Tricks to Save Money on Vacation: Rental Cars

Tricks to Save Money on Vacation Traveling Well For Less

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Getting free flights is the easy part. But knowing how to save money on the rest of your vacation costs can be tricky.

Here are a few tricks I use to save money on car rentals, meals and activities when traveling.

Tricks to Save Money on Vacation Traveling Well For Less
Saving money means you can spend more time here

 

Because there’s a lot of information I’ve split my presentation into 3 posts: rental cars, meals, and activities. You’ll learn how to save money on rental cars in this post.

You can view the Powerpoint presentation for a quick overview.

Get the best price on car rentals

The trick to getting the best price on car rentals is knowing when and where to book your rental car.

Book early

You should book early in destinations where rental cars are limited like Orlando.  Larger cars such as minivans sell out quickly so book early.

The Golden Window

You can save money by rechecking rental car prices frequently at popular vacation destinations such as Hawaii. Prices tend to drop during the late summer because kids are going back to school.

The best time to get the lowest price is what I call “The Golden Window.”  The Golden Window is usually within 2 weeks of travel.

For example, an 8 day intermediate car rental car in Kauai for July 27, 2014 to August 4, 2014 was $338.80.

Tricks to Save Money on Vacation rental cars Traveling Well For Less
I would have paid $339 for an 8 day rental

 

But 3 days before I left the price had dropped to $243.35 for a full size car.

We got a free upgrade and saved $95.45.

Tricks to Save Money on Vacation rental car The Golden Window Traveling Well For Less
5 minutes of my time saved us $95 and we got a free upgrade

 

If you don’t have the time to keep checking rental prices, you can use a service like Autoslash.

Where to get the best prices

You can get discounted car rentals rates from many places such as Hotwire and Priceline.  But those aren’t the best options for families.

And if you have a lot of miles and points to burn you can compare rates through:

Tricks to Save Money on Vacation got miles and points to burn Traveling Well For Less
Got miles and points to burn?  Use them to pay for your rental car

 

But I’d rather pay cash for my rental car than use airline miles or points because you get a better value for each mile or point when you use it for airline tickets.

Paying cash cuts down on the amount of work (manufactured spending) you have to do earning miles and points for multiple people.  You can reduce your out of pocket cash costs by using your Barclays Arrival Plus card to pay for the car rental, then redeem your miles for statement credits.

Packages

If you found a good prepaid rates, your plans won’t change, and you don’t think the price will go down, you should prepay your car rental.

Booking a prepaid package can get you the lower car rental rates to some destinations.

If you’re going to Hawaii, you’ll get the lowest rates booking through Blue Sky Tours.  But you have to book through a travel agent.  Blue Sky Tours has cheap rates on hotels, condos and car rentals. This is a good choice if you don’t have miles or points, don’t have enough miles or points, or want to stay in a condo.

Tricks to Save Money on Vacation rental car packages blue sky tours Traveling Well For Less
Prepaying? Book a hotel and car package through your travel agent and Blue Sky Tours

 

Lowest rental car prices

While you can find good rates through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, the Citi ThankYou Portal, the Capital One No Hassle Rewards Portal, and AA Miles, you’ll usually get the lowest rental car prices from Costco Travel and USAA.

1) Costco Travel

You’ll often pay less booking through Costco Travel than discount sites like Hotwire.

Booking a rental car through Costco Travel is extremely easy and you:

  • Can book online
  • Get free additional drivers when renting in the US
  • Can cancel without fees

But you have to be a Costco member to book your car rental.  A basic Costco membership costs $55 a year, or you can pay $110 a year for an Executive membership which gives you 2% back (up to $750 a year) on your purchases.

Costco Travel only has rental cars from Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise.  So if you prefer renting from Dollar you can’t book it through Costco Travel.

Tricks to Save Money on Vacation rental car packages costco travel Traveling Well For Less
You’ll pay less for your rental car with Costco Travel

 

2) USAA

You can also get low car rental rates from USAA.

Booking through USAA, you:

  • Can book online
  • Get free additional drivers when renting in the US
  • Pay no fees for young drivers
  • Can cancel without fees

You have to be a USAA member, but membership is free to anyone, even if you aren’t in the military or related to a military member. USAA allows anyone to become a member, however, access to some USAA benefits are limited to those who have a military connection.

USAA offers discounted rental car rates from Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz.

Tricks to save money on vacation rental cars USAA
A free USAA membership can get you lower rental car rates

 

Save more renting from non-airport locations

You will save the most money when you rent from non-airport locations. So it might be worth the hassle of getting to those locations.

For example, you’ll pay $552.65 for a 1-week compact car rental from the Avis at Denver airport for November 22, 2014, to November 29, 2014. But you’ll only pay $216.93 for a 1-week compact car from the Avis at the Doubletree Denver on Quebec. The Doubletree has a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel.

You’ll save $335.72 on your car rental, plus you’ll save on gas because you aren’t driving from and to the airport.

Tricks to Save Money on Vacation rental car non airport location
You’ll save $335 renting from an off-airport location

 

 Summary

You can save money on car rentals if you know a few secrets.

You should book early in places where rental cars are limited. And always recheck your rates because prices can drop. Rental car prices in Hawaii tend to drop during the late summer.

Costco Travel and USAA generally have the lowest car rental prices.

You can save money by booking a fly-drive package (hotel and car rental) through a travel agent.

You’ll save the most money by renting from off-airport locations.

Want to learn the tricks to save on meals while on vacation? Read Part 2, Tricks to Save Money on Vacation: Meals.

Disclosure:  Credit card links are provided as a courtesy.  I do not receive a commission from credit cards.
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Traveling Well For Less has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Traveling Well For Less and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.


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Debra Schroeder

Debra is a former 12-year travel industry executive and has traveled the world using airline miles and credit card points since 1994. She'll teach you the secrets of traveling well for less.

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