Renting a Car From an Off-Airport Location — Reader Success Story
Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Sergej, who saved on an upcoming rental by casting a wider net:
I was planning a trip to California, and since my destination was roughly halfway between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, I checked the cost of flights and car rentals into four separate airports: Los Angeles (LAX), San Fancisco (SFO), Oakland (OAK) and San Jose (SJC). Cars were very expensive at LAX during my visit, so I did some digging and found that renting a car from a Hertz hotel location nearby would cost much less than renting at the airport. The hotel even had a free shuttle from the terminal, and since you have to take a shuttle to the rental lot anyway at LAX, getting there was no different from renting at the airport. I didn't end up flying into LAX, but the search opened my eyes.
I put that experience to work more recently while booking a trip to San Diego. A one-week rental from Avis was approximately $265 at the airport, but my search turned up a car for $180 from an off-airport location about 3 miles from the terminal. There was no free shuttle since it wasn't a hotel office, but a short Uber or Lyft ride is under $10 each way. By renting there, I'll circumvent lines for the shuttle and at the rental car center, and avoid the exorbitant rates and junk fees tacked onto airport rentals.
Contrary to popular belief, renting a car at the airport isn't consistently more expensive than renting from an off-airport location. Airport rentals are often subject to higher local taxes and fees, and you might pay a premium for the "convenience" of renting on-site, but airport facilities also have larger inventories and more competition to drive prices down. That said, Sergej is right is that if you're looking for an easy way to save on rental cars, you should at least consider off-airport locations among your options. Any added cost to get there should be offset by a lower rate (especially for longer rentals), and you may still be able to return your car to the airport without incurring the hefty drop fee imposed on many one-way trips.
On the other hand, renting from a neighborhood office has some downside. While airport rental facilities aren't always open around the clock, their hours generally align with incoming flights schedules. The same can't be said for off-airport locations, so make sure they'll be open if you have an early or late arrival. Also, the wait isn't always shorter at a smaller office — there may be fewer customers in line but fewer staff on hand to serve them. Wherever you rent, holding elite status can help you skip the line or bypass the counter entirely. Finally, selecting an off-airport location limits your options if something goes wrong (like if you show up to find no cars are available). You probably won't be able to walk 50 feet to the nearest competitor like you can at the airport. Keep all that in mind as you search for lower prices.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Sergej a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to firstname.lastname@example.org; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!