smart spending

7 ways to save on a car rental

Consider off-airport rental locations. With car rental rates at airports so high, it's a good idea to check out car rental deals in the city or near the destination you'll be visiting.

So take a few minutes to a find the best available rate from an off-airport rental car agency for your upcoming vacation.

Next, factor in how much it will cost to travel by bus, taxi or subway to your hotel or destination and to the rental car agency to pick up your car.

Some rental car companies have agencies in or near major hotels. Other rental agencies may allow you to pick up and drop off your car right at your hotel. Be sure to ask.

With airport rental car rates so high, there's a good chance you'll save some money by renting from an off-airport location. Just make sure it's not too much of a hassle to get to and from your rental car agency. This is your vacation after all.

Look beyond national chains. Be sure to check out rental car deals available from smaller, regional chains and local independent agencies. They may have lower prices than the big national chains. 

Regional car rental chains include Midway Car Rental, Fox Rent A Car, Triangle Rent A Car and Ace Rent A Car.

"They may not have all the bells and whistles, but they're good companies and you can save money," Abrams says. "A car is a car."

To search for rental car deals from smaller chains and independent car rental agencies, check out Carrentalexpress.com, which allows you to search for local rental car deals by airport, city and even your address.

Another way to track down a smaller rental car agency near your vacation destination is to ask for a recommendation from the hotel or resort where you'll be staying.

The local agency may even be willing to drop the car off at your hotel.

Book early. As soon as you decide on your vacation plans, book your car rental. Wait until the last minute and you could get stuck paying much higher rates, and you may have a tougher time finding the vehicle that you want.

"Book early," Abrams says. "You can always cancel. Lock in the rate."

So be sure to make your car rental reservation weeks before your vacation. If you find a better deal closer to your trip you can always snap up that deal and cancel your other reservation.

"Most times you can cancel without penalty," says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com. "Always check that upfront just to make sure."

Set your price. Not fussy about the particular car you'll drive or the company you rent from? Check out Web sites such as Priceline.com and Hotwire.com. These sites offer nifty discounts on car rentals to consumers who are willing to be locked into a preset price before finding out which national car rental chain will be providing the car.

Companies such as Alamo, Avis, Budget and Hertz provide vehicles to Priceline.com and Hotwire.com customers.

"You know what the car class is and for most people that's good enough," Banas says. "In most cases, that's where you can find some of the best rates."

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