Practical Tips: Renting a Car

If you are new to renting a car or just haven’t done so in a while, here are a few tips and questions for you to consider before the next trip.

1. Do you really need it?

We’re so used to driving all the time at home so it can seem automatic but if you just use your rental car to get to and from the airport, and then spend a load of money to have it parked most of the rest of the time there might be a better way. Consider the alternate transport options from the airport and the walkability of the town as well as bus and taxi options.

  • The airport website will list all possible transport options into town. Airport shuttles are usually a good bet– shared shuttle, leaves regularly, takes you straight to your hotel for under 20 dollars.
  • You can check out public transportation routes on Google Maps now, just put in your start and end point like usual but toggle from  the car icon to the bus icon at the top left of the screen.
  • Call taxi companies ahead of time to get price quotes or call the front desk or concierge of your hotel.

Since parking at major cities can range from 25 dollars a day to much, much higher, even at your hotel, you’ll save tons of money by skipping the car entirely plus you won’t have to deal with finding parking.

2. Are you aware of all the charges?

The price quote you get when you search online to make a reservation is not inclusive.

  • It doesn’t include insurance which can double what you pay per day and doesn’t include any extras like GPS or kids’ car seats.
  • Also, be aware that when you pay the car company will put an additional hold of around $250 for incidentals. If you’re using your credit card a lot on that trip, or are near the balance limit this can mess you up!
  • If you’re not using your credit card you will have an even harder time as you must present a lot of paperwork (call and ask, I’ve seen people not get a car because they couldn’t pay with credit card.)

3. You can say no to some of these charges.

  • Do you have your own car insurance? Health insurance? Are you a AAA motor club member? Are you using a major credit card to pay for your rental?
  • You have automatic protections from many of these sources that will allow you to decline some or all of the insurance options.
  • If you’re considering renting a GPS for a week or more, I’m not kidding you, it’s cheaper to buy one.
Caroline Gutman,
Caroline Gutman,

4. A few more things for you to know.

  • Renting from one city and dropping it off in another city is often not allowed or is prohibitively expensive.
  • Save a little extra money if you’re staying at an airport hotel (with a free shuttle) during any part of your stay by dropping off or picking up your car a day or two later/earlier. I’ve saved money when flying out on an early flight by dropping off my car the night before and taking the shuttle in in the morning. However, check what hours the airport shuttle runs.
  • If you are only reserving for a few days and are having trouble finding cars online, expand your reservation to a week; suddenly more options will appear in your search (just make sure there’s no penalty for returning the car early).
  • Airport rentals are always more expensive due to taxes and fees. If you can get into town another way and rent from another location you’ll save.
  • If there’s an option to rent a toll pass and you’re in a major city and/or will be doing a lot of local highway driving it will make your life a little easier.
  • Most car rental rewards clubs are not worth it when you don’t rent frequently. However, major chains are partnered with airlines so you can accrue frequent flier miles instead. Go to the website of wherever you are trying to earn the most miles from and see their partner deals which might also include discounts and upgrades. If you’re into travel hacking, which you can read a bit about here and here, this is the route you should be going from the start.

This is based on rental cars for business on a weekly basis for several years. I have not yet had the pleasure of renting internationally (on my own anyway). Have you?  If you have more tips, please share.