A Step by Step Guide To Getting Cheap Rental Cars

Posted By Trav


Renting a car can be a confusing, frustrating, and oftentimes, an expensive experience.

With so many options available and prices constantly changing, if you’re unsure where to look or what to choose, you usually leave the process feeling ripped off.

I know, because I’ve felt this exact way the first few times I booked rental cars.

But little by little, as I started to pick up more secrets and insider info, I put together a system that I now use each time I book rental cars.

Now, you can use this step by step guide as a game plan to not only score cheap rentals cars but also alleviate the stress and headaches that normally accompany the process.

All you have to do is follow the seven steps below:

1.  Decide whether your rental is one-way or roundtrip.

If you’re returning the car to the same location, it’ll usually be much cheaper.  If you can return to the same spot, definitely do it.

Returning to the same location?  Head to Step 2.

Booking a one-way rental?  Head to Step 4.

2.  Check National Car Rental Last Minute Deals

If you’re renting in the US or Canada and returning to the same spot, you can score some great deals from National’s Last Minute Deals.

Most of these are for weekend rentals, but you can also find some weekly rentals mixed in as well.

If you find one that works for you, no need to continue.  This will be cheapest rate you’ll get!

3.  Check Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Portal

Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Portal not only allows you to use your Chase points to book a car rental if you want (every point is worth 1.25 cents), but it also gives you great deals on car rentals if you want to pay cash.

Or, you can choose to use some cash and some points, an awesome way to defray some of the costs. 

You’ll need to have a Chase Ultimate Rewards account to be able to access the prices.  The easiest way to get a Chase Ultimate Rewards account is to open a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Plus card, my favorite personal and business credit cards, respectively.

Grab the quote from here, then head to the next step.

4.  Check RentalCars.com, Kayak.com, and Carrentals.com

In my experience, Rentalcars.com, Kayak.com, and Carrentals.com are the three best aggregator sites for car rentals with any stipulations you want (one-way rentals, rentals anywhere in the world, etc.).

They will sometimes spit out different prices, so make sure to take the few minutes to check all three of them.

EXPERT TIP:  If you’re renting for 3 days or more, check to see if a weekly rental is actually cheaper in total price than a 3 or 4 day rental.  If it is, choose to rent the car for a week and just drop it off early.

Find the lowest price from these three sites and see what rental car company it is with.  Then, head to Step 5.

5.  Check the Actual Rental Car Site (Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, etc.) For a Price

Once you find the lowest price from the step above, check that rental car’s site and see what price they are offering for the same rental.

On my last trip, rentalcars.com wanted 192 euros for a 10 day rental from Europcar.  When I went to Europcar’s actual site, the same rental priced out at 150 euros, a whopping 25% less.

A few minutes of work can save you a nice chunk of change, especially on long rentals.

Expert Tip:  Renting cars from non-airport locations can oftentimes save you up to 50% and be more convenient if you aren’t flying in.  If possible, make sure to check all the rental locations in a city versus just the main airport location.

6. (Optional)  Check FrequentFlyerBonuses.com for Additional Bonuses

If you collect and use frequent flyer miles or rental car points, check FrequentFlyerBonuses.com for additional coupon codes to earn more bonuses.

7.  Always Book Using a Credit Card That Offers Rental Car Insurance

Many of the best travel credit cards offer rental car insurance, meaning you can opt out of the rental company’s insurance, save tons of money, and still be covered.

For a list of some of the credit cards that offer rental car insurance, as well as 9 other tips for saving money on car rentals, click here.

Final Word(s)

Renting a car doesn’t have to be a frustrating and expensive endeavor.

Simply use these seven steps, in order, and you’ll not only have an easy to follow game plan in place but you’ll also make sure you’re getting the best deal on your rental cars!

What are your best tips for renting cars?  Do you have a process that you go through each time?  Please share with use below!


  1. Nice post. It’s frustrating that I can book really good deals on flights and find all kinds of stuff but the rental car world seems like the wild west or a 3rd world bizarre. One trick I’ve used it to try and leverage status matching via credit cards and other programs to get better status with the big 3 rental companies so I get faster service and some upgrades. Beyond that I try to avoid renting at the airport location as the taxes and fee’s are much higher. Many times you can get a cab to a nearby off airport office and rent the car much cheaper overall. I also have gotten much cheaper rentals at low cost vendors like Advantage and Fox at the cost of having to wait in line at a counter for the rental process.

    1. Trav says:

      @believemywords- Yeah, rental cars are definitely a whole different ballgame. I like your suggestions though, and I agree 100% with going to non-airport locations. The prices can be as much as 50% off.

      What are Advantage and Fox, and how do you find them? I’d love to know more info on them.

      1. Joy says:

        I often pick up the rental car at a nearby non-airport location and return it to the airport rental center. Saves 50%, especially in high demand times/locations! Even counting the taxi or Uber cost to the rental pickup. Recent example: my way=$196 vs airport to airport =$436!! This only works when there are nearby non-airport rental counters though. But it is a good hack! Takes very little extra time too.

        1. Trav says:

          @Joy- How do you get that deal? I always find that when I pick it up at one location and try to drop it off at another (like the example you gave) I get charged more. I’d love some insight on how to do this – sounds like an awesome tip!

  2. So far, I’ve had great experience using AutoSlash.com. I book using Travelocity or the rental website, then enter the info into AutoSlash for it to track. They automatically email you when they find a lower rate so you can rebook. On an upcoming rental next week, Autoslash just saved me about $180 on a 5 day rental! Of course, you can’t book a pre-paid, non-refundable rate if you want to take advantage of this, just FYI.

    1. Trav says:

      @swnofilmerGardner- Autoslash is an awesome tool to use as well. I don’t have tons of experience with it, which is why I didn’t include it, as well as because you can’t book pre-paid, non-refundable stuff. But definitely worthwhile for a lot of situations.

  3. Chuck says:

    I am not sure if “EXPERT TIP: If you’re renting for 3 days or more, check to see if a weekly rental is actually cheaper in total price than a 3 or 4 day rental. If it is, choose to rent the car for a week and just drop it off early.” is accurate. My understanding is if a rental is returned earlier than what was originally booked, the rate will be recalculated to the amount of time that was actually used with the car. This would mean that a weekly rental of 5-7 days could default to the daily rate if the car was returned after only 2 or 3 days. I am interested in hearing input from other readers if this situation has applied to them as well

    1. Trav says:

      @Chuck- I’m also interested to hearing other people’s experiences, because for me, I’ve always been able to get the weekly rental, return it early, and not pay anything more. In fact, there have been times when I’ve rented it at the weekly rate (let’s say $140, or $20 a day) and then when I returned it, I’ve actually been able to talk them in to giving me some money back (in this instance, if I returned it after 5 days, I would get $40 back- $20×2).

  4. John Brew says:

    I noted that the following 3 websites give some of the lowest car rental rates: AutoEurope, Payless and Holiday Autos.
    Other online guides indicate Priceline and Hotwire as a good source of deals, by using their service in which the car rental company is made known only after purchase.

    1. Trav says:

      @John Brew- Good to know, I’ve used Holiday Autos before and had good deals with them, for sure. I believe all of them show up on Kayak and the other aggregator sites. Yeah, Priceline is also ok to use, I just personally don’t because I like to have more control.

  5. Clare N says:

    Also try carrentalsavers.com and BJ’s or Costco if a member. Capitalone.com if you have the card. Don’t forget that if you pay with points, partially or in whole, the collision damage waiver won’t be in effect.

    1. Trav says:

      @Clare N- Thanks for those suggestions, have you found them to be better priced than other ones? Also, great point with the CDW. People should be aware of that.

      1. Clare N says:

        Yes, I frequently use carrentalsavers.com as they give rental prices with several programs and discounts which are easily added in. Also you do not need to pay for the rental up front. I’ve also gotten good prices using the Capital One portal. I sometimes use BJ’s especially if I’m renting from Alamo and want to add an unrelated driver for free.

        1. Trav says:

          @Clare N- I’ve never tried carrentalsavers.com, so thanks for the tip. I’ve heard the Cap1 portal is good, I think it’s usually equivalent to the Chase one. Which makes it a good option for people without Chase cards.

  6. Great post, and very helpful information! I would like to add one more possible tip. After checking all your options and getting a feel for your best price, I then check out hotwire.com. If you don’t mind which rental car provider you will be riding with, sometimes you can get a price lower than other places. We were able to get about a $10 a day rental in Miami, and with the saving, upgrade it to the convertible Camaro SS for the drive down to Key West. The price ended up being about the same if I had booked an economy car.

    1. Trav says:

      @Christian Nommesen- Great advice. If you don’t mind which one you get (and I don’t), then you can go to Hotwire or Priceline and put in a rate lower than what you found. Sometimes, you’ll get great savings. Thanks for sharing!

      Can’t beat a Camaro down to Key West…unless maybe it was a Corvette!

  7. Bill Maloney says:

    I travel to ski a couple of times each winter. I find it extremely difficult to determine if your car has 4 WD or not. It is a necessity to get over Donner Summit in California or you have to buy chains. Just because it is a Ford Explorer or Toyota RAV4 does not mean it has 4WD in Calif. To ensure you are getting a 4WD you have to reserve a gas guzzling land yacht that costs more than your lodging and ski passes do for the week.
    Anyone dealt successfully with this one?

    1. Trav says:

      @Bill Maloney- I would think the easiest way to know if it has 4WD is to call up the rental car company and try to book it through them. If it’s not showing online if it is 4WD, or it can’t guarantee it, then maybe calling them up is the best option. I’ve never needed one with 4WD, so unfortunately, I don’t have a ton of experience with that.

      1. Lee says:

        I use 4×4 for work all the time, the only car rental company that guarantees 4×4 is Hertz, you can get a discount code for them from your AA miles account for 35% off. Whenever I show up at the Hertz counter the agent always remarks what I good rate I have.

  8. sandra says:

    My comment is based on two accidents in rentals cars, neither being my fault. Both cost me considerable money though, so I recommend NEVER use points or miles to pay the rental fee. Then you cannot use the primary insurance that the credit card could provide. In both accidents, I ended up paying for admin fees and loss of rental income while the repair was done, even though I wasn’t responsible for the repair cost itself. Read the fine print in the rental contract and you will see it spelled out.

    1. Trav says:

      @sandra- Great, thanks for that heads up. Really appreciate it, although I’m sorry you had to learn the hard way.

    2. sherri says:

      All you have to do to get the card insurance is apply $1 onto the card to rent the car. Then pay the rest with points. That way, the card will pay for the auto insurance if full. Check with your credit card to make sure that I am correct on this.

      1. sherri says:

        I’m sorry, mot the car insurance. The car rental place to apply $1 on your charge card and the rest in points to rent the card.

  9. Barbara Crisler says:

    Thanks for all this great information. Rental cars are a game that I haven’t been real successful with in the past. Looking forward to putting this new found knowledge to work.

    1. Trav says:

      @Barbara Crisler- Yeah, it was definitely a bit of a mystery to me at first as well, which is why I’m happy to lay out this step by step guide to “unveil” what I’ve learned and alleviate some stress.

  10. Alan Cxxxxn says:

    Alan C says. Ask for discounts such as AAA or AARP, etc. Also ask if there is any way to get the car cheaper. The answers I received were useful. 1. Car rentals have unlimited miles. SOMETIMES you can get a car with limited miles such as 1000 miles or less with Huge savings. 2.Sometimes they don’t tell you about promotions but if you ask if there are any promotions, they will tell you and the savings can be Huge.
    Doesn’t hurt to ask

    1. Trav says:

      @Alan C- Yep, you’re right. NEVER hurts to ask, and I think the 1000 miles or less can be extremely useful for a lot of people who need a rental car for only a few days or for just around town. Thanks!

  11. gertrude says:

    This is certainly a great chain of smart ideas for beating down car rental costs. I rent for a month to 3 months at a crack. I’ve found that searching an area for smaller firms that rent older vehicles has been my best bet. I admit the products often are far from attractive, but I have saved as much as 50% over the best prices I could find using many of the procedures and sources listed here. As an example Airport truck & car rental in San Diego will pick you up and drop you off with no extra air port taxes or fees. Don’t accept their first quote, negotiate for a better price on the phone.

    1. Trav says:

      @getrude- An excellent idea. I’ve found that this holds true with most things when you are renting long term. Usually, you can get great prices, whether it be on cars, accommodations, or anything else. And if you are renting longer term, you can always negotiate. I talked someone down from almost 70% once on an apartment in Croatia because we were staying long term, and both of us were happy!

      Do you have a specific website or tricks you use for finding those smaller firms when you go to an area?

      1. jos bults says:

        step 1: go to google translate and translate car rental into the local language.
        step 2: use that search term to search google.

        1. Trav says:

          @Jos bults- Great advice!

  12. Also, if you reserve months ahead of your trip, keep checking rates as you get closer to the time of your trip. The rates may drop and you can book at the new lower rate and cancel the old, more expensive reservation.

    1. Trav says:

      @Robin Gronsky- Great point. Almost all car rentals will let you cancel your reservation and rebook at a cheaper rate, so it never hurts to check every few days or so.

  13. jos bults says:

    Hi, I live in China, travel to Netherlands often. I can fully recommend to rent a car at BB&L carrental. The ONLY no hassle car rental company I’ve come across… My experiences in New York, Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, Toronto, Beijing… always every time I end up paying more than I thought I should and still running a several thousands dollars risk – as others have demonstrated so clearly.

    BB&L Carrental – and this is NOT an advertisement! I’m only a very happy customer – offers: free mileage, no penalty charges for early or late delivery, full coverage including Collision Damage Waiver, free GPS for Europe, and they charge your card AFTERWARDS. Best of it… they deliver the car to the airport, and pick it up at YOUR convenience (call 1 hour ahead of arrival).

    Prices range from 21 Euro/day up and they have a full range of cars. They cooperate with Europcar, but their rates AND their conditions are way better.

    I’ve been using them for the last 5 years. Once I forgot my wallet and they shipped it for me back to China. Once my daughter helped me “wash” the car, with sand instead of soap… And she was doing that for full 5 minutes before I noticed. Damage: 2100 Euro. They first sent me an invoice for 300 euro but within an hour sent an apology note and a discount coupon for 1 day free rent – which they THEMSELVES deducted the next time I rented with them…

    1. Trav says:

      @jos bults- Wow, that sounds like a pretty awesome car company. Are they located in various places throughout the world, or only in Netherlands? I’ll definitely have to check it out.

  14. Lee says:

    If you already have an AA mileage account Hertz will send you discount codes for booking car rentals. You can save up to 35% with these codes. So always check with all your mileage clubs to see what kind of car rental savings they offer, either through partnerships or if you book directly through their website. For example Southwest airlines has very cheap cars on their website and will send you greater discounts once you book a flight to “add a car.”

  15. Hary says:

    Hey Trav et all – any advice for renting a truck for moving purposes? I am looking to rent a moving truck from the Philadelphia area and drive it one way to Atlanta. Any tips or suggestions?

  16. If you have a Chase Ultimate Rewards account, it sounds like you can find some really good rates on car rentals. If you don’t, then maybe your card provider has a similar program available. I haven’t looked into it because I just thought of it, but maybe you could use frequent flier miles to get rental car discounts.

  17. Tracie says:

    Thank you! I use this post every time I rent a car and we get great deals! I also check turo, and every once in a while it is a better deal, but it seems to depend on the city. I imagine it didn’t exist yet when this guide was written. Thanks again for sharing this great advice!

    1. Trav says:

      @Tracie – I haven’t done Turo yet, but it’s certainly an interesting concept. I’ll check that as well next time.

  18. John says:

    As a Costco member I have had great success renting cars through their Travel Page. Often I get the “thats a great rate” comment. You have to be a member to use the Costco Travel page though.

  19. Actually your guideline is really awesome. you share the great information about car rental. Thanks for sharing great info.

  20. Ilya B says:

    I rented a car from Turo on my trip to Maui. Would never find a better deal from the rental companies. Basically people rent out their own cars, like Airbnb but with cars. https://turo.com/c/ilyab32

  21. Tom James says:

    Ensuring that you have rental car insurance is a must if you’re opting for rental cars. I like the idea of using the card that offers the insurance, because most people forget to do this. You can save a lot of money and be insured in case of any minor or major damage.

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