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How To Get A Cheap Rental Car

Sarah Pierce  |  November 15, 2023

One of the most expensive parts of a vacation can be getting around. Luckily, we’ve got tips to help. Read on to find out how to get a cheap rental car.

Odds are you’ve been there. You plan a vacation—flights, accommodations and an itinerary–-then you go to book your transportation only to find it’s one of the most expensive parts of the trip. Read on for ideas on how to get a cheap rental car for your next getaway. 

Where To Start

First and foremost, experts say you should be joining car rental loyalty programs, which will save you both time and money. “You skip the lines and go right out to the kiosk to get your car when you arrive,” says travel expert Emily Kaufman, who is also known as The Travel Mom. “You can get perks and benefits, like free upgrades or free extra days. You’re also proactively emailed special offers and incentives.”

Next, do an online search on the major car rental company websites, as well as the bigger travel websites, like Kayak and Priceline. One other place to look you might not think of is Costco, says Collette Stohler of the travel website Roamaroo. “I’m a big fan of using Costco travel to book rental cars and travel overall,” she says. “You must have a Costco membership to book Costco travel.” 

Note too, while it might be slightly more expensive, booking a refundable rate could be worth it. “You can keep shopping right up until the cancellation cut off date for a better deal,” suggests Stohler. 

Know Your Discounts, Get A Cheap Rental Car

Are you a student, veteran or government employee? These are just some of the traveler categories that qualify for rental car discounts. When booking (and this is especially true of the rental companies’ direct websites) make sure to explore whether these types of discounts are available. Rental companies also usually offer better prices for members of AAA and AARP. “Check your wallet, look at your membership cards and see what perks and benefits you’re entitled to,” suggests Kaufman. “Not just for rental cars, but for hotels too.”

You’ll also want to look in one other unexpected spot–your airline loyalty program. “If you’re a member of an airline loyalty program, you’ll often get discounts and sometimes status,” says Stohler. 

Insurance–To Skip Or Not To Skip?

One of the things you might do to save cash is opt out of insurance offered by the rental company–but should you? The answer is it depends. “If you have a credit card that covers rental car insurance or if you have personal insurance that covers rental car insurance, declining collision damage waiver can dramatically help your rental car costs,” says Stohler. “No matter what, please make sure you’re insured in some capacity.”

In that same vein, you will want to make sure you do a thorough inspection of the vehicle before you leave the lot. If you miss any scratches, dings or other flaws and don’t report them to the company, it could cost you. “Document the condition of the car with photos and videos for personal liability and proof if anything were to go wrong,” advises Stohler.

Try Turo To Get A Cheap Rental Car

Turo is a lot like Airbnb, but for cars. Via the Turo website and app, people list their vehicles available for rent. You coordinate with them on where you’ll pick up the vehicle (many will come get you from the airport, or leave the vehicle in the airport parking lot) and where you’ll drop it off. According to Kaufman, Turo can be a great option if you’re traveling somewhere where rental cars aren’t plentiful. 

Turo, oftentimes, can be significantly cheaper than going with a regular rental company. Speaking from personal experience, my family and I were looking to book a van for a recent weekend away. The price via a rental company was $850. With Turo, it was just $350. In addition to price, one of the biggest benefits of renting via Turo is not having to stand in long lines at the rental counter. In our case, when the plane landed, the van was waiting for us in the parking lot, keys in it, ready to roll. 

Avoid Airport Rental Locations

One of the best tips to save money when renting a vehicle is to avoid airport rental locations. While convenient, you’ll almost always find cheaper rates at car rental counters away from the airport. “Look for nearby rental locations that have airport shuttles or locations that are a quick taxi ride away…it may save you big bucks – especially over the holidays,” shares Stohler. 

Take Care Of Tolls…And Don’t Forget The Gas

If you’re traveling to a location where the roadways have a number of tolls, Kaufman suggests selecting the rental company’s prepaid toll option. “If not, you could get a notification two months later that you violated a toll, somewhere when you didn’t even realize there was one,” she cautions. 

Lastly, most rental car companies will offer you the option to prepay for gas. Not only does this have the potential to save you money, it can be a godsend for those who always find themselves rushing to the airport and looking for a gas station to fill up along the way. Whatever you do, says Kaufman, if you don’t prepay for gas, avoid returning the vehicle empty at all costs. “Never bring your car back with an empty tank unless you do that because their refill rates are usually close to double,” she warns.

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