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BBB Tip: How to save on a car rental (even during a shortage)

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Rental cars are in high demand and short supply these days. Most large car rental companies sold off much of their fleet to stay afloat during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and a shortage of chips and semiconductors have slowed down the auto production industry. With more people vaccinated and travel picking up, companies have had trouble meeting consumer demand.  

This shortage means prices are through the roof and in some destinations, the number of cars available to rent is limited. In a climate like this, how can you snag a rental car at a decent price for your next trip? BBB offers the following suggestions.

How to Get a Rental Car at a Reasonable Price

  • Book early. This is the number one way to score a rental car at a good price, even during a shortage. Instead of waiting until a few weeks before you arrive at a destination, book your car rental at the same time you book your flight, or as soon as you have a rough idea of your travel plans. Unlike flights, there are generally no penalties if you need to change or cancel your booking so take advantage and reserve your car as early as possible.
  • Shop around for the best deal. Before booking with a company, do some comparison shopping. Use price comparison websites to check prices across companies, keeping an eye out for special deals or coupons you might be eligible to use. Of course, if you find a great deal on a third-party website, double check that you are on a legitimate website before you make a purchase. Don’t forget to check out smaller, lesser-known rental agencies that might not show up on a mainstream search too, as they often have lower prices and better availability.
  • Be flexible with your dates. Just like airline flights, providing flexible rental dates can get you a better price on a rental car. If your travel dates are already set but your rental car is straining your budget, take a look at your itinerary and see if you truly need a rental car every day of your trip. Perhaps you could stay at an airport hotel on your first or last night to shave a day or two off the length of your rental.
  • If you’re flying, consider off-airport rental locations. Airport car rentals are the most convenient, but USA Today points out that airports have high taxes, which can spike your rental bill. There are usually dozens of rental company locations within a few miles of an airport and even when you factor in the price of transportation to the off-airport location, you can still save money in most cases. A note of caution though, many off-airport locations operate during regular business hours, which might not work out if the flight you just booked is a red eye.
  • Take advantage of discounts and loyalty programs. Car rental agencies partner with airlines, hotels, AAA, credit card issuers, and other companies to offer perks to their loyalty program members. Ask who a rental company partners with to see if you might be eligible for discounts or bonuses.
  • Find out if purchasing insurance is really necessary. Adding insurance to the cost of your rental can inflate the price significantly. The Washington Post recommends checking with your personal car insurance company to see if your coverage includes rental car liability. In addition, some travel credit cards cover damage and collision insurance. If you are already covered, there’s no need to spend extra on a second policy from the rental company.
  • Bring your own extras. AFAR reminds travelers that car rental companies will try to upsell you with navigation systems, car seats for children, and more. If you know you need specific extras, bring your own to save some cash.
  • Check for price drops. Take advantage of specialized apps or price drop alerts from third-party websites to find out if your price is still the best deal. Since car rental companies don’t penalize you for canceling a reservation, if you get a price drop alert you can cancel your reservation and re-book at the lower rate. Of course, always make sure the deal is legitimate before you cancel your booking.
  • Get creative. Traditional car rental companies aren’t the only ones that offer car rentals. Travel and Leisure says that many car dealerships have rental programs. Call around to dealers at your destination and ask about their rates and mileage limits. For longer rentals, they may offer cheaper rates than a big-name car rental company. If you are really in a pinch, consider renting a vehicle from a moving equipment company like U-Haul. It may not be as discreet as a rental car but moving equipment companies often rent trucks and vans for a reasonable, daily flat rate with insurance included.
  • Consider car-sharing services. Car-sharing services, where you rent cars directly from people who own them in your destination, are growing in popularity and are another alternative to traditional car rental companies. The Washington Post says that while many consumers aren’t thrilled about choosing insurance and dealing with owners, some newer car-sharing services handle those tasks for you, making them just as easy as any other car rental service.
  • Change your destination. If your travel plans are flexible and a rental car is still putting you way over budget, consider changing your destination to a city where ground transportation is readily available. You may be able to enjoy your trip without ever putting your foot to the gas pedal.

For More Information

To make the most of your next vacation, read up on vacation scams and review the BBB Tip: Planning Your Next Family Vacation or Trip.

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