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The Best (& Worst) Place to Score Car Rental Deals

Friday, December 04, 2015


Hidden deep in the mile long mumbo-jumbo (also known as the fine-print) of a car rental coupon are important terms & conditions. These requirements limit the rental location, dates and vehicle that the promotion applies to. Over the years, we've seen a lot of coupons and a lot of different requirements, so we thought it would be interesting to take a deeper look at the location requirements to see where most car rental coupons are eligible for use and where they're not. We found that

Most deals are valid in

Florida
California
Burlington, VT

Fewest deals are valid in

Hawaii
Alaska
New York Metro Area
Manhattan

The Data-Set

A qualitative data-set should be sufficiently broad (variety of rental agencies) and reasonably deep (plenty of coupons). With that in mind, we created a data-set that includes coupons published by all major rental car companies in the US, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Fox, Hertz, National, Sixt and Thrifty.
 
Rental car deals (much like rental rates) are subject to market forces. As a result, when demand is high, rates are high and fewer deals are published. On the contrary, when demand drops, rates go down and a lot more deals are available. Demand varies daily, but the effects are most noticeable across seasons. To account for seasonal variation, our data-set includes over 1000 coupons - practically every publicly available car rental coupon published in the U.S. in the past 2 years.

Location Requirements

The first step of our analysis was to scan the data-set and look for references of location(s). A location is either a state (e.g. Colorado or CO), a city (e.g. Denver) or a region (e.g. New England). The analysis revealed that 46% of coupons in the data-set (excluding one-way rentals) reference a location.
 
Further analysis revealed that a location is referenced in one of two ways: 
  • Targeted Offers:  valid only in the referenced city, state or region  
  • Restricted Offers: valid everywhere, except for the referenced city, state or region

 

Targeted Offers

Targeted offers make up 26% of coupons referencing a location. These are coupons that target rentals in one or more city, state or region. 

Let's take a look at targeted offers that reference one or more states. The map below shows the percentage of targeted offers for each state. States in red have no targeted offers and states in green vary from light to dark based on the number of targeted offers. Some of the key highlights include:
  • Florida features in a whopping 39% of all targeted offers
  • California is a distant second with 17%
  • Central U.S. gets no love at all
  •  
Targeted Offers by State
Mouse over the states for details



Now let's take a look at targeted offers that reference one or more city or region (e.g. New York Metro). The map below shows the percentage of targeted offers in various locations across the country. The dots indicate the referenced location and the size of the dots vary with the number of targeted offers. Some of the key highlights include:
  • Burlington, VT has the highest percentage of targeted offers for a city. Further analysis reveals that these offers coincide with the leaf-peeping season
  • Locations in Colorado are the top pick for targeted offers. These offers seem to coincide with the Skiing season
  • The North-East has a few targeted locations too, mostly during the Winters
Targeted Offers by City
Mouse over the dots for details

 

Restricted Offers

Restricted offers make up the Lion's share (74%) of coupons referencing a location. These are offers that are valid everywhere, except for the referenced city, state or region.

Let's take a look at restricted offers that reference one or more states. The map below shows the percentage of restricted offers for each state. States colored green have no offer restrictions and states colored red vary from light to dark based on the percentage of restricted offers. Some of the key highlights include:
  • Hawaii tops the list featuring in as many as 50% of the restricted offers
  • Alaska comes in second with 27%
  • The Northeast bags the title of the most restrictive region in the lower 48, especially the Tri-State area of NY, NJ & CT
  • Interestingly, Arizona and Florida are the only other states specifically excluded in any car rental deals. The rest of the country is green.

Restricted Offers by State
Mouse over the states for details

Now let's take a look at restricted offers that reference one or more city or region (e.g. New York Metro). The map below shows the percentage of restricted offers applicable to various locations across the country. The dots indicate the referenced location and the size of the dots vary with the percentage of restricted offers for the location. Some of the key highlights include:
  • New York Metro area tops the list by featuring in 50% of all restricted offers, making it one of the hardest places to score a bargain
  • Manhattan features in 13% of all restricted offers (it's also a part of NY Metro) making it the hardest place to score a deal in the NY Metro area
  • Other locations across the country show up as mere blips on the radar
 
Restricted Offers by City/Region
Mouse over the dots for details

 

One-way Rentals

Rental cars are expensive, but one-way rentals (pick-up at one location and drop-off somewhere else) are exorbitant. In addition to the steep daily rate, one-way rentals include a mandatory drop-off fee (usually $60-$100 per day), which is often way more than the rental rate of the vehicle. 

Since one-way rentals are so expensive, most renters frantically look around for deals. While most car rental deals work for one-way rentals too, they barely save pennies on the dollar. The only way to get a good deal on a one-way rental is to find an offer that waives off the drop-off fee.

The major rental car companies publish exclusive one-way offers from time to time. Not only do these special offers waive the drop-off fee, but also offer super low rental rates. The catch is that rental car companies reposition vehicles(to maximize fleet utilization) mostly during Spring and Fall and these special one-way offers are only available at that time.
The map below shows the distribution of one-way rental offers by drop-off locations during Spring. States colored red have no drop-off locations (because that's where they want to move the vehicles from). States colored green vary from light to dark based on the percentage of one-way offers with a drop-off location in that state. Mouse over the states for details. Some of the key highlights include:
  • Arizona and Florida are the only states with pick-up locations
  • California, Nevada and Colorado are the top drop-off locations when you pickup from Arizona
  • One-way rentals from Florida mostly target drop-off locations along the East coast

One-way Rental Offers (Spring)

Come Fall, and its time to reposition the fleet yet again. The map below shows the distribution of one-way rental offers by drop-off locations during Fall. States colored red have no drop-off locations (because that's where they want to move the vehicles from). States colored green vary from light to dark based on the percentage of one-way offers with a drop-off location in that state. Mouse over the states for details. 

Key highlights include:
  • Fall one-way specials apply to vehicles picked up primarily in the North-east
  • And dropped off in the South-east
  • Florida is the top drop-off destination

One-way Rental Offers (Fall)

To wrap up..

While there's never a shortage of car rental promotions, a lot of them depend on where you rent a vehicle. The Budget Wendie deal, which offers a rental car for $17/day may sound incredible, but it's not going to work for you in New York. Infact, New York (Metro) along with Hawaii and Alaska top the list of locations specifically excluded from such promotions. On the brighter side, you have the widest array of coupons, deals and promotions if you're renting in Florida.

We also noticed a strong connection between the number of rental car deals and seasonal / local events. Renters enjoy a lot more discounts during the leaf-peeping season in Burlington, VT and the skiing season in Colorado. While one-way rentals are crazy expensive, you can get a huge bargain by aligning your travel plans with the annual fleet repositioning during Spring and Fall.

It is incredibly time-consuming to sift through promotions and figure out which ones are applicable, after all the ones that don't apply are simply noise. Zalyn's search tool helps you cut through this noise.

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