Tips for summer savings on rental cars

The airport is the most expensive place to pick up a rental car. Image: peanutian/Flickr/CC BY-SA

The summer travel season is well upon us. With rising air fare and somewhat lower fuel prices, many are choosing to drive this year. Many of those drivers will also opt for a rental car in order to save wear on their personal vehicles. And while it is also the season to see increased rental car rates, there are many ways to minimize those costs.

Rental rates spike summer savings

June through August is typically the peak season for auto rentals. As a consequence, the rates generally rise during the summer. According to data from Abrams Consulting Group, the average weekly rate for a rental car in the summer of 2011 was $369.62. That is a greater-than 50 percent increase from its March rate of $236.73.

But that spike can be blunted with some savvy shopping.

Book the smallest model available

When you call to reserve a rental, ask for a compact, even if that is not what you want. Generally, rental agencies have more mid-size and full-size cars available. Americans prefer them as a rule, and the agencies can charge more for them. Often when you do arrive at the rental agency, they are out of compact vehicles. If that is the case, they will be obligated to give you a free upgrade and you will save on the mid- or full-size you wanted in the first place. If, however, they do have a compact available, you can pay the extra then to upgrade, no harm no foul.

However, if you do get stuck with a compact, is that so awful? Generally they will save you even more money with better gas mileage.

Avoid name brands

According to the New York Times, due to reduced operating costs, smaller “off brand” rental agencies can save you 15 to 30 percent over major name agencies like Hertz and Avis. These smaller rental firms can be found at websites like and

Stay away from the airport

Car rental agencies do most of their business at airports. Therefore, they will always charge you more to pick a car up there than they will from their storefront in town. Plus, like many expenses at an airport, you can count on getting slammed with unexpected or hidden fees.

According to the New York Times, renting from an airport kiosk location generally costs about 30 percent more than from elsewhere.

Decline add-ons and insurance

Once you do arrive to pick up your rental car, the salesperson will no doubt turn on the pressure to get you to spend more for add-ons and insurance that you don’t need. This will jack up the cost of your vacation very quickly. But none of it is needed. Even if your personal auto insurance will not cover the rental, your credit card will.

According to

“Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover all provide rental car insurance above and beyond what your primary insurer and rental company will offer.”

Pay in advance

Oftentimes, rental agencies will give you a discount if you pay in advance. The trick is to make sure of your plans before booking the car. These discounts also come with often-steep penalties for cancellations.


Budget Travel 
New York Times
Daily Finance

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