buying: The Best Car Rental Deals | Money

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Public transit, taxis, and ridesharing companies such as Lyft and Uber have made transportation more accessible than ever to individuals the world over. Although options are plentiful for moving about, there are still times when you might need to get in the driver’s seat.

Whether your car is in the shop, or you’re just on vacation and need to get around, a great deal on a car rental can make or break your budget.

But how do you choose a car rental company? What features should you be aware of? And how much should you pay? We asked all these questions and more to come up with the best car rental deals.

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Important things to know about car rental deals:

  • Try to avoid renting a car at an airport. Because you’re paying for convenience, these locations tend to have higher rates and fewer—if any—deals. Instead, seek out a rental car location outside of airports, if possible.
  • Online car rental reservations tend to offer more deals or promotions than when you rent a vehicle in person. Remember to type in any promotional code before completing the reservation to ensure deals or coupons are applied.
  • Depending on what you use the rental for, you may want to consider choosing a smaller vehicle than you typically drive. If you book a smaller car ahead of time, and the rental agency runs out of that size when you arrive, they will often upgrade you to the next largest size without charge.
  • Time is a critical factor in getting the best car rental deals. Week-long and weekend car rental rates tend to include more discounts than other rental periods, with some companies offering lower, weekend-exclusive rates.

The best car rental deals

  • Enterprise: Best for avoiding unexpected fees.
  • Avis: Best for business travelers
  • Dollar: Best no-frills car rental
  • Budget: Best for cheapest deals
  • Sixt: Best for luxury rentals and international locations

Best car rental deal reviews

Enterprise Review

Enterprise ranked highly on our list of best rental car deals for many reasons, but its straightforward pricing scheme has to be our favorite.

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The company has done away with hidden fees, meaning that the price they quote you is the price you’ll ultimately pay. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any fees in your total costs, but that you’ll know what these fees are before completing the reservation. More to the point, it means transparency and no surprises when it comes to settling the bill. As for additional fees, Enterprise also stands out for its affordability. It charges approximately $20.00 per day for drivers between the ages of 21 and 25, making it one of the cheapest options available for this high-priced demographic.

Further, although car rental companies typically charge more for one-way rentals—where you pick up a vehicle in one location and return it to another—Enterprise offers one-way rates as low as $9.99 per day.

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Nonetheless, Enterprise is still a rental car company, which means certain annoyances are a fact of life. Extra driver fees apply, and many rental locations are closed on Sundays, making returns tricky at times.

Avis Review

Avis delivers a wide range of coupons, discounts, and promotions that help make this rental car agency one of our top picks. Substantial discounts for prepaying (up to 30%) and membership in organizations such as AARP mean you could drive away with a lower bill than you would with some of the “cheaper” rental options. Other savings, such as a 10% discount on monthly rentals and potential rate reductions for Costco members make Avis a very attractive option.

Avis stands out in their business rentals as well. The company offers up to 30% off for small businesses and preferred check-in and check-out. It also offers car rental options specifically for production and entertainment ventures.

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The Avis rewards program requires more rentals than other companies at the basic level, but higher volume renters—such as business travelers—will see more dramatic rewards as they advance to higher plan tiers.

Due to its discount options, Avis is a solid choice for all customers, but business travelers will enjoy more savings.

Dollar Review

Dollar is a rental car agency focused on giving thrifty customers some of the lowest rates possible. If you’re looking for luxury rentals and oodles of bonus options, you’ll probably want to go with another company. But customers looking for basic, no-frills rentals can find affordable deals with Dollar.

Rental deals with Dollar include 10% off for AAA members, 10% off for younger drivers, and prepay discounts of 15% off normal rates. Weekend discounts and discounts for union members, BJ’s Warehouse Club members, and AICPA members mean even greater savings. You can even get a 15% discount off of base rates for simply signing up for the Dollar newsletter.

But its partnership programs are where Dollar really shines. If you’re an American Airlines AAdvantage member you can earn 50 AAdvantage® base miles per rental day with Dollar. Southwest and Alaska Airlines flyers can also earn multiple points if they rent through Dollar.

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A rock bottom $10 additional driver fee and some of the lowest weekly rates in the field make Dollar a great option for those traveling on a budget. However, it’s a smaller company than others on this list, meaning you may have difficulty finding an office where you’re going. Also of note: Dollar does not offer rides to the rental office as some other companies do, simply as a way to lower costs to its customers. But what it does offer more than makes up for this omission in service.

Budget Review

Budget is another great option for travelers on a… budget, though it has a wider scope than other low-cost options. Owned by the same company as Avis, Budget is geared more toward personal or vacation travelers than its corporate sibling.

Budget starts with an already low daily rate for both domestic and international car rentals and then offers heaps of promotions and special discounts. Even just spending five minutes in the “deals” tab on the Budget website can provide significant savings given their frequently updated promotions, such as 20% off truck rentals.

Prepaying for your rental car when you make a reservation can give you a discount of up to 35%, which comes out to more than a third off for simply booking online. Other permanent discounts include free rentals days. For instance, if you book a weekend rental for intermediate up to four-door, full-size cars, you get a free third day.

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Due to Budget’s size and market share, the company has been able to forge a number of corporate partnerships to bring in even more savings. Amazon Prime members can score discounts of up to 30% off a car rental, plus 10% back in the form of an Amazon gift card. Also, small businesses have access to special rates. Enrolling in the Budget Business Program gets you 30% off the base rate. Veterans can get 25% off their vehicle rentals, too.

Finally, the American Airlines AAdvantage Miles Program lets you earn 500 miles per car rental on all qualifying rentals at participating Budget airport locations. AAdvantage members get more deals by providing their Budget Customer Discount number.

Sixt Review

Sixt is not your run-of-the-mill rental car company, as it’s only available in 15 states in the U.S. However, if you’re traveling internationally and want to roll in style, Sixt is absolutely one of your best options.

Sixt manages over 2,000 locations across 105 countries. Their fleet includes conventional, reliable options from brands like Toyota, Jeep, and Chevrolet, and even has truck rentals. But whereas other companies stop there, Sixt’s exotic fleet includes high-end SUVs, convertibles, and sedans from luxury brands such as BMW, Jaguar, Range Rover, Porsche, and Mercedes-Benz.

You might think that a luxury rental dealer would have a non-negotiable pricing structure, but Sixt provides a number of deals and discounts, including 5% off rentals to active members of the military and veterans.

Similar discounts are available for seniors, students, emergency service workers, teachers and school personnel, government workers, and those in the travel industry.

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In addition to these standard discounts, Sixt offers valuable last-minute car rental deals. Featured special discounts, like a midweek sale of up to 20% off the price are not uncommon. The company also offers a flexible rental reservation option that lets you book Sunday through Tuesday and return the vehicle by Thursday of the same week.

How we found the best car rental deals

Deal Depth and Variety

The best car rental companies offer deep discounts, a range of promotional savings, and a variety of special savings throughout the year and during specific periods. This includes deals for holidays, peak travel times, long-term rentals, and weekends.

Fees

No one wants unexpected fees when they pick up their car, or worse yet, to find out the stated car rental deal actually costs much more than promised. Fees for drivers under age 25, airport pickup, or drop-offs at other locations (known as one-way rentals) can quickly add up. It’s important to understand what companies are charging you for before committing to rent from them. The fewer the fees, and the more transparency in those fees, the better the car rental deal.

Vehicle options

Car rentals may be just a short-term transportation option, but people want a variety of makes, models, sizes, and features to choose from. Sedans and SUVs are fine, but sporty options and heavy cargo vehicles make a well-rounded fleet. Rental agencies that deliver more variety rank higher on the list.

Accessibility

Deals available at multiple locations top the list because saving money goes beyond just the price of a vehicle; it takes time and money to get to a rental car office. Deals that include drop-off and pick-up service are especially attractive. Easy-to-use websites, mobile accessibility, round-the-clock customer service, and multiple pickup and drop-off locations are desirable conveniences to have.

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What you need to know about car rental deals

In a general sense, most car rental companies behave in similar ways, offering discounts and promotions for different types of customers. While one car rental company might be better for business travelers, another one could be beneficial to under 25 drivers.

However, there are other money-saving strategies that can help bolster your car rental deal. That’s money saved that you can spend on other parts of your vacation or business trip.

You can get more bang for your buck on rental car deals by signing up for AAA or AARP memberships, if you’re eligible. Look for travel loyalty programs offered by airline or hotel brands that help you build up more points. You can then use those points for future trips or other expenses.

Don’t forget to review any of your current credit card or travel (airline and hotel) membership programs to leverage bonus car rental deals. If you’re contemplating signing up for a credit card or joining a specific travel program, consider those that offer deals on rentals. Some options even include car rental loss and damage insurance.

Using the rental company’s insurance can drive up costs quickly. Instead, use your own insurance and make sure it includes rental collision coverage. You may also be able to get this insurance coverage through your credit card, thereby reducing your rental costs.

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As a good rule of thumb, avoid the “full-tank” fuel option rental car companies offer. It may seem convenient to avoid having to stop at a gas station, but prepaying to have the rental car company fill your tank almost always costs you more. Even if you return the car with the tank half full, the rental car company might charge you for a whole tank of gas when you pre-pay. With the price of gas continually fluctuating, it’s most likely better to make a side trip to a gas station and pay for it yourself.

Again, remember to avoid renting your vehicle at an airport. Rental companies pay fees to be located at airports and they pass those fees on to the customers as part of their business model. Pick a car rental office located in the city or suburb you’re visiting for more savings.

Finally, if possible, don’t bring your car back in early. In some cases, companies may charge you a different rate if you return the vehicle on a different day than you’d planned, even if it is before your due date.

Summary: Best Car Rental Deals

  • Enterprise: Best for avoiding unexpected fees.
  • Avis: Best for business travelers
  • Dollar: Best no-frills car rental
  • Budget: Best for cheapest deals
  • Sixt: Best for luxury rentals and international locations

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