How to rent an RV for only $1 a day
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I’m seeing many recreational vehicles, also known as RVs, driving along U.S. interstates right now. After all, with travelers looking to get outdoors and travel this spring and summer, RVs are an attractive way to travel. The main problem: RV rentals tend to be expensive.
But, RV rentals don’t have to cost a fortune. In 2018, I managed to rent a five-person RV for $1 per day from Las Vegas to Denver. And last summer, I snagged a mid-pandemic RV rental from Los Angeles to Dallas for just $1 day. On my first rental, the rental company even reimbursed all of my gas receipts and provided a $100 travel allowance.
Although finding deals that include gas stipends and travel allowances take patience, it’s not impossible. And, $1 or $5 per day RV rentals without gas or travel allowances are relatively easy to find. The secret is that companies are willing to pay you to transport their vehicles (in this case, RVs, but car rental companies 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 and often change or disappear with no notice. But, as of writing, there are some excellent deals to be found. Here’s everything you need to know to find, book and complete a relocation rental.
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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 U.S. However, most rental agencies 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 Permit.
And although RVs can be great for family trips, some relocations don’t allow children under a particular age. Some rental agencies rent car seats, while others require parents to provide their own car seats for relocation rentals.
All the relocation rentals I’ve seen allow at least two occupants. But, some agencies may charge an additional fee for each additional driver after the primary renter. And some relocation rentals allow up to six occupants. But be sure to consider potential sleeping arrangements before deciding to travel with the maximum number of travelers.
Some relocation rentals even allow pets. But most — especially in the U.S. — expressly forbid pets. So double-check the terms and conditions before booking if you’re planning to travel with a pet.
How to find relocation rentals
Some RV rental companies list relocation rentals on their websites. But the easiest way to find RV relocation rentals is to check websites like Imoova, Transfercar and Coseats periodically. In this section, I’ll give a quick overview of each of these websites.
For U.S.-based drivers, Imoova is the most comprehensive search engine I’ve found for relocation rentals. You can filter listings by many criteria, including pick-up city, drop-off city and the number of passengers.
As of writing, Imoova lists a massive number of RV factory relocations from the Chicago area. You have to pick up these relocation rentals by March 25, but you get up to 11 nights to do the relocation as well as up to a $300 gas allowance. This type of relocation is challenging to snag during a typical year since they’re popular with international tourists. But this year, RV rental companies are desperately looking for travelers to do these relocations.
When you book through Imoova, you’ll usually need to pay a $25 booking fee. Imoova also has listings for Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe.
Related: 5 epic road trips across America
Transfercar is another resource for RV relocation rentals in the U.S. However, 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 all the listings.
Or, you can check a list of options 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. But it’s worth checking both sites.
Other tips for finding relocation rentals
If you find a promising listing on Imoova, Transfercar or Coseats, read the listing details to see which rental company is offering the relocation rental. Then, check that company’s website to see if they’re advertising relocation rentals on their site.
Some rental companies don’t list their relocation rentals (in that case, you’ll need to book directly through one of these search engines). However, many do — often with additional information or incentives and usually with lower fees. In the U.S., for example, Apollo, Jucy, Cruise America, El Monte and Road Bear tend to list relocation rentals directly.
When to book a relocation rental
Individual rental locations often book more rentals than their local fleet can support. When this happens, the rental company must shift RVs from one office to another to support the demand. And this need for last-minute shifting can lead to solid relocation rental incentives. Prime RV rental season in the U.S. is during the summer, so this is when you’ll see the most significant number of relocation rental offers.
Unfortunately for 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 if 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.
There’s also shoulder season demand as individual rental locations need to receive new vehicles from the factory in the spring and early summer. 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 often at the factory – which may be at least a few hours from a major airport. Apollo, Road Bear and Cruise America each offer factory relocation deals every spring. And El Monte still has a few last-minute March and April relocations available for this spring.
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 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 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 will almost certainly 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.
Be particularly careful when considering relocation rental offers in Australia, as I’ve found multiple seemingly-appealing offers that would have required driving all day every day to cover the distance needed in the time allotted.
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 relocation rentals in the U.S. are in vehicles with automatic transmission. But many rentals abroad have manual transmissions. You may also prefer a smaller vehicle when driving on narrow European roads or the left side of the road in Australia or New Zealand.
When I booked my relocation rental from Las Vegas to Denver in the summer of 2018, the company needed to move several RVs needed out of Las Vegas. As such, 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 or $5 per day is typical for U.S. 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
- Free generator usage
- Full tank provided, can be returned empty
Renting an RV for $1 per day is appealing, especially if you can also get some other incentives mentioned above. However, be sure to consider the following expenses that you might incur. I’ve included the fees for my relocation rental experience, but note they may be different for other rentals and companies.
- Fuel expenses
- The 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
- Camping expenses
- Varies in cost, I paid $30 per night in Zion National Park for a site with electric hookup or $42 per night at a campground near the interstate with full hook-ups
- You may be able to camp for free in select areas with no hook-ups (including some Walmart and Cracker Barrel parking lots, but it’s best to make a purchase and check with a manager before settling in for the night)
- Extra driver fees ($3 per person, per day)
- Add-ons offered by the 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 you don’t return the RV clean)
- Dumping fee ($150 per tank if you don’t return the gray and black tanks empty)
I limited extras on my 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.
However, if your relocation company offers tank dumping at a reasonable cost, consider paying for it. RV tank sensors can be extremely fickle, so you may never get the sensor to show empty even if you dump your tanks entirely before returning your rental.
Related: Best credit cards for gas purchases
Using the right credit card is essential when renting a car because some cards provide car rental coverage. Unfortunately, most credit cards that include car rental coverage — including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which is my regular go-to card when renting vehicles — explicitly exclude recreational vehicles. After Citi discontinued car rental coverage on its cards in Sept. of 2019, I’ve yet to find a card that provides car rental insurance when you rent a recreational vehicle.
Apollo, the company I used for my relocation rental in 2018, required a $1,000 bond and included standard liability at no cost on relocation rentals. But, not all relocation rentals include standard liability insurance.
Even if you find a credit card that provides car rental insurance when renting an RV (or you purchase travel insurance that includes car rental insurance when you rent an RV), this insurance usually only covers damage to the rental vehicle. You’ll still want to make sure that your 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.
What type of relocation rentals are available?
Relocation rental options constantly change, so the following options may not still be available. But, the chart below shows some appealing domestic options that were available when this article published:
|From||To||Inclusions||Vehicle type||Rate||Time included||Minimum driving distance||Estimated driving time|
|Chicago, IL||Dallas, TX||$150 gas allowance||5 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||885 miles||13h 28m|
|Chicago, IL||Denver, CO||$150 gas allowance||5 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||1,006 miles||14h 43m|
|Chicago, IL||Ferndale, WA||$150 gas allowance||5 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||2,115 miles||32h|
|Chicago, IL||Las Vegas, NV||$200 gas allowance||5 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||1,737 miles||25h|
|Chicago, IL||Los Angeles, CA||$200 gas allowance||5 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||1,999 miles||30h|
|Chicago, IL||Salt Lake City, UT||$150 gas allowance||5 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||1,382 miles||20h 25m|
|Chicago, IL||San Diego, CA||$150 gas allowance||5 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||2,059 miles||31h|
|Chicago, IL||San Francisco, CA||$300 gas allowance||5 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||2,113 miles||31h|
|Dallas, TX||Aurora, CO||$200 gas allowance||4 berth RV||$1 per night||5 nights||778 miles||12h 1m|
|Dallas, TX||Los Angeles, CA||$100 gas allowance||4 berth RV||$1 per night||8 nights||1,435 miles||21h 7m|
|Dallas, TX||Salt Lake City, UT||$100 gas allowance||4 berth RV||$1 per night||7 nights||1,244 miles||19h 26m|
For this chart, I calculated the minimum driving distance and estimated driving time using Google Maps. However, you’ll likely go slower than estimated by Google Maps.
These examples serve to help you determine what types of deals are possible. But, you may want to add a few extra days to your rental or accept a lower fuel allowance to book a rental that works well with your schedule and allows you enough time to enjoy the trip.
How to make a one-way relocation RV rental work
Let’s be honest: Renting a one-way last-minute relocation rental is challenging to fit into a vacation for most travelers. Since you typically need to book RV relocations at the last-minute, it’s best to make flexible, fully refundable travel plans as a back-up if you don’t find a suitable relocation RV.
And, you may need to book a one-way flight or car rental on one or both sides of your relocation. Luckily, it’s easy to find inexpensive airfare right now on most routes. I’ve had great luck using Autoslash to find cheap one-way car rentals, although car rentals have been a bit more difficult and expensive during the pandemic.
Renting an RV for $1 per day may sound appealing. And I’ve had great fun on both of my relocation rentals. But there are additional costs to consider, such as fuel, camping fees, extra driver fees and supplies. However, if you’re able to jump on a last-minute relocation or a factory relocation — 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.
Featured image by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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