Time after time this 1 source consistently beats all other rental car prices.
There are a lot of choices you can make when it comes to finding a deal on a rental car. When I rent a car I research and check prices constantly.
If we are being totally honest I do it to the point of being obsessive (at least according to my wife.) 🙂
What is this #1 source?
Please bear with me, we’ll get to that. Later, I’ll also show you a comparison of prices from all of the options mentioned in this article.
But first let’s look at the options available.
Image: Xnatedawgx, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Your time is valuable.
The old adage “time is money” is based in truth.
There are many options available to you when you rent.
Today we’ll cover:
- Direct from the rental car company
- 2nd party travel sites
- Private renters
- Our #1 pick!
Direct from the rental car company
You can rent directly from the provider. Whether it be Enterprise, Alamo, Avis, Thrifty or others.
Renting direct can have it’s advantages and drawbacks.
To receive the best deals and perks when you rent direct you will need to join the loyalty club for the company you wish to rent from.
- They are free and fairly easy to join.
- Your email inbox will not thank you though as you will be inundated with offers and deals frequently.
Tip: Even when using other options to rent you still may wish to join the loyalty club of your final choice. Some will offer perks like skipping the counter or free upgrades.
Renting cars directly from the source will take time. You will need to check multiple web sites and navigate a maze of options.
- Most rental car companies will force you to walk through the entire process before showing you a final full price. This is a time consuming and irritating process.
- Yes this is on purpose; psychologically they count on you having the time invested and just opting for the convenience of hitting the payment button.
- Don’t trust the daily prices they may show up front. As you’ll see later, the final price can be much different.
Where’s the coupon?
- Some providers will have pop ups or other visible buttons on the homepage to indicate deals but many times you’ll have to take extra effort to search for the “deals” or “coupon” page on the site.
- For example in the photo below is the site map at the very bottom the Enterprise.com website.
- Promotions are placed down here and not at the top of the site.
Cancellations and changes
- A major advantage to booking directly is that changes and cancellations will be easier as you won’t have to go through a “middleman”.
- But you will have to decide for yourself if the higher price and extra time are worth it?
Our number #1 pick has free cancellation and changes and will show you the final price early in the process side by side with others.
Tip: Renting a smaller car will save money and raise your chance of an upgrade. Don’t bank on it happening, but car rental locations typically run out of the cheapest smallest cars first. If you arrive and the small car you ordered isn’t in stock; most providers will upgrade you to the next size at no additional charge. We “won” this lottery last year when the small SUV wasn’t in stock and we ended up with a Yukon xlt.
2nd party travel sites
Referred to as aggregators, 2nd party travel sites work with rental car companies and other providers and receive a commission from your booking.
- Sometimes they pass a part of their commission on to you as savings, but only sometimes.
- One disadvantage can be poor or slow customer service.
Orbitz.com and Kayak.com are examples of aggregators.
- You can use them to search multiple rental car providers at one time.
- Results and prices can be mixed and you may or may not be getting the best prices.
Priceline and Hotwire
- They offer lower rates but only on the caveat that you pay in advance, don’t know your rental car company or you are stuck with a no-cancellation policy.
- I should note that Priceline does now have upfront car rental options with cancellation.
- If you choose this route be sure to read all the small print very carefully.
- Autoslash is unique; you can’t search for cars on this site.
- You fill out a request form. Then they check prices and send you what they believe is the best deal via email.
- The response is fairly quick, often within a few minutes.
- It’s an interesting model but I haven’t found it to be any cheaper.
Turo is the “Uber” or “Airbnb” of car rental.
Individuals (yes, even you) can rent out their personal cars through the Turo site.
The car owner sets their own price and terms.
Read each listing carefully as each one will have different miles allowed, price per day, cleaning fees, etc. Owners have a lot of choices when it comes to price and terms.
- You will also find older cars listed on Turo. Before you rent make sure you read past reviews to ensure reliability.
- Depending on where you want to rent and how many Turo cars are available it can either be a deal or a boondoggle.
- I have rented from Turo in Las Vegas and in Hawaii. In both places, I was able to find cars at a reasonable price with terms I could live with.
- But in other places when I checked Turo, they could not compete with the major car rental companies or aggregators for price or convenience.
THe #1 choice
My number one choice for car rental is COSTCO.
Over and over again I found that they had the lowest price for rentals from major providers.
We don’t receive any commission or compensation from Costco or any of the providers listed in this article.
Costco travel is easy to use, prices are upfront and customer service is very good.
You must have a Costco membership to rent cars through the travel site. Costcotravel.com
- Currently a Gold Star Membership is $60.00
- No need to search for coupons or promotional codes.
- Costco collects all promotions and coupons and applies them automatically to your price.
- Costco includes a 2nd driver free.
- This can cost $10 per day if your rent from other providers.
- You’ll be glad that this is an option when you are taking long trips or extended vacations.
Ease of use
- The Costco site will list 4 rental car providers at a time with the lowest price in each category highlighted for you.
- After you book a car, Costco will send confirmation to your email.
- The email will also include the confirmation number from the rental car company. This allows you to either continue to work through Costco Travel or work directly with the rental company for cancellations/changes.
In the table below I crunched the numbers for you to show typical prices.
Here are the parameters I used:
- Orlando International Airport
- 1 week rental Dec 5-12, 2020
- Full size car
- Drivers 25+ years old
- No add-ons selected (gps, insurance etc)
Even the “low price” companies such as Hotwire and Priceline couldn’t compete with Costco prices.
Tip: In today’s uncertain travel environment, being able to cancel or change your reservation is a must. Don’t choose “pay in advance” or “no-cancellation” just to save money as you may regret it in the long term.
Is Costco always the cheapest?
- No, but since they almost always do have the best deal, it is now the standard by which I measure all other prices.
Costco membership is a decision you should make based on how far you are from the closest location and how much money you can save in other ways. If you decide it’s right for you and your family make sure you take advantage of this great perk of membership.
I hope that I have provided you with enough information to make an informed choice and to save you money.
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