Renting a car can give you freedom and flexibility when you're travelling, and in some parts of the world it's the only feasible way to get around. But a rental car can sometimes add complications to your trip -- like trying to find the best deal or sorting out exactly which insurance options you need. Read on for our practical tips on saving money, understanding your rental agreement and avoiding problems with your car rental.
Choosing a Vehicle
Think carefully about what kind of vehicle you'll need. If you're traveling with children or with a lot of gear, you may want a large sedan or SUV. If you're simply looking to save money on rental rates and gas, you'll want to reserve the smallest available model.
Booking Your Car
How long will you be renting? If it's for less than a week, you'll probably do best with a major rental company, such as Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National or Thrifty. For rentals of a week or longer, you may get better rates from local companies, particularly auto dealers. Remember, however, to be wary of local companies if you plan to drive a lot; if you break down or get into an accident, they usually lack the support services of the majors.
Always shop around. Check the major booking engines and aggregator sites (such as Travelocity and Kayak) to get an idea of what rates are available, but you should also visit the car rental companies' Web sites as well -- they'll often offer exclusive discounts, and you'll avoid booking fees. Don't forget to check out our selection of discount car rental deals before making any reservations.
To lower your rate, ask about discounts for any major national organisations, frequent flier programs and credit card programs to which you may belong. They'll frequently offer deals on car rentals. Those offered through AAA can be very good. If you're employed by a company that frequently rents cars, they may have a negotiated rate. Make sure to check.
Before you book online, do an Internet search for coupon or promotion codes to put into the booking engine of your car rental company's site. Just type the name of the company followed by "coupon code" into the search field and you'll often find special promotion codes that could save you anywhere from 5 to 20 percent off the cost of your rental.
If you haven't already, consider joining your car rental company's loyalty program when you book. These vary by company, but most of them are free and entitle you to certain privileges when picking up your vehicle; your information will be on file ahead of time, allowing you to simply jump into the car and go rather than standing in a long line or filling out paperwork. You could also be eligible for special discounts or free upgrades.
Understanding Your Rental
If you're booking online, read the terms and conditions carefully before confirming your reservation. If you're booking over the phone, ask the agent about restrictions. Be sure you understand the conditions of your reservation. Is there a penalty for no-shows? How long will the car be held if you're stuck in traffic on the way to the pickup station? Is there a fee for additional drivers and must their names be listed in the contract? Is your 20-year-old daughter old enough to drive the car? (For liability reasons, this is important.)
If pertinent, ask about any restrictions on interstate travel. For your own protection in case of breakdown, be sure the company has offices in all the states on your itinerary.
For one-way car rentals, ask about drop-off charges. They can be exorbitant.
Always get a confirmation number. For airport rentals, be sure to give the customer service representative your flight number and scheduled arrival time. This will usually protect your reservation if the flight is delayed.