What you need to know before you drive
Finding a great car rental is one of the most important elements of your trip. After all, you’ll be spending hours in that vehicle getting from place to place, so you want your ride to be nice, big enough for you and your gear, and reliable—all of course at the best possible price. Here are some tips I’ve learned over my numerous road trips (and car rentals) to help you get the best car at the best deal.
1. Beware of coupons/promotions-they are not always the best deal.
Often times, airlines or a hotel chain will do a promotion with a car rental company and send you a coupon for being a loyal customer. Sounds great initially—but do your homework. Once you’ve decided on your rental car type, punch in your info and the coupon code on the rental company’s website. Then run the same vehicle but without the coupon code. Many times you will find using the coupon code surprisingly triggers a more expensive rate (an awesome reward for your loyalty right?). Always double check the standard rate against a coupon to make sure you are getting the best price.
2. Comparison shop online
These days finding out who has the most competitive rates for the car you are looking for is a breeze. There are several websites where you can do this: Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity are my faves. I input my dates, location, and the vehicle I am looking for and voila-I have every vendor and their rates at my fingertips. Don’t rely on just one of these sites. Do the same search on 2 or 3 so you have a very good idea. Some sites will let you book directly on there without prepaying or enforcing a cancellation penalty. Otherwise go to the rental car company’s website and book directly on there, provided that the rate is the same or lower.
3. To GPS or not to GPS
I have found that spending the extra $100 or so it costs to rent the GPS was totally worth it when it comes to peace of mind—if, of course, the car you are renting doesn’t have one. If you do a lot of road travel, it might be worth it to you to purchase one (I did and got a good 7 years out of it till it died; we grew so attached, we even gave it a name—rest in peace, Betty). Nowadays you can use your iPad or even your cell phone as a GPS, but once again, if you are in an area with poor service that can be dicey. My family and I do not feel complete without “Betty’s” voice calmly directing us wherever we need to go. Not to mention her great insights into local dining options, attractions, and hotel alternatives if need be.
4. Sometimes customer service trumps price.
I have been a very loyal customer to a few rental car companies, but I have sometimes had to switch as their prices got too high. We have tried some lower priced brands, but have found that they’ve lost our reservation or saddled us with less than stellar vehicles. Once a company didn’t have the car that I reserved so they gave us a fifteen-passenger van in poor condition instead. We had to drive this hunk of junk through Yellowstone and by the time we reached Bozeman, Montana, the driver’s side door decided it wouldn’t close. I had to loop the seatbelt through the door handle and then click it shut just to make sure the door wouldn’t fly open when we were on the highway. Yikes! Eventually the company replaced the vehicle, but still…..
At the moment, my favorite rental company is Enterprise. If I find their rental car rates aren’t that much more in comparison to all the others, I’ll go with them because their service is always outstanding and the cars are always great.
5. Beware of the upsell
Be wary of overly ambitious rental agents at the check-in counter looking to get you into a bigger vehicle with a bigger price-tag that may not necessarily meet your needs. For our trip to Hawaii, we had reserved a standard minivan. When we arrived, the car rental agent told me that we wouldn’t have enough room in the minivan for our luggage, and that we should upgrade to a roomier SUV at just $100 more. I trusted his observation, so I said fine without looking at the car and agreed to pay the extra fee. As we tried to load up, we realized that the SUV had more room for everyone to stretch out, but it had half the luggage space of the minivan. After a few choice words with the manager we were back in our mini van, at an even better price and on our way. A better deal, but who needs the aggravation and wants to waste time when you should be off and running, enjoying your trip?
So the best advice I can give you is to shop around and do your research. Especially since it’s so easy online. Fully vet any coupons and promo deals and when you finally go in to pick up the car, go with what you know! The more research the less surprises, and the happier you’ll be.