Not many people know how renting a car really works. And that’s normal because we usually don’t have to do so very often. In this blog post, you’ll find the best tips to save money the next time you rent a car.
Often, soon after you’ve booked a flight on our cheap flight deals page, you’ll realize that you will need a rental car to get around once you get to your destination. We have a tool on our website that looks for the best price for your rental car, but before using it, here is what you need to know about the prices… and how to find the cheapest option.
I often hear and read a lot of ridiculous things about car rentals, mostly statements such as “company XYZ is the cheapest” or “company ABC is the best“. Regardless of which company you choose to associate with these quotes, it is an outright lie. I’ve rented cars dozens and dozens of times, and I assure you you shouldn’t listen to those people.
That being said, I have mostly rented cars in Canada and the USA, so the following article applies mostly to those 2 countries, but from what I understand and my more limited experience in Europe, it’s very similar in the rest of the world.
No Company Can Be the Cheapest Everywhere Or Every Time
The company that will have the best price will vary depending on where you are, the date and the moment you are making the reservation. The prices are not fixed, they’re dynamic the same way that airfares are. Prices are ever-changing to meet the supply and demand specific to each and every location…
If you found, when searching on October 13th, that renting a car in Fort Lauderdale for November 18th was cheapest with Hertz, this DOES NOT MEAN that Hertz is always the cheapest everywhere and all the time. It should be obvious! If you change the starting date to November 19th, another company will most likely be cheaper. Even by simply changing the pick-up time, the very same day, another company could be cheaper.
If you do the exact same search, but the day after your first searched it, another company could now be cheaper. The cheapest company for a compact car will not necessarily be the cheapest for a bigger car, even for the same dates. For the same car at the same location, Alamo could be the cheapest in January, but in March it could now be Enterprise. Finally, if you are now looking to rent in California, the cheapest company will most certainly be different than the one you found in Florida….
So, be aware of the people that tell you, “I compared them once, Avis was the cheapest.” It was probably true at that point and time, but it certainly does not mean that it’s true all the time… exactly the same as with flights.
A Concrete Example
Last December, I flew 3 weekends in a row from Montreal (Plattsburgh) to Orlando (we love ultra low-cost carriers and their cheap fares). All 3 times I rented a car at Orlando Airport. All 3 times were Thursday, all of them were at the same hour (arriving on the same flight) and all 3 were for the same amount of time.
Well, all 3 times I rented with a different company because the cheapest was never the same! Once Hertz was the cheapest, another time it was Avis and then Payless. It’s ever-changing so it’s important to compare, every single time.
Why Is It Like This?
The prices for rental cars are extremely volatile. They follow the most basic law of economics: supply & demand. If they have more cars left, the prices will drop. If more people than expected reserved with one single company, their price will go up because they’ll have fewer cars in inventory. If you want a minivan, and it’s the last one for a particular company for your dates, even if it’s usually the cheapest one, it will most likely be more expensive than the other company where there is still 8 minivans available.
At the risk of repeating myself: it’s unpredictable and ever-changing. If someone tells you “rent with this company, they’re always the cheapest,” don’t listen to them (unless you want to pay more). As I said, I rented dozens and dozens of cars and I tried almost all companies because almost all of them were once the cheapest when I was looking.
It’s Easy to Find the Cheapest Price
If you use our price comparison tool that compares the price of all rental car companies at the same time, it’s easy to find which company has the best price. Much easier than going to each companies’ website. It compares all the available companies and shows you the price in one same location.
And honestly, as you’ll see a bit later, all the major companies are basically the same. The smallest companies (those other than Avis, Hertz, Budget, National, Alamo, Enterprise, Thrifty, Dollar, Fox, Payless and Sixt) can sometimes have prices that are a couple of dollars lower. It’s up to you to judge if they’re worth it, but personally, I always stick with the 11 above-mentioned reputable companies with a national footprint and I have never had any problems.
When Should You Buy to Save More?
When you buy, as with flight tickets, can make a huge difference on the price you’ll pay (it can even easily be twice the price). The largest rental car market is still the business people, so waiting until the very last minute will generally cost you more than booking in advance.
Sometimes, some of the offers are refundable for free up to 2 days before the trip, useful for those that aren’t sure of final plans. Sometimes it is prepaid and there is a fee for refunds though, so read the fine print carefully. The best way to have a good idea of the price you should be paying is to check the price for your dates in our search tool. Then play a bit around those dates (and hours), check a few days later, a week later and you should get a pretty good idea of the price in your destination city. Usually, booking ahead of time will always be cheaper, especially if you are going in high season.
Which Company is the Cheapest?
Weren’t you listening? I told you that it changes every time! Joking aside, there are certain companies that are usually cheaper than others, but you don’t even need to know as our comparison tool will show you everything ordered by price.
Budget and Enterprise are often the cheapest, Hertz and Avis aren’t too far behind. Thrifty and Alamo are rarely the cheapest and finally National almost never is. There are other minor industry players with an ever-growing presence, but that are not as well-known yet, those are Dollar, Payless, Fox, and Sixt. They seem to have the same policies and similar price than the big ones. Europcar in Europe is reliable as well.
Finally, there are the local dealers that can exist in some locations. Be sure to Google them before renting there, as their reputation and policies can vary from the bigger players. Unless there is a huge price difference, you should stick to the above-mentioned brands. You’ll be assured of a certain standard.
Two New Options
There are also two new options in the rental car world and both are trying to disrupt the industry in some way. Unlike all the other companies, they won’t appear on our rental car search tool.
First of all, Silvercar is a new premium car rental company that is technology-driven and only has silver Audi A4 vehicles. They eliminate the worst part of renting a car, the whole part about going to the counter. Everything can be done on the app, which is great and I can’t wait to try it. They are only in a few US cities at the moment, and they are a bit more expensive, but we have a promo code to give you $25 off your first rental, which might make it worth it to try Silvercar at least once: enter BWCGJXUL when signing up.
Finally, the second new option is TURO, the “Airbnb of car rentals”. Basically you rent someone’s car. The big issue with that for me at least is that often the mileage isn’t unlimited, unlike all major rental car companies. As someone who loves roadtrips and usually drives a lot when I rent a car, that’s pretty much a deal-breaker. If you do want to try it though, again, with our referral link you’ll get US$25 off your first rental.
“But THIS Company Is the Best”
No. They’re all very similar, at least the 11 biggest mentioned above. The same cars, the same policies (unlimited mileage, similar fees for optional services, etc.) and the same experience. The only one where there really is a difference would be National. They allow you to pay for a smaller car and leave with a bigger one for “free”, but the small cars are usually twice the price (or more) than everywhere else, so it’s not really that free. It’s usually not the most economical option and it’s not really worth it.
I’ve never had any bad experiences with any of them, and even if it was the case, they all have hundreds of locations, so you can’t really extrapolate one bad experience to an entire company.
Last Tips to Save More
The insurances that those rental companies will try (very hard) to sell you are probably the biggest scam in the travel world, nothing less.
There are three conditions you must meet to decline all their insurance options and still be covered for free. We have a lot more rental car content coming soon on the blog, so subscribe to our free newsletter to get it directly.
The only way to be sure that you are paying the lowest price for your rental car is pretty simple: compare the price from all the different companies using our comparison tool. All the 11 major companies named above are pretty much the same and are all very good. Choose the cheapest.
We want your opinion! Which article on our car rental series should we do next? Many of them will feature other great tips to save more money!
Here are the choices, tell us which one you want to see in the comments below and the most popular will be published next:
- When is it worth it to rent a car or not?
- Why does the hour of your reservation affect the price you get?
- How much (per day) should you be paying
- How can you get a free upgrade when your car category isn’t available?
- How to save one day and save money
- How to be treated like a VIP for free and save time at the counter
- How to save by not renting directly at the airport
- Can you rent a car regardless of your age?
- How to cross the border with a rental car (yes, it’s possible and simple!)
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