How to get the best rental car deal


Getting a good deal on a rental car used to be relatively easy. But now it takes a savvy traveler to get a bargain on a rental car. Pauline Frommer, editor and author of the Pauline Frommer Travel Guides, shares the insider's tricks for getting the best deal when renting a car.

How to get the best rental car deal
  • Sometimes flight/rental car packages can be a good deal.
  • Another option is to bid blindly on or  Because they only deal with the major agencies, you won’t have to deal with fly-by-night companies.
  • Make a booking, don't put any money down, and then re-check during the week to see if the price has dropped. If so, you can cancel your booking and make a new one. You do this several times and you’d be surprised how often you can save money that way.
  • The biggest mistake car renters make is to over-insure the car. Most people already have much of the insurance you're being offered, like third-party liabiity, if you have a car at home. You may also get additional insurance from your credit card company.
  • Another mistake is to rent at the airport itself. Rent elsewhere and you’ll save. For example, at Texas airports you will pay 20% of the rental price in taxes if you rent at the airport, which is much higher than if you do it off airport property.
  • Rent the smallest car your testosterone will allow and then once you get to the rental counter, ask for an upgrade. It will usually be cheaper that way, especially if the smallest cars are all gone and you’ll get an upgrade for free.

LAUREN:  I'm Lauren Pressley and welcome to With us today is Pauline Frommer, the creator of the Pauline Frommer guides. We'll be traveling today by car. Hi Pauline.


LAUREN:  Renting a car is so overwhelming for many of us. There's so many choices, so many prices. Let's get rolling on that.

PAULINE: Sure, the problem is the prices have risen so much in the last two years. They're up 20% because the car manufacturers' are no longer giving car rental companies the kind of deep discounts on purchases they used to. So prices are really much high than they used to be. 

LAUREN: What's the best way to get a deal? Do you combine it with your airline ticket? How do you do it?

PAULINE: Sometimes packages can be a very good deal in terms of rental cars. A lot of people turn to sites like Priceline, Hotwire and bid blindly for cars because they only deal, these companies only deal with Avis, Hertz, Alamo. So you're not going to get some fly by night operation that way. Other people make a booking and then simply re-check to see if the price has dropped. So you go to Avis, Hertz, Alamo, what have you, you make a booking, you don't have to put any money down, and then the next week you see if the price has dropped. If it hasn't, you cancel your first booking and make another one. The next week you do the same up until the trip and would be amazed at how much money you can save that way. 

LAUREN:  What about the pre-paid gas option Pauline. Oftentimes the rental companies will offer you a full tank of gas or the option of you filling up when you get back. 

PAULINE: For the most part, it's not the best idea to get the pre-paid gas option because most of us leave something in our tank and that is money lost. But it really all depends on where gasoline rates are and what the rental car companies are offering. The biggest mistake people make is over insuring their car. Almost anybody that owns a car already carries much of the insurance that they're asking you to buy. Things like third-party liability is probably already covered. So always check your own insurance before you buy it from the rental car company. You may also get some additional insurance from your credit card company as well. Another hidden cost is when you rent on airport. So many cities are now trying to fund their new stadium with airport taxes. Simply by renting off-airport you can save a heck of a lot of money. For example, at the Texas airports, you will pay 20% of the cost of the rental in taxes if you rent at the airport. You will not have nearly that high an amount if you rent off airport. 

LAUREN:  What about size of cars? Can you save money if you get a small or economy size? If you have a large family--how do you gear for that?

PAULINE: I'd say rent the smallest car that your testosterone will allow and once you get to the rental counter, that's when you ask for an upgrade. It will usually be less expensive that way and there will usually be times when all of the cars, all of the smaller cars will be out of the lot and you'll simply get an upgrade free.

LAUREN:  Renting a car in Europe: any suggestions for that?

PAULINE: Often you'll pay less if you use the local agencies rather than the multi-national organizations. And you can find them through a terrific organization called Auto Europe which is based in the US, but deals with local rental companies and is usually the cheapest to Europe. As well there are some regulations in Europe that will suprise Americans. If you're over the age of 70 and you're planning to go to Ireland and Italy, you're not going to be allowed to rent a car. As well if you're going to Italy you're going to be forced to buy the entire rental insurance package whether you want it or not. It's simply the law there.

LAUREN:  Well thank you for the information on car rental Pauline. We're ready to go.

PAULINE: Thank you. 

meet theexpert
  • Pauline Frommer

    Pauline Frommer Travel Expert and Author Pauline Frommer, is the daughter of travel legend Arthur Frommer and is the author of a new series of guidebooks for budget travelers called the Pauline Frommer Guides. more about this expert »

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