Renting a car under 25? Here's how to save money
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At the time of writing this article, the global coronavirus outbreak has grounded my air travel plans until late 2020. However, I still need to make some family trips from my home in New York City to my hometown of Chicago before then, leaving me with one responsible (and social distance-compliant) option for traveling between the two cities: driving.
But like most New Yorkers, I don't own a car, so I need to rent one when I decide to make the 12-hour NYC to Chicago drive. Unfortunately for me, this is easier said than done. I'm 24 years old until the end of the year, meaning that I'm subject to an underage rental car fee at nearly all rental car companies — these are over $30 per day in most cases, effectively doubling the cost of many rental cars.
I'm planning on doing the drive for the first time over Memorial Day weekend and set out to find the cheapest way to rent a car under 25. Much to my surprise, there are a fair number of ways to avoid the under-25 fee if you know where to look. I'll show you everything you need to know if you're renting a car under 25 — including ways to completely waive the under-25 fee, how to manage insurance and an overview of earning extra rewards.
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Car rental under 25 years old
Renting a car when you're under 25 years old can be a confusing process — in fact, some companies will outright refuse to rent to people under a certain age. For example, Hertz won't rent to anyone under 20 while other major companies like Alamo, Budget, Enterprise and National won't rent to anyone under 21.
A couple of states have laws against this, though. In New York and Michigan, for example, anyone 18 years or older can rent a car. You'll still be subject to an under 25 or "young driver" fee though, and these could be more expensive than fees levied to drivers aged 21 to 24.
The under-25 fee varies by location and rental car agency. Here in New York City, Budget assesses a $35 per day fee to those in this age group. This can add up quickly if you're renting for a week or longer, making road trips prohibitively expensive for many.
Plus, this fee comes with absolutely zero benefits to the person renting the car. It doesn't include extra insurance, a damage waiver or other perks, so you're paying this fee solely for the privilege of driving the car while you're under the age of 25.
Related: Which car rental company is right for you?
How to avoid the under-25 fee
Thankfully, though, there are a few ways around this fee with various car rental companies. Here's a quick look at all of the ways I've found — all of these are completely legitimate and don't require things like using a corporate code for a company you don't work for or otherwise playing the system.
Book with Silvercar
Silvercar is a rental company owned by Audi. As you'd expect, the company only rents silver Audis at airports around the U.S. as well as at select city center locations in Miami, New York City and San Francisco. The company currently rents Audi A4, A5 Cabriolet, Q5 and Q7 cars and SUVs, each outfitted with perks like Apple CarPlay, Sirius XM radio and in-car Wi-Fi that passengers can use to stay connected.
Surprising to many, this premium car rental company doesn't charge under-25 fees on any of its rentals regardless of the car you rent or city you rent it in. There is one exception to this rule though: you must be 22 in order to rent a Silver Car, except in the state of New York where anyone 18 or older can rent. Unfortunately, drivers between the ages of 18 to 21 will be assessed a $75 per day fee in New York.
This makes Silvercar a great option for those aged 22 to 24 to rent cars in cities where Silvercar operates. The daily rates are usually a bit more expensive than over-25 rates from other major rental car companies, but the money you'll save by not paying an under-25 fee usually offsets the increased cost.
Another thing I like about Silvercar is how easy it is to buy insurance. I don't own a car or have car insurance of my own, so I need to purchase primary liability insurance from the rental car company. Silvercar lets you buy this coverage at checkout, and it's pretty reasonably priced — on a recent trip to Los Angeles, I paid just $9.34 per day.
Have a Chase Sapphire Reserve Card? You can save 20% off all your Silvercar bookings by using the promo code VISAINF20 and paying with your Sapphire Reserve. This will also make you eligible for the card's primary collision damage waiver which can save you some serious money if you incur damage to the car.
Related: Everything to know about renting from Silvercar
Become an AAA member and rent with Hertz
The American Automobile Association — better known as "AAA" or "triple-A" — is a federation of auto clubs around the United States. Members are eligible for a variety of benefits including free roadside assistance, travel discounts and other various benefits. One of the most valuable perks, however, is its Hertz discount.
All AAA members can use the AAA corporate rate when renting through Hertz. This includes a number of different rental benefits, including bonus Hertz Gold Plus Rewards points, access to special rates and — best of all — a waived "young driver" fees for those between the age of 19 and 24.
Related: Your points, miles and loyalty guide to Hertz car rentals
At the time of writing this article, AAA membership starts at just $4.50 per month in the U.S. Northeast. This will be immediately offset by the money you save when renting through Hertz, making it well worth the membership fee if you need to rent a car.
Just keep in mind that you need to book your rentals through the AAA page on Hertz's website and show your AAA credentials when you pick up your car. Further, these benefits are only available to bookings made in the U.S. and Canada.
I highly recommend that you sign up for an AAA membership if you're under 25 and need to rent a car. This is by far the best deal you'll get for a rental car when renting domestically.
One last thing: Hertz has partnerships with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines that offer elite members and select cobrand credit card holders free Hertz elite status. Make sure to enroll before you rent for a possible car upgrade and other perks — I'll discuss this further at the end of the article.
Ask your university or alumni association for a discount code
Many universities and their respective alumni associations offer rental car discounts to students, staff and alumni members. My school — DePaul University — has discount codes with Avis, Enterprise, Hertz and National that can be used on all rentals regardless of where I rent a car or whether or not it's for university-related business.
Last year, I cycled through these promo codes and found that my school's Enterprise code not only offers a special university rate, but also waives the underage fee, includes unlimited additional drivers and adds the damage waiver free of charge. So while I can't speak for your university, it's definitely worth checking if your school offers rental car discount codes that waive the underage fee.
Many of these promo codes don't require you to be an active student or staff member either. In the case of my school, any current student, the parent of a current student, staff member or alumni can use the code.
Related: How to save money on car rentals
See if you're eligible to join USAA
The United Services Automobile Association — or USAA — is a financial services company that offers services to people who serve or have served in the United States Armed Forces and their families. Some of their most popular offerings include banking services, auto loans and insurance products.
USAA members are eligible for preferred rates and waived under-25 fees at Avis, Budget, Enterprise and Hertz. If you're eligible, make sure to cross-compare prices at each of these rental companies using your USAA promo code. You can find these promo codes on the USAA rental car page — just make sure to sign in to your account.
Rent through Carla
Carla is an Online Travel Agency (OTA) that specializes in car rentals. It partners with all of the major rental car companies and — according to its website — can help you find great deals with exclusive rates.
Interestingly enough, the OTA waives under-25 fees on many of its rentals. You can see which rentals have this fee waived on the checkout screen, but there's no way to see this when you're browsing cars before checkout.
There are a couple of things to be aware of when renting through Carla, though. During my test searches, I found that this fee is only waived for Carla's "surprise supplier" deals. This means that you won't know who you're actually renting your car from until after you pay for it, which may be unsettling for some (myself included).
Additionally, you likely won't be eligible to earn rental car points, qualify for elite status or use rental car elite status benefits when you rent through Carla. This is because most rental car companies require that you rent directly with the company in order to earn these points.
Most rental cars booked through Carla are nonrefundable too. According to the OTA's website, its rates "have special restrictions similar to plane tickets" and that one of these restrictions "is that there are cancellation fees." So if you're not sure that you'll actually use your rental, you may be better off booking a refundable rate direct with a rental car company.
It's also worth noting that I haven't found a way to purchase liability insurance through Carla. It may still be possible to purchase this at the rental car counter, but you won't know the price until after you book your "surprise supplier" deal.
Even with these downsides in mind, Carla may be a great deal for people under 25 who have existing car insurance and don't mind a bit of a mystery in their rental cars.
Related: The Critical Points: How to avoid car rental companies taking advantage of you
Check for coronavirus waivers
Many rental car companies are waiving the under-25 fee for those renting a car during the global coronavirus outbreak. These companies are offering this discount so that college students can drive home if they need to move for the summer earlier than originally planned.
However, the specifics of these rentals are a bit dicey — for example, Avis claims to waive this fee for drivers between the ages of 21 and 24. However, major markets like New York, Michigan and Maryland are excluded and young drivers in these states are still responsible for paying the under-25 fee.
Here's a look at all the rental companies that are waiving the fee during the coronavirus outbreak:
- Avis — no under-25 fees for those age 21 to 24 through June 30, excludes New York, Michigan and Maryland
- Budget — no under-25 fees for those age 21 to 24 through June 30, excludes New York, Michigan and Maryland
- Enterprise — no under-25 fees for those age 18 to 24 with a valid student ID through May 31
- Hertz — those 18 or older can rent with no under-25 fees through May 31
Use a credit card with rental insurance
One of my favorite credit card perks is a primary rental car coverage that's included with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve Card. So long as your rental is paid with one of these cards, you're eligible for coverage if your rental car is damaged or stolen.
This includes everything from a full loss (for example, if your rental car was stolen or totaled) to a minor fender bender. Rental car companies will often offer to sell you this waiver when you rent a car, but it usually costs somewhere between $10 and $15 per day. This can add up quickly if you rent cars often, so make sure to consider one of these credit cards if you find yourself often purchasing a damage waiver.
Just note that the damage waiver does not cover liability insurance. While most rentals offer state minimum liability insurance, you'll want to buy more coverage through your rental car company if you're not covered by a standard rental car insurance plan.
Related: 5 steps to a perfect car rental
Earn rewards with your rentals
Most major rental car companies have a loyalty program. In the case of Hertz, you can join its Gold Rewards program and earn points on all of your rentals so long as you book direct. You can use these reward points for free rentals or transfer them to airline or hotel mileage programs. In most cases, however, you're best off using your points for free rentals as these redemptions will give you the most value.
Make sure to check if your rental company has a loyalty program — depending on how often you rent, you may be able to rack up points towards a free rental quickly.
See if you're eligible for free rental car elite status
As mentioned earlier, some airlines offer their elite members and certain cobrand credit card holders free rental car elite status. In the case of Hertz, United Premier Silver and Premier Gold elite and Delta Gold members are eligible for free Hertz Five Star status. Additionally, United Premier Platinum and 1K, United Club℠ Infinite Card and Presidental Plus cardholders and Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion elite members are eligible for free Hertz Presidents Circle status.
Rental car elite status can make renting a car a lot more enjoyable too. You're eligible for bonus points earning and car upgrades, so it could be your ticket for driving a premium car at a low cost.
Related: Credit cards that offer elite status for car rentals
While it's harder for those under the age of 25 to rent cars, it certainly isn't impossible. Use the methods outlined in this article before you book your next rental, and you'll save money on the under-25 fee and have a more enjoyable rental to boot.
Plus, make sure to pay with a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and you'll be eligible for a free collision damage waiver on rentals you charge to your card.
Featured photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images.