smart spending

7 ways to save on a car rental

Highlights
  • The average rate for a weekly rental from an airport is up $100 from last year.
  • Use the Web, but be sure online cost comparisons include taxes and fees.
  • Consider renting from a local or regional agency.

Getting a good deal on a car rental this summer may take some doing.

Rates on car rentals are up and in some cases way up from a year ago, according to Abrams Consulting Group, based in Purchase, N.Y., which tracks car rental rates.

The biggest rate hikes are on vehicles rented from airport locations.

In early July, the average rate for a one-day rental of a midsized car booked a week in advance from an airport location was $99.81, up from $75.96 a year ago.

That extra $23.85 per day can put a real dent in your vacation budget.

And opting for a weekly car rental from an airport could be a real shock to your wallet as well.

On July 6, the average rate for a weekly rental of a compact car booked a week in advance from an airport location was $396.50, up from $296.43 a year ago.

"There is sticker shock," says Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting.

Choosing to rent a car from an agency not located at an airport will save you some dough, but even those rates are higher than they were year ago.

On July 6, the average rate for a weekly rental of a compact car booked a week in advance from a non-airport location was $198.03, up from $174.34.

And if higher rates weren't bad enough, there are also fewer cars available for renting this summer. Rental car companies have slashed their rental car fleets by about 20 percent to curb expenses, according to Abrams. 

To get a good deal on a rental car for your summer vacation, you'll need to be a savvy shopper. These tips will show you how.

Do plenty of online research. Web sites such as Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, Vroom Vroom Vroom, Carrentals.com and Bookingbuddy.com allow you to search for the best rental car deals available by city or airport location.

Study the search results from each of these sites carefully.

"Make sure taxes and fees are included in the cost comparisons," says Joanne Helperin, a senior editor at Edmunds.com.

You can also search an individual rental car company's Web site for rate quotes as well as sales and discounts. Keep in mind that the online quote is often lower than the rate you'd receive by making a reservation over the phone.

Just a few minutes of online research could save you some serious cash on your next car rental. So get cracking.  

Use discounts. Belong to AAA or AARP or Costco? Now is the time to scour all your frequent flier clubs, credit cards and membership organizations for discounts on car rentals. Even a 10 percent discount or $35 rebate off a weekly rental will help to offset rising rental car costs.

"There are all sorts of discounts that rental agencies offer," says Joel Widzer, author of "The Penny Pincher's Passport to Luxury Travel." "Find those discounts."

Snap up deals on weekend and weekly rates. Some rental car companies offer rock bottom rates on the weekends, as much as 50 percent lower than the daily rates offered during the week. 

"If you have flexible dates, you're better off going on the weekend," Helperin says.

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And don't overlook specials on weekly rates. Daily rental rates are so expensive that renting a car for five days (and paying the daily rate multiplied by five) could be more expensive than the weekly rental rate.

Be sure to crunch the numbers carefully.

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