Although rental cars appear straightforward, they are frequently more complex and costly than anticipated. The initial price advertised may not reflect the final cost, with additional fees, damage waivers and other expenses to consider. Furthermore, rental cars are not as affordable as they once were.
If you want to save money on your next car rental, you’re in the right place.
This guide will give you all the tips and tricks to save money on your rental car. Following these recommendations could save hundreds of dollars on your next vehicle rental, making it an ideal choice for budget-conscious travelers.
Use a corporate, university or alumni code
Using a corporate code from your job or university is one of the simplest ways to save money on rental cars. Although many of these codes can be found online, using a code you are not eligible for is highly discouraged. Rental car companies often request proof of employment or alumni status.
However, it’s worth checking your corporate or alumni travel site or student benefits page for rental company discounts. Many universities have deals with Avis, Enterprise, Hertz and National that have saved students and alumni money.
Some codes may even offer additional benefits, such as free extra drivers or waived fees for drivers under 25. Always ensure you can use these codes on personal rentals, as some corporate codes are exclusively for business travel. Sometimes, your company or university may have a separate code for personal use.
Sign up for AAA
You’re likely familiar with AAA, the auto club that offers its members roadside assistance and discounts on various services. One of the most significant discounts is on rental cars: you can save up to 20% on all Hertz rentals with the AAA discount code.
Using AAA’s code also provides several other benefits, such as waived under-25 fees, discounts on prepaid fuel, a free additional driver, and a complimentary child, infant or booster seat. Depending on how often you rent from Hertz, these discounts can more than compensate for AAA’s membership fee of $64.99 to $124.99 per year.
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Once you become a member, you can use Hertz’s dedicated AAA website to book your discounted rental car. The process is the same as booking through the standard AAA website; all discounts are shown on the checkout screen.
See if you’re eligible for USAA discounts
USAA members who are active military personnel, veterans or the spouse or child of an active military person or veteran are eligible for discounted rental cars with Avis, Budget, Enterprise and Hertz. By booking through the USAA portal, you can receive up to a 25% discount on your next rental and still earn points. Additionally, you’ll be eligible for various fee waivers, such as the under-25 fee charged to young renters.
However, not everyone is eligible for USAA discounts. If you qualify, it’s worthwhile to start your search with USAA to determine the baseline discount before comparing costs with credit card perks and other portals.
Related: The best USAA credit cards
Leverage credit card perks and discounts
Several travel credit cards offer rental car perks and discounts. Here’s a quick overview of what to expect from some of the most popular travel cards.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a suite of car rental discounts, including:
- Up to 30% off Audi on Demand (formerly Silvercar) rentals.
- Up to 30% off Avis.
- Up to 25% off National rentals.
These discounts can add up on long rentals. For example, a week-long Audi on Demand rental this fall near Dulles International Airport (IAD) has a base rate of $441 plus $44.63 in taxes and fees for a total of $485.62. However, the price drops to $375.38 after the Visa Infinite discount. This is $110.25 in savings just for holding this credit card.
The Platinum Card from American Express
Cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express have access to a suite of Hertz benefits (enrollment is required). These include a grace period for returns, discounted rates, bonus points and vehicle upgrades. These can save you money and offer a great way to elevate your Hertz experience.
The full list of benefits includes:
- Complimentary vehicle upgrades.
- Four-hour grace period for rental returns.
- 10% bonus Hertz Gold Rewards points.
- Free additional driver (spouse or domestic partner).
- Hertz President’s Circle status.
The Amex Platinum includes Avis benefits too. These include:
- Priority service at the counter.
- Special discounts on rentals in North America and internationally.
- One car class upgrade for groups C-E (intermediate, standard and full size).
- Enroll in Avis Preferred using AWD# C076700.
- Book directly with Avis or with Platinum Card Travel Service using Coupon code UUNA007.
Finally, the card includes National Emerald Club Executive status. Benefits include:
- Choice of full-size or better cars from the Executive area at the reserved mid-size rate.
- Reward choices and one free rental day with six rental credits.
- No fee for a second driver.
- Guaranteed upgrades.
- Up to 25% off using contract ID 5030795.
Always check if your credit card has similar benefits. Often these discounts can be applied to your rental by booking through a specific portal or using a designated discount code.
United Club Infinite Card
Lastly, the United Club Infinite Card includes complimentary Avis President’s Circle membership. This includes valuable perks, like:
- Complimentary two-car class upgrades when available.
- Guaranteed car availability when you book at least 24 hours in advance.
- Expedited rental service.
- If you opt into Avis Preferred points, you get 50% more points for every dollar you spend.
- Dedicated phone line for reservations and customer support.
Use a credit card that includes a damage waiver
Damage waivers are an important part of renting a car. If you incur any damage to a rental (think: anything from a fender-bender to theft), the damage waiver may provide coverage, limiting your out-of-pocket cost.
You can buy these waivers from your rental company, but they can be costly — usually between $10 to $20 per day. However, some credit cards include a primary collision damage waiver when you charge the rental cost to your credit card.
Two of these cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Sapphire Reserve. Both cards offer a primary damage waiver in case of damage or theft. There are a couple of exclusions — namely for exotic, “expensive” and antique vehicles — but your average rental car shouldn’t be an issue.
Since the insurance is primary, you won’t have to file a claim with your personal car insurance if the damage is incurred. This is helpful since you won’t have to pay a hefty deductible or be subject to rate changes. Just note that coverage is only valid on rentals of 31 days or less.
Book through an airline portal
Many major airlines have partnerships with rental car companies, offering discounts, the ability to earn miles and more. For example, United MileagePlus members can earn up to 1,000 points per rental and get exclusive savings with Avis and Budget.
Better yet, many airline programs offer complimentary rental car status to their elite members. American, Delta and United offer status matches for elites, with United also offering status to select cobranded credit cardholders.
Car rental status can include guaranteed free upgrades, bonus points and a wider selection of redemption options. The value of these perks can add up depending on how often you rent cars, so we highly recommend taking advantage of a status match if you’re offered one.
That said, you miss out on rental car points if you choose to earn airline miles with your car rental. Consider which you find more valuable before you choose which currency you want to earn. Contrary to popular belief, rental car points can be very valuable depending on how you use them.
Check alternate rental locations
Major rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise have numerous locations in major airports and cities. For instance, Hertz has over a dozen locations in New York City. To find the best possible deal, compare prices at all nearby locations.
Renting in town may save you money on airport pickup taxes and fees. These savings often apply to rentals where you pick up in town and drop off at the airport.
However, there are a few drawbacks to renting in town. The primary disadvantage is that in-town locations typically have fewer cars. This might be frustrating if the car you desire is unavailable due to limited inventory and it may restrict your upgrade options.
In addition, picking up a rental in a city and then returning to the airport at the end of your trip may subject you to one-way fees or daily rates — which can sometimes be exorbitant. Be sure to carefully compare prices to make sure you’re not overpaying.
Rent a car from Lyft
Lyft has a partnership with Sixt. Most rentals are fulfilled by Sixt or Hertz and prices are similar to what you’d pay directly.
When you rent with Lyft, you generally receive a $10 Lyft credit. You can use this to pay for a ride to or from the rental car agency.
Borrow someone else’s car with Turo
You might also consider renting with Turo. This platform allows you to rent cars from individuals in major cities across the U.S. Not only are the prices often competitive, but you can also rent unique cars unavailable from traditional rental car companies. This includes electric vehicles, sports cars and specialized luxury vehicles.
To determine the best deal for your specific dates, compare the costs of traditional rentals with Turo. Some Turo rentals can even be dropped off and picked up at an airport lot, making it as convenient as any other rental.
Find a deal with AutoSlash
AutoSlash is a website that you can use to find discounts on car rentals. By entering your car rental specifications and any eligible special discounts (such as an AAA membership), the website searches for coupons and different car rental companies to find the best possible price. This simplifies the process of finding the best deal on a rental car.
Since the service is free, there are no downsides to using it. However, keep in mind that the service cannot search for corporate and university codes, so it’s essential to cross-check AutoSlash’s price with your corporate code’s price.
What distinguishes AutoSlash from other car rental sites is its ability to track rates and help you save money when they decrease on a rental you’ve already booked. Specifically, AutoSlash finds cheaper rates using coupons, discount codes and membership-related discounts.
Avoid common fees when renting a car
There are endless fees associated with renting a car, but most are avoidable. Here are ways to avoid common rental car fees that add up quickly.
Fill up the gas tank before you return a car
Having a plan for refueling your rental car before returning it is crucial. The best approach is to fill up the gas tank shortly before returning the car to avoid inflated fuel prices charged by the rental company.
Another option is to prepay for a full tank when picking up the car. However, remember that most rental car companies don’t offer refunds for unused fuel, so this option is only beneficial if you use most of the tank before returning the car. Therefore, we recommend refueling before dropping off the rental car to save money.
Related: Top tips for how to save on gas
Bring your own toll transponder
When renting a car, you may encounter a convenience fee for using the rental car’s toll transponder. Hertz’s PlatePass transponders can be used at cashless toll locations such as E-ZPass, I-PASS and FasTrak throughout the U.S. Although these transponders are convenient, they can come with significant fees.
When possible, bring your own toll transponder or pay in cash and keep the rental’s transponder in the provided case. Otherwise, you may end up paying high convenience fees. If renting a car in New York City, you can enroll in Pay Per Trip to pay for your bridge and tunnel tolls. All you have to do is register your rental license plate on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) website and all tolls will be charged to your credit card on file.
As a Florida resident, TPG director of content Nick Ewen has a separate SunPass PRO transponder that works across Florida and in 21 other states. Meanwhile, E-ZPass is an option for visiting Florida — as is the Visitor Toll Pass program for those flying into and departing from Orlando International Airport (MCO).
Skip the under-25 fee
As mentioned in this article, there are multiple methods for young renters to bypass the costly “under 25” fee. You can avoid this fee by using specific corporate codes, AAA discount codes and university codes, which can amount to over $30 per day. By doing so, young renters can save a considerable amount of money.
Renting a car can be expensive, but there are various ways to save money on your next rental.
You can significantly reduce your expenses by using corporate, AAA, or university codes, renting during off-peak times and avoiding additional fees for gas and tolls. Additionally, it’s crucial to compare prices and read the fine print. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to save money and enjoy a stress-free rental car experience.
Additional reporting by Kyle Olsen.