tank in advance. However, these options are usually quite expensive, since companies tend to charge a lot for fuel.

The fuel policy, an important cheapest rental car options

15. Full/full. The fuel policy to help you save on your rental car

If you want to save on rental cars, skip this option. Instead, fill up on gas yourself, and get the cheapest gas by comparing prices at the nearest gas stations.

16. Book in advance to get the best rental car deals

If you want to get the cheapest rental car, I recommend booking it 4-8 weeks before your trip. It’s easier to find great deals the further out you are from your trip.

If you book your car later on, you might be able to get a last-minute deal, but most of the time, you probably won’t. Plus, booking ahead of time will give you time to keep an eye on prices and see if they fall. If they do, you might be able to snap up an even better rental car deal. To avoid surprises with prices and have everything ready, you should definitely book in advance.

17. Opt for economy cars for the lowest price

One of the best ways to get a cheap rental car is to rent the best car for your needs.

Before you book your car, think about the size and type of vehicle you need. Do you really need a large, fancy SUV, or would a sedan work better for the type of trip you’re taking? Remember, smaller cars are usually cheaper than big ones.

Take the car that you need, how to get the best rental car deals

17. Opt for economy cars for the lowest price

However, if you’re going on a long trip and bringing lots of luggage, you’ll want to make sure you have a trunk that isn’t too small. In that case, it might be better to book a larger car.

Another thing to keep in mind is the need for a specialty vehicle. If you visit the Highlands of Iceland, for example, you’ll probably want to rent a 4×4 so you can safely navigate the terrain. Even if it’s more expensive, if you need a specialty vehicle to ensure your safety, prioritize your safety over cost.

Rent the vehicle you need for your trip, no more, no less.

18. Cheap car rentals for a week or more

Many rental car companies offer discounts when you rent a car for a week or more. Take advantage of cheap rentals for a week and book yourself a longer rental if you can. Sometimes it’s worth it to extend that road trip to seven days instead of only five.

My advice is to compare how much it would cost to rent the car for a few days versus for a week. That way, you can assess whether it would be worth it to rent the car for an extra day or two.

19. Adjust the pickup and drop-off times for a lower cost

Saving on rental cars can be as easy as making sure you return your rental car at an earlier designated time.

Some companies will charge you for late pickups and drop-offs, so pay attention to the company’s hours. If you return your car really early in the morning or pick it up really late at night, you might still be charged for the day.

Adjust the pickup and drop-off times for cheap rentals for a week

19. Adjust the pickup and drop-off times for a lower cost

Get cheap rental cars by avoiding extremely early and late hours. For instance, it might save you some money to return the car a couple of hours before your flight leaves instead of waiting until later.

20. Be aware of the one-way car rental fee

It can be so convenient to pick up your rental car at one location and drop it off at another, especially if you’re going on a long road trip. However, returning your rental car at a different location is more expensive.

If you turn your route into a circular one so you can drop your car off at the same place you picked it up, you can get cheaper rental car rates.

If a circular route isn’t possible and you need to return the car to a different location than where you picked it up, compare different companies’ prices so you can find the most affordable one.

Those are our 20 tips for getting cheap rental cars! I hope you find them useful and use them to get great deals the next time you rent a car. Also, you can check our guide on how to travel for cheap.

Happy road tripping!

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COFOUNDER & TRAVEL JUNKIE

Hi, I'm Ascen, a globetrotter based in Philadelphia, USA. I enjoy exploring new landscapes and creating in-depth travel guides for Capture the Atlas.

I have felt a special connection with nature and all the inhabitants of the planet since I was a kid. I am passionate about discovering new countries and especially their wildlife, but no matter how many places I visit, I will always belong to the remote beaches of Almería, in Southern Spain.

You can know a little more about me here.

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