Finding the best car rental deal

Finding great deals for car rentals is not something I’ve spent much time looking into in the past.  Last year, during the Daily Getways (which are coincidentally going on right now), I bought a pile of Hertz points.  Since then, my car rental plan has been simple: Search for the best price.  If the best price is $50 per day or higher, use Hertz points.  If less than $50 per day, then pay. 

Million Mile Secrets has run a nice series on getting cheap rental cars.  For example, see this recent post.  I needed a two day rental, so I tried some of his tricks as well as my own to see where I’d find the best price.  With 5 people travelling together, I needed an intermediate size car or larger.  Here is what I found:

Costco Travel: $206.19

Costco Travel often has very competitive prices for vacation packages, cruises, and rental cars.  I ran a quick search for the dates I needed.  Total cost $206.19.

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Ultimate Rewards: $120 (or 9,600 points)

I logged into Ultimate Rewards, selected “Travel… Flights, Hotels, & Car Rentals” and searched for a car.  Total cost $120.

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I repeated the search twice.  First, I logged in with a premium card (Ink Plus), and the second time I logged in with a no annual fee card (Freedom).  The price ws the same both times (except the number of points required would be more with the Freedom card since the premium cards give a point discount).

 

Kayak: $167

I ran a simple search through Kayak. Kayak found a total rate of $167.

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Hotwire: $244.25

Hotwire was disappointing.  $250.39 total.

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Hertz w/ corporate code: $146.14

Through my prior employer, a corporate discount code was attached to my Hertz account, and it’s still there.  I find that this code gives me better rates than other discount options through Hertz.  Total cost: $146.14.  With no discount code, Hertz offered a rate of $188.73.  Using the discount code that comes with an Amex Platinum card brought the best rate to $178.37.

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Avis Preferred

Thanks to my Amex Platinum card, I have Avis Preferred status which offers discounted rentals.  With this status, I got a rate of $201.98.

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I then tried using my Ink Insiders discount number (which is available to Chase Ink cardholders) and got the same results.  Without either number, Avis quoted a rate of $242.20, so either discount number saves about 17% for this rental at Avis.  If I pay with a business MasterCard (such as Chase Ink) card registered to the MasterCard Easy Savings program I would save an additional 5%.

 

Summary

Here are the results I found, listed from best to worst:

  • Ultimate Rewards: $120 (or 9,600 points)
  • Hertz with Corporate Code: $146.14
  • Kayak: $167
  • Hertz Amex Platinum discount: $178.37
  • Hertz no-discount: $188.73
  • Avis Preferred: $201.98
  • Costco Travel: $206.19
  • Avis no-discount: $242.20
  • Hotwire: $244.25

The Ultimate Rewards search engine found the best price overall.  This matches Million Mile Secret’s finding (here).  It’s important to note, though, that this was just one very specific search.  I’ve done similar comparative searches in the past and usually I’ve found that the Ultimate Rewards price is no better than the best price available through Kayak.  So, despite these findings, it still makes sense to search multiple sites to find the best price.

In the end, even though the Ultimate Rewards price was really good, I booked through Hertz using points.  With points, I was able to pick an even larger car at no additional cost for this two day rental, and with 5 people and luggage, I think we’ll need it.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this helpful post. I am trying to book a car right now in Europe and not having much luck finding anything reasonable! I will try these tips.

  2. Don’t forget about Priceline! I normally don’t care where i get car from (especially when they are all together at the airport), so I can save a lot “naming my price” on Priceline. Just be patient, it may take a few days of bidding before getting a bid accepted.

  3. The thing is – it depends where you are going. I’m looking for a rental car at BOS airport and no matter where you look the rate is way too high. It’s all those airport concession fees!

  4. FM – I haven’t done the comparison recently but I’ve found BJ’s Travel to have great coupons… better than Costco (although from your findings, costco’s not that great!).

  5. Rental car membership is not a good thing( it is trick to trap) and skipping lines when renting & dropping your car is the worst thing you can do for your wallet. Never ever rent or drive out the rental car before checking everything= in and outside for any damages or cracks or dents WITH an employee present with you or call one to come there let him see and write down any damages. When dropping, have someone checked the car and write down ” EVERYTHING IS OK”.
    If you don’t do the above, you may receive unexpected bills from the rental company weeks and months after you are gone and once they lie, you will have difficulty proving your case.

  6. For BOS you can take the T to Cambridge, Somerville, or Malden to get out of the fees. I rent quite a few cars around Boston, the problem with using Chase is that the fees are much higher at the airport and what if I do not want to go to the airport to pick up the car. I would recommend hitting up the coupons that are available at flyertalk car rental forums after finding a base price at Kayak.

    • Brian: I just tried carrentals.com, but found a “pay now” special of $194. Not so good.

      Steve: I didn’t look at Citi because it was my understanding that it would return the same results as Chase and either way I would pay with cash rather than use points that could be better used in other ways. With Citi I prefer to use my points for flights at 1.33 cents per point value. I didn’t know about PenFed. Interesting! You might also want to try Priceline

  7. I’m in the process of looking into a rental for LIH this fall.
    The best rate I’ve found for the week on any of the travel sites is 267. I’ve entered the reservation in autoslash, and it’s not come up with anything better yet.

    I found that Chase UR was cheaper ($167 or 13,400 pts). Two other options that matched Chase UR, but you didn’t list.
    Citi TY travel mall (167 or 16,700 TY pts)
    Penfed Travel Rewards mall (167 or 16,700 pts).

    The TY pts and PenFed Travel rewards mall are better options than UR since I value those points much less than UR, so I’ll probably redeem some of those points for the flight.

  8. Rob,

    Just because you can skip lines and proceed straight to your car doesn’t mean you get nailed for pre-existing damage. I am able to skip the lines at most major rental firms and I always do a walk around before getting in the car. If I notice any damage I ask them to note it at the booth at the exit of the lot and I am issued a pre-existing damage slip.

  9. I 99.9% of the time book my cars through Hotwire, and choose the Grey options for Compact or larger. This gives me the absolute best rate, no payment upfront, and cancel at anytime (or simply not cancel, or show-up and nobody cares).

    I show-up in the afternoon once all the cars are gone, and get a free-cheap upgrade to intermiediate or full-sized.

    Also, American Express travel site offers “Book now, pay later” and I have used them twice as their rates were as good, and they keep me from having to drive all the way to BNA.

  10. Don’t forget about the opportunity to double dip with UsAir. Their 50% bonus miles promo (thru 7/30) + quadruple miles (& 35% off) with Hertz rentals.

  11. USAA has discounts w/Hertz, Avis, and Budget. I am lazy and usually go with Hertz for gold checkout. With the USAA discount its not too bad and on a family trip with my kids I don’t want to be waiting in lines after rolling off the plane. We are all exhausted and I still have to install car seats! Next year it should just be boosters, heck yeah!

  12. I have found that SOMETIMES rates at Southwest dot com are cheapest. Again, not always so one must check multiple sites. I have found that the Chase site is cheapest MOST of the time but not ALWAYS……

    • JohnnieD: Thanks. I tried Southwest, but didn’t get a better rate that way (I didn’t have the patience to try all of the discount codes though…)
      Santastico: I have no idea!

  13. Can you explain why if you are a US resident you pay way more to rent a car than someone that is not a US resident? Just go to any rental car website, pick the option like you are a resident from Brazil for example and you will see the rental price drop like magic. For example, I always rent SUVs or mini vans when on vacation with family and the price difference between what I pay to what friends coming from abroad pay is unbelievable.

  14. Santastico, that’s not always true.
    I’ve actually never found a rental cheaper using that method than I have using normal methods as a US customer.

  15. Can rentals suck if you are under 25 years old. I know Hertz has a promo code to waive the underage driver surcharge, which is why I usually go with them. Plus stackable discount codes make the price even cheaper.

  16. @Steve – Just did a quick test. It is always more expensive if you are a US resident. Go now to any rental car website and do the test yourself.

    Hertz: Large SUV in MCO for 1 week in June: Brazil resident $499; US resident: $619

    Budget: Large SUV in MCO for 1 week in June: Brazil resident $349; US resident: $604

    Avis: Large SUV in MCO for 1 week in June: Brazil resident $379; US resident: $624

  17. URs Rock. It would be interesting to see what the value of TY Points for this rental would be. I feel they have a decent redemption value for car rentals.

    Also, “…With points, I was able to pick an even larger car[d] at…”…typo?

  18. without a lot of info about your search, so I can’t duplicate it.
    I do not find anything classified as “large SUV”. they are classified as compact, intermediate, standard, full size, premium, and luxury

    Using the methods posted about on this webpage I found a standard SUV for MCO June 23-30, noon to noon for 335.55 without any discount codes.

    I find luxury and premium SUVs for the $600+ price range.

    for your search results, what type of SUV is it returning?
    FORD EXPEDITION 4WD 4DR or similar?
    FORD EDGE 2WD or similar?
    Jeep Grand Cherokee, or similar?
    Chevy Suburban or similar?
    other?

  19. What is the difference in total price between Hotwire and Kayak…Hotwire is only $5/day more but the total price comes out to be almost $100 more? That doesn’t make sense.

  20. @Steve – Full size SUV (Tahoe or similar).
    Budget: MCO from 06/22 to 06/29: Brazil resident $349; US resident $604 But it doesn’t matter the car you pick. Prices are always different. For the same search on Budget, a Economy car is $89 for Brazil resident and $103 for US resident.

    I have experience with that since I have family in Brazil and when they come here they get amazing deals renting on Hertz for full size SUV or Premium/Elite SUV. I can never afford to rent on Hertz or Avis. I always stick with National since I rent a middle size car and use my Emeralg Aisle Executive membership from Amex Platinum to pick a better and bigger car if available on teh Emerald Aisle Executive.

    However, I could never understand why US resident prices are always higher, at least in my experience.

  21. Agree with the previous suggestion re Priceline (especially if you ‘d consider Hotwire). Just take your best price from UR and see if you can beat it by bidding less.

  22. I use zalyn.com, they provide you with many coupon codes that you can use, stacking these discounts together usually gives you a really goood price.

  23. Did you go directly to Budget and do the same search? I’ve done that in the past, and on my limited attempts, the rental car company site always beat the chase portal. In fact, don’t they have a BRG?

    • bonkers: No, I didn’t try Budget directly, but that’s a good idea.
      asar: For insurance I just rely on my personal car insurance. I know I would have to cover the deductible.
      kv: Thanks

  24. Yes, I think Priceline will give you the best price!
    For example, it costs me $90 for 4 days full size rental at SAN while all other places quote me $200+.

  25. I think you forgot about Southwest Airlines using their discount codes. I often get the lowest rates using their codes.

    Also, any system that gives you choice of car can be valuable. I am a big National Emerald Club fan. I have gotten Large and even Large SUV’s for MidSize price – especially at airports during a slow time. Thats a savings you just can’t get in rate quote.

    • shonuffharlem: I really should take the time to try plugging in all those Southwest discount codes… Yes, car choice is valuable. I do prefer to rent directly from Hertz and National for that reason.

      Anh Vo: I rely on my personal car insurance

  26. One method to avoid airport concession fees that works for me is to pickup at a local office in the same city but return it to the airport location. Of course that only works in cities with good transit or where you can catch a ride on arrival.

    • DBest: Yes, you’re right. Doing that can save a lot of money. I’ve saved money that way even when I took a cab from the airport to the off-airport rental location.

  27. Worth looking at Capital One. I just got a full-size for $120 for 5 days from Avis in a location where I’ve paid $70 a day before.

  28. Just got back from the three-car-renting trip to LAX. Three days in LA (Avis), 1-1/2 days in Sonoma (Budget), 2-1/2 days in LA again (Alamo). All rented through Costco. Tried all sorts of codes and deals (even signed up my company for an Avis Corporate code and THAT code couldn’t beat Costco!)

    When I arrived at Alamo from LAX there were some 65 people on line. (ow.) Self-service kiosks were also there, so I thought I’d try one. (Giving a brief thought to: oh lordie, what if it DIDN’T work, and the 15 folks gettin’ off the Alamo bus after me got on line ahead of me? Oh well.)

    Put my driver’s license in. Acknowledged the data I had put in with my reservation at Costco. It printed out a loooong receipt, and told me to go out to the “medium” car row and pick one. (A Hyundai Elantra is “medium” sized!? Not in my world! But it was a nice enough albeit very cheap car…) Was in and out of Alamo in about 20 minutes — including inspecting the car and adjusting the seats and mirrors and turning the headrest around backwards. (I have the check-out clerk sign my list of scratches and damage, if any and also take photos all the way around the rental car (in front of the check-in guy) when I return it. I hope that makes them less likely to try to come after me for old damage.

    My Ink Bold gives me Avis First (that’s one step above Avis Preferred: yay Chase!) (which had not yet come in, but I had printed the email telling me I was, in fact, eligible and would get my … card or whatever … in a few weeks). I got off the shuttle at the main Avis office (where the lines stretched OUT the door!), and asked the driver if, as a “First” I should have gotten off at the Preferred shed (where there was no one waiting). He said yes, I walked over and got a car immediately.

    (The Budget rental up in Sonoma (STS) had a slow but short line (VERY small outfit — joint Avis Budget counter) and the last car she had was a compact with a broken radio and empty tank, so she gave me a small Chevy Captiva (?) instead. Gas-thirsty, but okay to drive.

  29. Oh, the Costco prices:

    Avis at LAX: Intermediate-sized (actual Altima), 2 days and 19 hrs. Base $66.93, taxes and fees $26.04, total $93.97

    Budget at STS: standard car (Altima but I ended up with a sport-ute) 1 day 6 hrs. Base $79.10, taxes and fees $18.29, total $97.39.

    Alamo at LAX: Intermediate car (the Elantra), 2 days 17 hrs. Base $49.11, taxes and fees $22.04, total 71.15.

  30. Alamo last minute savings on the Tuesday before comes out was a amazing savings. On trip to Portland all best deals for a 3 day rental ending on Sunday came up around $200 or more. Waited until that Tuesday can be scary but total was under $80 total for a midsized car unlimited miles made for a great little rental. We could have ubered it if rental didn’t go through others may not have that option.

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