Consumers rent a car for many different reasons. If your daily driver is in the shop for repairs that take more than a few hours, a rental car can avoid a major inconvenience. If your regular car is a compact, you can rent a larger car or van when you have a big crowd to transport. Business travelers love to rent a car for convenience and security. Vacationers like the freedom that a rental car affords. Because of all the benefits of renting a car, pretty much everyone does at one time or another. However, if you only rent cars infrequently, the number of rental car offers can seem pretty bewildering. We’ve compiled a list of handy tips to make it easier to shop for a great price on a car rental.
Beware Price Comparison Websites
Consumers mostly rely on internet searches to find deals on most everything from everyday shopping to vacation getaways. It’s also a popular way to search for car rental deals. Price-conscious shoppers are often surprised to find out that the best deals don’t always appear on price comparison websites.
You Don’t Reserve a Car. You Reserve a Rate
The real problem you’ll face if you deal only with price comparison websites is that they don’t actually have anything to do with renting cars. A price comparison and booking app on your phone is simply a go-between for car rental companies and potential customers. Even though it can appear that you’re dealing with an online company when you’re making your reservations, eventually you have to directly deal with the actual rental car agency, and the price, fees, rules, and even the availability of a car might not match what was understood when you made your reservations online.
It’s especially dangerous to rely on internet go-between apps for car rental when you’re far away from home, and you’re depending on the agency to honor the deal an internet aggregator quoted. Some travelers arrive at the rental counter only to find out that only the rate was guaranteed. There was no guarantee that a car would be available to take advantage of that rate, however. (Related: read our previous advice on what to do when your hotel, auto rental company, airline overbooks).
Ask About Car Rental Fees
Price comparison apps and websites basically spit out a number when you search for car rentals. That number is often massaged to make it appear as low as possible. The car rental companies advertise the lowest rates they have, but they count on upselling and add-on fees to make money.
Smart price shoppers inquire about additional fees and needed services before plunking down their credit cards on an auto rental. Many car rental companies charge hefty premiums for young drivers. They also charge more for multiple drivers, necessary insurance, and even filling up the gas tank when you return the car. It’s important to find out an accurate rate for all the services you require on a car rental to make an informed choice. Fee structures at the major car rental agencies make that very difficult on price comparison websites.
This video clip from the Today show has a good rundown on assorted car rental fees:
Try Independent Rent a Car Companies
Price comparison websites might seem like they’re cutting edge, but in many ways they’re stuck in the past. They usually only feature a few of the largest car rental agencies in the country. Just a few years ago, there really weren’t that many companies for car rentals. In the last two decades, the number has exploded. If you rely only on price comparison apps to find car rental companies, you’re probably missing out on the large majority of choices.
For example, if you want to rent a car in Pasadena CA, or anywhere in greater Los Angeles, the most recent US Census survey found 163 car rental establishments to choose from. That’s an astonishing amount of choice for consumers. Only a small fraction of these car rental companies can be found on the largest online aggregators.
Avoid a Rush
Many hotel and airline booking aggregators specialize in last-minute deals on travel. If you’re willing to travel on a moment’s notice, many carriers and lodging chains will offer you great rates to fill a room or plane seat that would otherwise go empty. That approach doesn’t work well for car rental, however.
Car rental companies give the best rates to customers who book ahead, and who rent for the longest terms. They try to balance the number of cars they have with the number of renters they expect to serve. That’s not a recipe for great rates or even availability when you try to rent a car at the last minute. Shop ahead to get the best rates.
Check Your Insurance Carefully
Most drivers who own their own car have a lot of automobile insurance. That insurance usually covers the drive when they rent a car for business or pleasure. There are also a handful of other ways to cover your liability when you drive a rental car. Some credit cards have insurance benefits attached to their terms that also apply to car rental. As an added bonus, you may also qualify for some discounts depending on which card you use.
These types of insurance benefits should be considered carefully when you rent a car, minivan, or truck. While it’s always good to qualify for coverage at no extra cost, you need to make sure that your insurance is comprehensive enough to cover your potential liability. This is especially true if you rent a car in another country, where the terms of your policies might become murky. When in doubt, it’s easy and free to contact your insurance company and ask for guidance.
Don’t Rent More Car Than You Need
When you’re checking your insurance for renting a car, make sure you accurately identify the type of car you’ll be renting. Sometimes it’s fun to splurge on an exotic car rental, or more convenient to rent a bigger car or truck than you regularly drive. However, you may be in for a nasty surprise when you find out that the liability limits you’re paying for on your tiny subcompact don’t measure up to the potential losses when you wreck a rented sports car.
In every case, you’ll save the most money when you rent only as much car as you need. The rates for simple, small cars are lower, and you’ll avoid a lot of added fees.
Rent A Car in Pasadena CA, and Los Angeles
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