How to rent an RV for only $1 a day
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With the pandemic limiting our travel options, a recreational vehicle (RV) rental may seem like an attractive way to hit the road. After all, renting an RV allows you to maintain social distance while traveling and eliminate the need to fly. The main problem: RV rentals tend to be expensive.
But, RV rentals don’t have to cost a fortune. Back in the summer of 2018, I managed to rent a five-person RV for $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.
This was admittedly a crazy good deal. Although finding a deal quite this good takes some patience and flexibility, 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 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 and often change or disappear with no notice. Here’s everything you need to know to find, book and 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 U.S., although 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.
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 additional driver after the primary renter. Some relocation rentals even allow up to six occupants.
Some relocation rentals allow pets. But most — especially in the U.S. — specifically forbid pets. So double-check the terms and conditions before booking if you’re planning to travel with an animal.
Related: The best rewards credit cards
How to find relocation rentals
For U.S.-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 the 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, the 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 U.S., 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 all the listings 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, Transfercar or Coseats, 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’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 — oftentimes with additional information or incentives, and usually with fewer fees. In the U.S., for example, Apollo, Jucy, Cruise America, El Monte and Road Bear tend to directly list relocation rentals.
Related: 5 epic road trips across America
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 several great relocation rental incentives. Prime RV rental season in the U.S. is during the summer, so this is when you’ll see the greatest 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 at the factory – which is usually at least a few hours from a major airport. Apollo, Road Bear and Cruise America each offer factory relocation deals every 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, 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.
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, if not all, rentals in the U.S. feature 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, there were several 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 or $5 per day is common 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
- 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 aforementioned incentives. However, be sure to consider the following expenses that you might incur. I’ve included the expenses for my 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
- Camping 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 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 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 RV isn’t returned clean)
- Dumping fee ($150 per tank if gray and black tanks aren’t returned 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.
Using the right credit card is important 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 normal 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, standard liability insurance won’t be included on all relocation rentals.
Even if you find a credit card that provides car rental insurance when renting an RV – or you purchase travel insurance that provides car rental insurance when you rent an RV – remember that this insurance usually only covers damage to the vehicle you rent. You’ll still want to make certain 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 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|
|Orlando, FL||Denver, CO||N/A||4 berth RV||$1 per night||11 nights||1,827 miles||26h 28m||$603|
|Las Vegas, NV||Ferndale, WA||N/A||4 berth RV||$1 per night||7 nights||1,219 miles||18h 33m||$402|
|Phoenix, AZ||Los Angeles, CA||N/A||4 berth RV||$1 per night||3 nights||389 miles||5h 50m||$128|
|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|
|Brisbane, Australia||Melbourne, Australia||$250 fuel||2 berth camper van||AUD 5 ($3) per day||4 days, 3 nights||1,038 miles||17h 59m||$343|
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). Other vehicles may use more or less fuel per mile; you may pay more or less for gas along your route; and you’ll likely drive slower than estimated by Google Maps.
These examples serve to help you determine what types of deals are possible. But, remember that 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 actually 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 difficult to fit into a vacation for most travelers. Since most RV relocations must be booked last-minute, it’s best to make flexible, fully refundable travel plans if you’re looking to potentially pick up a relocation RV.
For example, I hope I can snag some relocation rentals next January in Australia. But, I’m also booking hotels that I can cancel for no charge until the day before arrival. And, I’m using American Airlines miles to book intra-Australia award flights on Qantas since I can cancel and redeposit the miles for no fee due to my status with American Airlines. This way, I have a trip planned if no appealing relocation rentals become available. But, I can also completely alter my trip last minute without incurring any fees if I do find a great relocation rental.
Many airlines and hotels have very flexible cancellation policies if you book right now. But, normally Southwest will be your best option domestically if you’re looking for flights you can easily change.
Of course, you’ll usually also have a last-minute one-way flight or car rental on one or both sides of your relocation rental. So, you’ll want to use Autoslash to find a cheap car rental or use points and miles to snag a flight. I’ve had good luck booking inexpensive last-minute one-way domestic award flights on American Airlines, but to do so you’ll generally need to be extremely flexible regarding your travel dates, times, airports and routing.
Renting an RV for $1 per day may sound appealing, but there are additional costs to consider such as fuel, camping fees, extra driver fees and supplies. But, if you’re able to jump on a last-minute 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. Alternatively, factory relocation rentals or using fully refundable fares or award tickets can allow you to plan your vacation further in advance.
Image by Andrey Armyagov via Shutterstock
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