Saving Time and Money on Car Rentals

We have distilled our top money-saving strategies for saving significantly on car rentals in a reference list for our readers. Do let us know what tips you have used to get a great deal on car rentals, as well.

  • One Way Car-Rentals

An itinerary that does not require a loop back to your starting city or airport can allow for broad exploration, but typically, renting one-way is not the best deal. However, there is one exceptional situation. Each year, rental car companies need to move cars into and out of Florida, depending on the season. Thus you can find a deal on a one-way rental from Florida to points north in April and May, with the reverse trip (heading south) on sale in September and October. We’ve seen deals for as low as $9 a day… however, a “sale” is rarely announced, and deals only exist for a 6-8 weeks each year. Keep an eye on prices as these dates come close. A good use would be starting in Orlando and heading north to Charleston with stops along the way at the myriad of unique NPS units located on that Atlantic coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, such as Cumberland Island National Seashore, Fort Sumter National Monument, and Canaveral National Seashore.

UPDATE!

Hertz is now live with their fall rental promo. One way car rentals to Florida (from points north) at $9 a day. This year you can also drop off in Atlanta in addition to the usual Florida cities, see this link for more info.

Note that more northern cities come into the promo on Oct 9, and then even more on Nov 27. You have until Dec. 10 to drop off the car in Florida or Atlanta.

  • Points Accumulation

Since there are presently no branded credit cards that earn points for rental car companies, you’ll need to earn points via alternative routes. Many companies will run valuable promos during the non-summer months to drum up business. Even in the current economic climate (good economy = bad for points) there have been some excellent opportunities recently, including 3x points on Hertz, and with National, the option to rent twice and get a free day. These can be quite valuable. For example, we value Hertz points at around $.010 to $0.15 per point, so a 3x promo is essentially a 30% to 45% rebate on the car rental cost. We used 2,750 of our Hertz points on a weekly car rental in Montana while exploring Glacier National Park, saving us $375.

An additional way of earning points for rental cars is via online surveys such as those on e-Rewards or MyPoints.com. Surveys can earn currency that can be traded in for valuable car rewards points. After taking the surveys, you will earn a set number of points based on these sites, these can then be “cashed out” into car rental company points.

You can also elect to use Chase Ultimate Rewards on car rentals, they are redeemable via the Chase website at 1.25 cents per ultimate reward point toward rental costs.

The real new car smell, a rental with only 5 miles on the odometer ! Photo by Derek Wright.

The real new car smell, a rental with only 5 miles on the odometer ! Photo by Derek Wright.

  • Shopping Portals

Online shopping that moves purchases through portals, for example, Ebates, will allow you to select a rental company, and offer additional cash back on car rentals; rebates can be, at times, as high as 10% cash back on your rental.

  • Using Credit Cards to Save on Insurance

The cost of insurance can overshadow a great daily rate. Currently, the Chase Sapphire Preferred now offers primary and secondary insurance if you charge the rental on their card. Another good deal is the American Express premium insurance; if you have select AMEX cards you can sign up for the program for only $19, and benefit from primary insurance on your car rental for up to 42 days. Of course, none of these policies offer liability at this point, so if you don’t have a personal car insurance policy, consider taking out a yearly blanket non-owners insurance policy, as the rates on liability via the car rental companies an be onerous. We have one that covers us both for less than $65 per month, as we rent frequently.

  • Booking via airline websites

Many airlines run deals with car rental companies, offering a bonus amount of miles tied to the number of days you rent a car. While not as valuable as the car rental points, this may align with your points earning strategy. We have found that on occasion some of the best rental rates are actually found via the airline’s car rental booking portal.

What other tips have you used to get a great deal on car rentals?