1. Shop around
The internet can be your best friend when looking for a rental car. All of the major car rental brands have their own websites that provide instant prices. In addition, many smaller, independent operators will also have an internet presence, although the quality of the websites and ability to provide an instant quote will widely vary. In addition, there are a number of excellent car hire comparison sites, most of which will provide instant prices from a broad cross-section of rental companies including well known brands, national and local car rental companies.
2. Book early
Yes, contrary to popular opinion, booking your car early will save your money. Rental fleets are a finite resource and when there is a shortage, prices rise quickly. The same principal applies for peak periods, if you want to save money and maximise choice, then book early. Remember, smaller vehicles tend to go first, therefore, unless you want a larger car, together with the premium that accompanies it, get in early.
3. Vary hire dates and periods
Rental operators have a day rate, weekend rate and weekly rates. If you want to hire a car for 4 or 5 days, check also for their weekly rates, it may actually work out cheaper overall. In addition, renting your car on a weekday rather than a weekend can also alter the price in your favour. Experiment with dates, you may be pleasantly surprised at the results.
4. Vehicle Choice
Although it may be tempting, avoid being seduced into opting for a vehicle larger than you need. The difference between smaller, compact cars and their larger counterparts can be considerable. Because smaller cars are in demand, there is always the chance that the rental company will offer to upgrade you on arrival. Although they will try and sell you the upgrade, if you refuse to budge, you can often get a premium car for no extra money.
5. Avoid the headlines
Unless you are adept at discovering the ‘catches’ or have a lot of time on your hands, avoid being drawn in by the promise of a rental car for a few Pounds (or Dollars) per day. Few of the companies running these offers ever substantiate these bold claims. These headlines are designed to entice prospective customers to enter their lair. Once there you will quickly discover that the price quoted will not deliver you a fully insured car on the dates you want at the location you need. Any rental company or broker that makes these misleading claims are not worthy of your time or your money.
6. Avoid airports
Airports are an expensive place to run a business and this is always reflected in the prices of rental cars. It is not unusual to see an “airport surcharge” on your rental quote. Although some companies claim that there are no surcharges, the reality is, these charges have already been factored into the rental price. Check the price of the rental car at your destination airport and then compare it with nearby locations. In return for a little inconvenience, you could save a huge amount on the rental charges.
7. Understand insurance and waivers
If you are going to get caught out on anything, it will inevitably be insurance. Whilst the vast majority of rental operators will include some form of insurance, the types offered vary widely. Be sure that, at the very least, your insurance includes Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Waiver Insurance. In some countries it may also be sensible to have some form of Loss Damage Waiver, which covers the hirer for any loss of earnings the rental company may suffer when a vehicle can’t be hired due to damage or loss. However, this is a two-part process; insurance is only half of the story.
Although rental companies love to use the term “waivers” when referring to insurance, this does not include any excess, which will be your responsibility. The excess passed on by rental companies can be huge, maybe as much as $3000 (£2000). There also appears to be some correlation between the low headline price and the amount charged for an insurance waiver to cover the entire excess. No surprise there then!
If you are going to be paying by credit card, check with your issuer because, if you are going to pay for the car by credit card, some will offer some form of cover for these eventualities. Alternatively, if you want to be certain, purchase a standalone ‘car hire excess insurance’ policy. These pay and claim policies are offered by specialist insurers and can be purchased for a fraction of the price charged by rental companies. For example, you can expect to pay anything up to $25 (£13) per day for ‘excess waiver insurance’ from your rental company, whilst a specialist insurer could offer you an annual policy for under $65 (£40). It is not unusual for hirers to claim that their rental price increased threefold after they were sold “essential” insurance policies at the rental counter. You have been warned. This is probably the most common complaint amongst disgruntled hirers.
8. Price Premiums
With very few exceptions, most car hire comparison sites receive their income from the rental companies in the form of a commission. Although some comparison sites may charge a ‘booking fee’, those that don’t will make this very clear at the outset. Price comparison sites can only succeed if they consistently provide the best prices for the consumer and this mean the final price, not the headline price.
9. Avoid extras or go prepared
Want a SatNav or child seat? You can expect to be charged up to $12 (£8) per day for either of these items. It is the “Gillette Effect”, you pay a few Dollars for a razor and then get charged an exorbitant amount for the blades. However, unlike razor blades, you have a choice.
If you have your own portable SatNav, upgrade the mapping software and take it with you. Alternatively, SatNav’s with local maps can often be purchased for around $75 (£50), this is a viable alternative to a weekly rate of $80 charged by rental companies. In addition, you maybe be able to sell it on an auction site when you get home, thereby recovering at least half of your investment.
Most airlines will allow you to take a child seat free of charge. If this option is available to you, then consider this rather than paying $75 (£50) a week to the rental company. You can also consider ‘booster seats’, these can often be purchased locally for less than $20 (£13) and are a viable alternative. Another possibility is to consider hiring an MPV or people carrier, most of these have integrated child seats and, it may prove to be a cheaper option.
10. Fuel: Know the rules
Every car hire company will have their own variation on fuel policy and knowing the rules is absolutely essential if you don’t want to get hit with a surcharge or penalty. If the rental company provides you with a full tank, then you must return it with a full tank and that means full tank. Don’t be tempted to short-change the rental company, this is a false economy and you could be hit with a fixed charge as well as having to pay a premium for the fuel added. If you are provided with a car which has a full tank of petrol, you can expect to be charged for this in the form or a deposit or a pre-authorisation on your credit card.
If you are given the option of having the car provided with a full tank, you can expect to be charged a premium for the service and, if you don’t expect to use all of the fuel, it can be a very expensive option.
The most important advice that can be given to any prospective hirer is to be fully cognisant of the terms and conditions of the hire. Terms vary between operators and you can’t assume that because you are hiring through a well known brand that there terms and conditions will be less onerous or more upfront. The main areas to look at are; insurance, mileage, fuel policies and penalty fees, for example if a vehicle is returned a few minutes later than agreed. You also need to understand if you are expected to pay some form of deposit and/or if your credit card is pre-authorised for any amount because this could have a bearing on your available money whilst away from home.
Many rental companies, car hire comparison sites and brokers offer a cancellation policy. In most cases, as long as it is not within a few days of the hire, there is no penalty. If you have read the terms and you are not happy, don’t be afraid to vote with your feet!
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