10 ways to save money on your next rental car

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10 ways to save money on your next rental car

Having rented a car more times than I can count, I can easily identify the experience as the bane of any work trip or vacation. This is generally how the process goes for me: I get off a plane, sweaty and tired, shuttle off to the airport’s rental car depot, and wait approximately 45 minutes in a queue to pick up the car I’ve booked online. I then sign all the paperwork confirming that I want all the insurance coverage offered and brace myself for the final daily fee and total cost, which is always far higher than the one advertised.

“It’s because you got all the coverage,” the customer service agent says, when I cringe at the estimate. “Better safe than sorry!”

I agree with that platitude, but I also want to know, am I getting ripped off? Are there money and time saving hacks — besides watching the mileage and gassing up before returning — I could be implementing here?

The answer, according to experts, is a resounding “yes”.

Here’s how to go about renting a car so you can drive off the lot without totaling your bank account.

1. Book early — especially during peak travel season

“Car rental companies like Enterprise and Budget operate limited fleets, and they need to estimate demand several weeks in advance in order to have a car ready for you when you step off your flight,” says Kristin McGrath, savings and deals expert for Offers.com. “As you get closer to peak travel season for rental car companies, you’ll want to book as far in advance as possible to ensure that you’re not only getting a great price, but actually getting a car, too.”

To save money when booking online, consider using a cashback browser extension like EBates as well as a coupon code search extension like Wikibuy. It also can’t hurt to search Groupon and LivingSocial for potential discounts.

There’s a better way to park

2. Avo >If you can manage it, don’t book your rental car from the airport.

“Renting a car at the airport is definitely more expensive in many cases as a lot of cities had added surcharges,” says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com. “It’s rooted in a revenue grab for them and it’s easy to pass along as a tourism tax that we often see [in other ways] at airports.”

Arranging a rental car through the airport can add anywhere from 10 to 25 percent to your costs, Rossman says, adding that just today he was looking at the price of his rental car booked out of a San Francisco airport and found that the $200 base rate had another $100 tacked on in added taxes and fees — “$50 more than if I went into the city and rented the car there.”

Chris Trifilio, blogger at FrugalReality.com, says he’s actually saved money by paying for an Uber or Lyft to take him from the airport to a rental car depot. “I came out well ahead even after my $20 ride-sharing cost,” he says.

3. Use a credit card that will cover primary insurance

The biggest cost that we encounter when renting a car is usually the insurance. If you don’t typically drive (and thus, don’t need/have your own auto insurance), then the first add-on item you’re likely signing up for is the collision damage waiver. This is the primary insurance that will reimburse the company for costs of damage to a car should you get into an accident while it’s in your possession.

Now, you may also want to go with this insurance even if you have your own auto insurance, because, as Rossman notes, if you get into an accident, you’d still have to pay the deductible out of pocket, and the accident could incentivize your insurance company to hike up your rates.

But there’s a better way, and one that actually comes at no cost to you. A number of credit cards offer primary coverage as part of its perks (check out NerdWallet’s list of cards that tout this benefit). The only caveat is that you need to pay 100 percent of the price of the rental on that card.

Check with your credit card company to understand the coverage they offer. Liability insurance is typically not included with these credit cards, so you’ll want to either add that on with the rental car company, use your own if you have it.

Another way to reduce rental car insurance fees is to buy rental car insurance outside of the rental agency.

Companies like RentalCover specialize in this service.

“As low as six dollars a day can cover you for everything,” says Stewart Barrett, head of growth at Cover Genius, the parent company to RentalCover.

Rossman deems this a savvy alternative if you don’t have a credit card that qualifies you for coverage.

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