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Rental cars: 5 tips to drive a hard bargain

Renting a car might be getting pricier soon, but you can still save money if you know where to look and what to say.

By Stacy Johnson Sep 30, 2010 3:53PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Along with airfare and hotel, renting a car is one of the Big Three expenses when you travel. But while everyone talks about how to find cheap fares and cheap rooms, no one talks with the same fervor about how to find the best wheels deals.

And there's never been a better time to seek out car rental tips, because the landscape may soon get more challenging as Hertz and Avis fight to take over Dollar Thrifty. (Update: Dollar Thrifty shareholders have rejected the Hertz bid.) A deal will mean less competition and potentially higher prices.


Let's start with a news story I recently shot. Check it out, then meet me on the other side for more.

As I mention in the video above, there are five easy and not-often-talked-about ways to save on a rental car. Here are some more details:


Rent near the airport, not at the airport. Airport rental agencies will charge you about $10 to $15 just for the convenience of getting off the plane and into a car. While rental agencies near the airport won't charge you that fee, you may have to take a cab that will cost more than that. But some close-to-the-airport places run their own shuttle service. How do you find these places? Do an Internet search for the rental company and city. For instance, "Hertz Miami airport" produced a map of the airport and another Hertz office 10 blocks away.


Rent by the hour. If you won't need a car much, you can use a car-sharing service in cities big (San Francisco) and medium (Burlington, Vt.) for as little as $7 an hour. Here's a list of many of them.


Ask and you may receive. As I explained in the video, I reserve a car and, upon arrival at my destination, simply stroll up to competing counters at the airport and ask if I can get a better deal. It has worked more times than you might think. I've gotten a Mustang convertible from one company for the same price as the subcompact I'd reserved from another. I've also gotten price breaks.


And speaking of asking, asking for a free upgrade never hurts. It's amazing what a nice smile, some kind words and a simple request can do -- at the airline ticket counter, at a hotel front desk, and at the rental car counter. 


Conduct an online discount coupon search. Just search "car rental discount coupons" and you'll get oodles of results that look like this. With all these coupons online, there's no reason to pay retail.


Brag about your friends. Membership has its privileges when it comes to car rentals. Organizations you'd expect to offer discounts -- like AAA, which also allows you to reserve a car online -- are just the start. Trade organizations ranging from journalists to wedding planners also get discounts. If you're booking online, you can even use a website that reveals those organizations' car-rental discount codes. But don't lie about your membership, because you might be asked to produce proof when you pick up the car.

Then there's the standard rental car advice, which is pretty well known but worth repeating: Shop around for prices by searching the websites of the major players, check out discount and name-your-price travel sites like Priceline, fill up the tank when you return the car, and check your credit card coverage and car insurance policy before you leave home because you might not need the expensive insurance from the rental agency.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:



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