In yesterday’s post (Finding the best car rental deal) I wrote about my search for an upcoming two day rental. Of the options I looked at, I found Chase’s Ultimate Rewards site to be the cheapest. In the comments of that post, readers suggested many other ways to find good rental rates, but the most common suggestion was Priceline.
Priceline has two modes for renting cars. They offer a regular online travel agency search which basically returns the same rates you’ll find through sites like Expedia and Travelocity. The other option is to “Name your own price.” When you do the latter, you tell Priceline how much you are willing to pay after selecting your desired car type (compact, midsize, etc.), pickup and drop-off location, and pickup and drop-off dates and times. You do not have the option of specifying a rental car company. After giving Priceline your credit card info, it runs a search to see if your bid is accepted. If it is, your credit card will be charged immediately for that rental car.
I’m usually not a fan of this approach for a couple of reasons:
- I hate being locked in by prepaid rates. What if my plans change?
- When renting cars this way, I may be stuck in long lines waiting for my car keys. I much prefer picking up my pre-assigned car (with Hertz, for example) or walking the Emerald Aisle (with National).
On the other hand, it is sometimes possible to save a lot of money…
The best consolation prize
A few years ago my family had plans to take Amtrak from Tampa to Delray Beach, FL, but the train was massively delayed. We looked to rent a car instead, but found very high rates. We then tried Priceline. I put in what I thought was a reasonable bid, but it was rejected. Then Priceline offered a consolation prize. They listed special car rental offers “just for me”. Amazingly, one of the offers was for a slightly larger car and was far cheaper than the price I had bid! Awesome. Would that technique work again?
Testing Priceline for an Intermediate size car
After all the work I did yesterday comparing different rates for intermediate cars, I decided that we really needed a bigger car for this trip. That being said, I wanted to compare Priceline directly to my prior results, so I bid on an intermediate car, but I didn’t want to win the bid!
I purposely put in a bid that was far lower than they would possibly accept, and just for good measure I put in the wrong security code for my credit card. Not surprisingly, the bid was rejected. I was then offered the chance to change my bid for the same car. I raised my offer by a dollar or two and the bid was rejected again. That was OK because I wanted to get to my consolation offer. After the second rejected bid, I received the consolation offer:
$35 per day sounds amazingly cheap since the best alternative I found for the same size car was $60 per day via Ultimate Rewards. But this $35 price was without taxes. When I clicked through to “book it!” I found the real price:
So, the total comes to $113.39 which is the best price I’ve found yet, but not that much cheaper than Ultimate Rewards (which priced at $120 total).
If I were really interested in the intermediate car, I’d try again the next day with a more reasonable bid. Given the result above, I would try to find a good price that was less than $35 per day before taxes. I could try $20 one day, $25 the next, etc.
A bigger vehicle
Since I had decided that I really wanted a bigger car for this trip, I decided to see what kind of deal I could get for a standard SUV or Minivan. Kayak says that for those two days, the best all-in price for an SUV would be $196, and the best all-in price for a Minivan would be $210. Ultimate Rewards quoted $204.50 for a Minivan, but didn’t seem to have an SUV option. The best Hertz could do for me was $254 for an SUV. No thanks.
I tried the too-low bid approach that I described above and got this:
$164.87 for a Minivan isn’t bad. It’s about $25 more per-day than the best intermediate car price, but it is also about $20 less per day than Ultimate Reward’s Minivan price.
I then tried the too-low bid approach to get to the SUV consolation prize price:
$139.13 is a really good price for an SUV. It’s only $13 more per day than the intermediate car option, and $29 per day cheaper than the best price found via Kayak.
Priceline rejected my $29 per day bid for a standard SUV, but then offered me a rate of $45 per day (before taxes). My plan is to try to snag a rate in-between those two. In the next several days, I’ll bid about $5 more each day with the hopes of getting an accepted price of around $35 per day before taxes. We’ll see!