Renting a car can be a truly frustrating experience. You have a choice of spending hours on the telephone, talking about rental car options with representatives of several different companies, or typing your travel dates into multiple rental car company websites. Either way, you’ll end up with a bewildering array of rates, options and questions.
For me, getting a good deal is a matter of research. That old cliché, “Time is money,” really rings true when you’re looking for a rental car. I’ve found that I get better rates by spending time comparing prices and discounts. I always do this research because I have found that even my reliable budget rental car locations don’t always offer the best deal. I spend a lot of time reading the “terms and conditions” section before I reserve a car. I also look closely at the list of fees and taxes associated with my prospective rental. Fees, taxes, dropoff charges and travel restrictions can make or break your rental car deal.
Let me give you an example. I drive from the Washington, D.C. area to Indiana at least once a year. I always rent a car to make this trip. My cars are old, although in good repair, and I’m usually the only driver. The car repair expert – my husband – can’t fix a vehicle by cell phone, so we spend a little extra on a rental car rather than risk a backcountry breakdown.
I usually rent from Enterprise because they offer the best rates from Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI for short), my closest airport. I don’t use a local rental car office, even though daily rates are higher at BWI because of the airport’s facility fees. When I drive to Indiana, I leave early in the morning and return late at night. Neighborhood rental car offices normally open at 8:00 A.M. and close around 5:00 P.M. That means I would pay for two extra days, which ends up costing more than I pay in BWI airport facility fees. Have I confused you yet?
But wait, there’s more. I’ve also discovered that most – but not all – of my local rental car offices, regardless of company, charge for mileage over a certain daily limit, typically 200 miles, if you take the car out of state, unless you rent from an airport office. Last time I checked, Indiana was 600 miles away. That’s three days’ mileage, just to get there. To break even on this deal, I would have to keep the rental car for at least eight days, and my trips are usually a week long. The lower daily rate I can get from a local rental car office isn’t such a great deal when I have to pay 25 cents per mile once I use up my allowance.
So, how can you find a good rate without postponing your trip for months while you research every rental car option?