Just like flights to Hawaii, car rental prices fluctuate dramatically. The average price of an economy sized car is in the $30/per day range during regular season. When the supply is low, typically high season times, the price goes into the high $40 range. The highest we’ve seen is $100/day! That was when the car companies, seeing a huge down turn in tourism, shipped off their inventories. Demand was higher than expected, and prices went up to the extreme. On the other hand, prices in the teens are possible.
Despite assurances otherwise, car rental company web sites do not offer the best deals. Dollar rental car is the prime example.
Dollar has this logo placed at the top of their web site. Isn’t it reassuring? Read the details and you’ll see there are a dozen exceptions, including:
- Does not apply to discounts, coupons, upgrade offers
- Does not apply to pre-negotiated rates
- Does not apply to promotional rates
- Does not apply to member rates such as government, AAA, corporate etc.
- Does not apply to rates found on auction sites, or sites that don’t publish the name of the rental company.
And so on..
Dollar acknowledges that web sites with pre-negotiated rates, auction sites, and sites that don’t publish a brand have the lowest rates. So that’s where you should go to find the best deal.
One of the best “auction” style web sites is Priceline.com. On priceline, you bid on a car by saying how much you want to pay. If priceline accepts the bid, your credit card is charged immediately and they tell you what company you got. If the bid is not accepted, you have to wait a day to place a new bid, or change the type of car you want to rent to bid again immediately.
An alternative to Priceline is to use a web site that has pre-negotiated discount rates. There are some benefits to this approach:
- No deposit and your credit card isn’t charged until you return the car.
- You can cancel at any time.
- The rates are still very competitive, usually much better than what the car rental company’s offer directly.
- They sometimes include an additional driver for free! Car rental companies typically charge an extra $10-$15/day for additional drivers!
Remember when you rent a car, you will get fined for 1) early pick up 2) early return 3) late return. The fines are ugly so be careful. Also, always get all your insurance from your local insurance company as the rental company insurance policies are expensive. Finally, use the gas option that requires you to return the car with a full tank of gas, as opposed to the option that lets you return it empty (you prepay for the tank). Drifting into the rental lot on fumes is impossible – you’ll likely have at least $15 of gas left in the tank, if not more.