Because we’re so active in the points and miles game, it’s rare these days for us to pay out of pocket for our flights or hotels when we travel. However, this also means one of our biggest travel expenses is for car rental and ground transportation.
And while I haven’t yet found a way to get my rental cars completely for free, I do have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to the booking experience in order to ensure I’m getting the best price.
Book through your airline for extra miles
Whenever we decide that we’re going to rent a car on a trip, my first step is usually to go to Southwest.com, my preferred airline, to see what kind of deals they’re offering. Yep, you read that right — I go to airline websites for cars, instead of to car rental websites.
The reason is that most airlines have negotiated special rates for their customers that are often 30-40% below what you’ll find directly on the car rental websites. And because the airline gets a small kickback when you book through their site, they’ll often sweeten the deal for you by throwing in some bonus air miles with your booking as well.
Turn down all the extra insurance, if you’re covered elsewhere
Next up, make sure you think long and hard about which credit card you want to use. Generally, we put down our Chase Sapphire Reserve for all travel-related purchases, because not only does that card give us 3x points on travel purchases, but it also comes equipped with excellent travel protections like rental car coverage.
This allows me to turn down the pricey “extra” insurance coverage that they’ll try to sell you at the rental car counter, and still know that I’m fully protected. Lots of premium credit card products offer some type of car rental protection, so make sure you study your benefits to know which card is best in your situation.
Make sure you’re really getting the category car that you booked
Finally, after you’re done at the rental counter, it’s time to go pick up the keys and drive away in your sweet (temporary) new ride. But not so fast — before you drive off into the sunset, you’ll want to verify that the car they give you is actually in the category you paid for.
On our recent San Diego/Palm Springs getaway, we booked a full-size car through Payless Rental Car, because we knew we’d be spending a fair bit of time in the car. So you can imagine we were pretty disappointed to be directed towards a Kia Forte, which actually falls in the compact car category. Luckily, because we noticed the discrepancy, Payless conceded that they didn’t actually have any full size cars left — and more importantly, took $40 off the cost of our rental to compensate us.
Even if you’re not super-familiar with cars, a quick Google search before you drive off the lot will usually let you know if you’re in the right model for your category or not.
Between these three tips, I was able to save more than $150 on our most recent car rental. How about you? Tell me your favorite car rental tips and tricks in the comments.