How to never pay full price for a rental car

Jul 1, 2020

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Rental cars — they seem simple enough on paper, but they’re frequently more confusing and expensive than you’d expect. The price you see isn’t always the price you pay, especially when you factor in under 25 fees, damage waivers and the list goes on.

Not to mention rental cars aren’t exactly cheap these days. Here in New York City, I frequently see rental car rates go well over $100 per day when picking up on a Friday night. It’s seemingly more expensive during the coronavirus pandemic, as people opt to rent cars instead of flying.

If you’re looking to hit the road, you’re in the right place — here, I’ll show you all the ways you can save money on your next car rental.

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In This Post

Use a  corporate, university or alumni code

DePaul University rental car discount page
(Image courtesy of DePaul University)

One of the easiest ways to save money on rental cars is to use a corporate code from your job or university. Now, many of these codes can be found online, but we never recommend using a code you’re not eligible for — oftentimes, rental car companies will ask for proof of employment or alumni status.

That said, check your corporate travel site, alumni deals page or student benefits page for rental company discounts. My university has deals with Avis, Enterprise, Hertz and National – all of which have saved me some money on previous rentals.

Some of these codes may provide other benefits too. For example, my university’s Enterprise discount code includes free extra drivers and waives the under 25 fee. This is great for me, as I’m under 25 and this benefit has saved me hundreds of dollars over the years.

Always ensure that you’re allowed to use these codes on personal rentals too. Some corporate codes are published solely for business travel, while others can be used on personal rentals. In some cases, your company or university may have a separate code for personal use.

Related: Renting a car under 25? Here’s how to save money

See if your credit card offers a discount

A number of travel credit cards offer discounts with certain rental car companies. One of these cards is the Chase Sapphire Reserve — it includes 20% off Silvercar rentals, up to 30% off Avis and up to 25% off National rentals.

Likewise, anyone who has The Platinum Card® from American Express has access to a suite of Hertz benefits. These include a grace period for returns, discounted rates, bonus points and car upgrades. All of these can save you money and offer a great way to elevate your Hertz experience.

Always check if your credit card has similar benefits. Oftentimes these discounts can be applied to your rental by either booking through a specific portal or using a designated discount code.

Related: Credit cards that offer elite status for car rentals

Sign up for AAA

AAA is an auto club that offers roadside assistance and discounts on a variety of services to its members. One of the best discounts is on rental cars: currently, you can save up to 20% on all Hertz rentals with the AAA discount code.

Using AAA’s code provides a number of other benefits too, like a waived under-25 fee, discounts on fuel refills and unlimited miles on most rentals. Depending on how often you rent from Hertz, these discounts can more than offset AAA’s $50-$100 membership fee.Once you’re a member, you can use Hertz’s dedicated AAA website to book your discounted rental car. The process is the same as booking through the standard AAA website and all discounts are reflected on the checkout screen.

Related: 10 best ways to redeem your points and miles for a car rental

Consider the Hertz Free-To-Go Pass

Hertz storefront with cars parked outside
(Photo by ablokhin/Getty Images)

Hertz recently unveiled its new Free-To-Go pass. This pass costs $99 per year and includes a handful of benefits like a 10% guaranteed discount, 2x Gold Plus points, home delivery and a waived young driver fee on all rentals.

That said, Hertz recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The future of the company is still uncertain, so you may want to steer clear of this promotion unless you’re confident in the future of Hertz.

Likewise, some of these benefits are also included with an AAA membership. These include the waived young driver fee and unlimited miles on most rentals.

Consider booking through an airline portal

Many major airlines have partnerships with rental car companies, offering drivers discounts, the ability to earn miles and more. For example, United MileagePlus members can earn up to 1,000 points per rental and get exclusive savings when renting with Hertz.

Booking Rental Cars with United Airlines
(Image courtesy of United Airlines)

Better yet, many airline programs offer complimentary rental car status to its elite members. Both Delta and United offer status matches for elites, with United also offering status to select cobrand United credit cardholders.

Car rental status can include perks like guaranteed free upgrades, bonus points and a wider selection of redemption options. The value of these perks can really add up depending on how often you rent cars, so we highly recommend taking advantage of a status match if you’re offered one.

That said, earning airline miles with your car rental may make you ineligible for earning rental car points. Consider which you find more valuable before you choose which currency you want to earn. Contrary to popular belief, rental car points can actually be very valuable depending on how you use them.

Related: TPG’s guide to car rental promotions that will save you money

Check alternate rental locations

Large rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise have locations at major airports and cities — for example, here in NYC, Hertz has over 15 locations spread around the city. Make sure to compare prices at all nearby locations to find the best possible deal.

Sometimes you may be able to save money on airport pickup taxes and fees by renting in-town. More often than not, these savings carry over to rentals where you pickup in town and drop-off at the airport too.

There are a couple of downsides to renting in town, though. The main one is that in-town locations generally have a smaller choice of cars. This can be disappointing if the vehicle you want is unavailable due to limited inventory.

Find a deal with AutoSlash

AutoSlash home page screen shot
(Image courtesy of AutoSlash)

A number of TPG staff members use AutoSlash to find discounts on their car rentals. Simply put, this website lets you enter your car rental specifications and apply any special discounts you’re eligible for (like an AAA membership). Then, the service goes to work, searching for coupons and searching different car rental companies for the best possible price.

This takes a lot of the work out of finding the best deal on a rental car. Since the service is free, there’s no downside to using it. That said, the service cannot search for corporate and university codes, so make sure to cross-check AutoSlash’s price with your corporate code’s price.

Be sure to check out TPG Reporter Katie Genter’s full guide to AutoSlash before you use the site — she has some great tips to share.

Use a credit card that includes a damage waiver

BMW i3 Car
(Photo by Gabriel Nica/Shutterstock)

Damage waivers are an important part of renting a car. If you incur any damage to a rental — think anything from a fender-bender to theft — the damage waiver will assume all liability, so you won’t have to pay anything out of pocket.

You can buy these waivers from your rental company, and the price is usually somewhere between $10-$20 per day. That said, some credit cards include a primary collision damage waiver for free when you charge the cost of the rental to your credit card.

Two of these cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Sapphire Reserve. Both of these cards offer a primary damage waiver in case of damage or theft. There are a couple of exclusions — namely for exotic, “expensive” and antique vehicles — but your average rental car shouldn’t be an issue.

Since the insurance is primary, you won’t have to file a claim with your personal car insurance if damage is incurred. This is helpful since you won’t have to pay a hefty deductible or be subject to rate changes. Just note that coverage is only valid on rentals of 31 days or less.

Related: How I strategically booked a rental car for 110 days straight

Fill up your gas tank before you return

Always have a plan for filling up your rental before you return it. Generally, your best bet is to simply fill up your rental car’s gas tank shortly before you return — otherwise, you could be stuck with inflated fuel prices charged by the rental company.

Another option is to prepay for a full tank of fuel when you pick up the car. Unfortunately, in the case of Hertz, you won’t get a refund for unused fuel, making this only worthwhile if you actually plan on using the majority of a tank before you return the car.

This is why we always recommend refueling before you drop off your rental car. It will save you money and lets you use things like Fuel Rewards points to save even more money on a tank of gas.

Bonus tip: bring your own toll transponder

Another common fee you’ll run into when renting cars is a convenience fee for using your rental car’s toll transponder to pay a toll. In the case of Hertz, these transponders are called PlatePass, which can be used at EZ-Pass, IPass, FastTrak and other cashless toll locations throughout the U.S.

There’s no doubt that these are helpful, but they can come with hefty fees. For example, I recently rented a car from Hertz and forgot my personal EZ-Pass. A mere $8 worth of tolls in the New York City metro area cost me $19.90 due to the “convenience fee” incurred by using the PlatePass.

The lesson here? Always bring your own toll transponder (or pay cash) and keep the rental’s transponder in the included case. Otherwise, you could be subject to paying high convenience fees.

If you’re renting a car in New York City, you can also sign up for Pay Per Trip to pay for your bridge and tunnel tolls. Just register your rental’s license plate on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) website. All tolls will be charged to your credit card on file.

Bottom line

Keep these cost-saving tips in mind the next time you rent a car. They will help you save on your rental and associated costs like tolls, damage waivers and gas. Use these in tandem, and you’ll save a pretty penny on your next road trip.

Feature photo by meowKa/Shutterstock

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