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Recreational vehicle (RV) rentals tend to be expensive, yet last summer I managed to rent a five-person RV in Las Vegas for only $1 per day. In addition to this low daily rate, the rental company reimbursed all of my gas receipts and provided a $100 travel allowance.
So, I was practically paid to rent an RV.
How did I get such a good deal? The secret is that companies are willing to pay you to transport their vehicles (in this case, RVs, but car rental companies are known to do something similar) when they need specific vehicles at a particular location. This is called a “relocation rental.”
Relocation rental daily rates and incentives vary greatly, with some featuring a reduced daily rate ($5 per day, for example) all the way up to generous offers such as the one I booked. Here’s everything you need to know to find, book and successfully complete a relocation rental.
Who Can Do a Relocation Rental?
Most drivers can do a relocation rental. No special license is required to rent or drive an RV in the US, although most rental agencies will require that renters be over a particular age (usually 21) and have held a license for a certain amount of time (typically at least two years).
If you’re renting in a country other than the one that issued your driver’s license, you may need a translated version of your license, such as an international driver’s license.
RVs can be great for family trips. But, some relocations don’t allow children under a particular age, while others require parents to provide their own car seats.
All the relocation rentals I’ve seen allow at least two occupants, although many charge a fee for each driver after the primary renter. Some relocation rentals allow up to six occupants.
Some relocation rentals allow pets. But most — especially in the US — specifically forbid pets. So double check before booking if you’re planning to travel with an animal.
How to Find Relocation Rentals
Unfortunately for serious planners, most relocation rentals are listed no more than a week or two before the necessary pick-up date — and the lucrative incentives usually don’t appear until a day or two before. But, if you can be flexible, or you live in a city that often has relocation rentals, you may be able to jump on an offer for a last-minute road-trip.
For US-based drivers, Imoova is the most comprehensive search engine I’ve found for relocation rentals. Listings can be filtered by pick-up city, drop-off city and number of passengers — but can also be sorted by other criteria such as earliest pick-up date, latest drop-off date, days included, vehicle type, rate per day and inclusions. Imoova also has listings for Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe. If you book through Imoova, you’ll usually need to pay a $25 booking fee.
Transfercar is another resource for relocation rentals in the US, although — as its name suggests — the company usually offers more cars than RVs. You can use Transfercar’s handy map of current pick-up locations to browse their full listing and sort by vehicle type, transmission, pick-up location, drop-off location, number of days and what’s included in the rental. Transfercar usually has fewer options than Imoova, however.
If you find a promising listing on Imoova or Transfercar, read the details of the listing to see which rental company is offering the relocation rental. Then check that company’s website to see if they are advertising relocation rentals on their own site. Some rental companies don’t list their own relocation rentals (in that case, you’ll need to book directly through Imoova or Transfercar), but many do — oftentimes with additional information or incentives, and usually with less fees.
When to Book a Relocation Rental
Individual rental locations often book more rentals than their local fleet can support, so they must pull RVs from other offices to support the demand — leading to a number of great relocation rental incentives. Prime RV rental season in the US is during the summer, so this is when you’ll see the greatest number of relocation rental offers.
For example, when I picked up an RV at the Las Vegas Apollo office last summer, they’d just relocated vehicles from Denver in anticipation of demand. But, then the demand shifted and vehicles had to be relocated back to Denver.
There’s also shoulder season demand as individual rental locations need to receive new vehicles from the factory in the spring and early summer. Apollo, Road Bear and Cruise America all offer factory relocation deals each spring. Factory relocation rentals are easier to build a vacation around, as you can usually book these relocation rentals a few months in advance. The downside is that the pick-up location is at the factory — which is usually at least a few hours from a major airport.
What to Know Before Booking
If you’ve found a tempting relocation rental offer, here are some factors to consider before booking:
Mileage and Duration of Rental
The distance and duration of your rental will directly affect how much you enjoy the experience. In particular, be sure to consider:
- How many days are included in the rental?
- Can you add extra days at an additional cost?
- How many miles are included in the rental?
- How does this compare with the mileage of your desired route?
- What’s the cost if you go over the mileage? Is there a penalty fee or a per mile rate?
- How many miles, or hours, would you need to drive each day to complete the relocation?
- Are you required to drive only during daylight?
The most important aspect is how many miles and hours you’ll be driving each day — especially if you want to stop at sites during your road trip. Remember that RVs generally need to be driven slower than cars, so a trip may take longer than your favorite map app estimates. And if you aren’t comfortable driving bulky vehicles, helming an RV can be more tiring than you expect.
Type of Vehicle
Relocation rentals can range from compact cars to six-berth RVs 30-feet in length (or longer). Make sure your rental not only serves your needs in terms of facilities, but is also is a vehicle you can safely drive. In particular, make sure you’re comfortable with the vehicle’s size and transmission type. Most, if not all, rentals in the US feature automatic transmission, but many rentals abroad have manual transmissions. You may also prefer a smaller vehicle when driving on narrow European roads or on the left side of the road in Australia.
When I booked my relocation rental last summer from Las Vegas to Denver, there were a number of RVs that needed to be moved out of Las Vegas — meaning I could choose from a handful of vehicle types. I selected the one offering the best incentives: A $1 per day rate, with all fuel reimbursed and a $100 travel allowance.
In general, possible incentives include:
- A low daily rate
- $1 per day is common for US relocation rentals
- First tank free (goes out with a full tank, can be returned empty)
- $50 to $400 fuel allowance with receipts
- Full reimbursement for fuel with receipts
- Travel allowance
- $50 to $100, usually no receipts required
- Trip Needs
- Ferry tickets for vehicle and/or driver
- Toll pass
- Camping equipment, such as table and chairs, kitchen kit, linen kit or sleeping bags
- Full tank provided, can be returned empty
Renting an RV for $1 per day is appealing, especially if you can also get some of the other incentives mentioned above. However, be sure to consider the following expenses that you might incur. I’ve included the expenses for my personal relocation rental experience, but note they may be different for other rentals and companies.
- Fuel expenses
- The Outlook Class C motorhome I rented cost about $0.33 per mile in fuel.
- Extra mileage fee
- $0.45 per mile after included mileage.
- Positioning expenses
- Flights, buses or car rentals to and from the pick-up and drop-off cities.
- Uber, bus or taxi fares to and from the pick-up and drop-off sites.
- Camp site expenses
- Varies in cost, I paid:
- $30 per night in Zion National Park for a site with electric hookup.
- $42 per night at a campground near the interstate with full hook-ups.
- You may, of course, be able to camp for free in select areas with no hook-ups (including most Walmart parking lots).
- Varies in cost, I paid:
- Extra driver fees ($3 per person, per day)
- Add-ons offered by rental company
- Kitchen kit (included for us, but some rentals charge around $50)
- Linen kits or sleeping bags ($10 per person)
- RV-friendly toilet paper ($5 for four rolls)
- RV toilet chemical ($2.50 per bottle)
- Generator use ($5 per day or $3 per hour)
- Optional equipment, such as camp chairs, child seats and a GPS device
- Cleaning fee ($150 if RV isn’t returned clean)
- Dumping fee ($150 per tank if gray and black tanks aren’t returned empty)
I limited extras on our relocation by booking directly with Apollo, bringing sleeping bags and towels, dumping the tanks before returning the vehicle, not using the generator and cleaning the RV before returning it.
Using the right credit card is important when renting a car because some cards provide primary car rental coverage. Unfortunately, most credit cards that include primary car rental coverage — including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which is my normal go-to card when renting vehicles — explicitly exclude recreational vehicles.
Most Citi cards provide coverage for RV rentals that is secondary in the US and primary abroad. But, as of September 22, 2019 this coverage will be discontinued. So, although this is the last summer your Citi Premier Card will provide coverage for rentals, you’ll likely still want to keep it around for 3x earning on general travel expenses (including gas stations).
Apollo, the company I used for my relocation rental last summer, requires a $1,000 bond and includes standard liability at no cost on all relocation rentals. Apollo said I couldn’t decline the included standard liability for the relocation rental.
Even if you have a credit card that provides car rental insurance when renting an RV, remember that this insurance usually only covers damage to the vehicle you rent. You’ll still want to make certain that your personal car insurance or other insurance covers liability for damage caused to other cars and personal property as well as injuries to people involved in an accident.
Relocation Rental Examples
Relocation rental options change constantly, so the following options may not still be available. But, the chart below shows some appealing options that were available shortly before this article published.
|From||To||Inclusions||Vehicle Type||Rate||Days / Nights Allowed||Minimum Driving Distance||Estimated Driving Time||Estimated Fuel Cost|
|Salt Lake City||Los Angeles||$300 gas||5 berth RV||$1 per night||5 nights||688 miles||9h 53m||$227|
|Miami||Orlando||$150 gas||5 berth RV||$1 per night||3 nights||236 miles||3h 26m||$78|
|Los Angeles||San Francisco||$100 gas||5 berth RV||$1 per night||2 nights||383 miles||6h 20m||$126|
|Christchurch, New Zealand||Auckland, New Zealand||N/A||2 to 6 berth RV||NZD 1 ($0.66) per day||5 days, 4 nights||670 miles||16h 22m||$221|
|Barcelona, Spain||London, United Kingdm||N/A||2 to 5 berth Camper||7 euro ($8) per day||7 days, 6 nights||929 miles||15h 52m||$307|
|Hobart, Australia||Melbourne, Australia||All fuel, ferry for vehicle and driver||4 berth Hightop||AUD ($0.70) per day||4 days, 3 nights||432 miles||14h 29m||$143|
For this chart, the minimum driving distance and estimated driving time are as calculated by Google Maps, while the estimated fuel cost uses a fuel cost of $0.33 per mile (which is the fuel cost I experienced while renting a Class C motorhome). Obviously, other vehicles may use more or less fuel per mile, and you’ll likely drive slower than estimated by Google Maps.
Hopefully these examples will help you determine what types of deals are possible — although remember that you may want to add a few extra days to your rental or accept a lower fuel allowance in order to book a rental that works well with your schedule and allows you enough time to enjoy the trip.
Renting an RV for $1 per day sounds great, but there are additional costs to consider such as fuel, camp site fees, extra driver fees and supplies. If you’re able to jump on a last-minute relocation that includes unlimited fuel and a travel allowance, however — and are generally comfortable with the idea of driving an RV — it can be a great low-cost opportunity to get away and see the country. Alternatively, factory relocation rentals can be a great opportunity if you want to plan your vacation farther in advance.
Know before you go.
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