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Are You Overpaying for Your Rental Car?

Friday, January 08, 2016

While rental cars can be pretty expensive, the good news is that there are many many ways to cut down your rental car bill. The bad news is that every money saving strategy has its own strength and weakness, which means that you can't rely on just one strategy to get you the best deal every single time! Today, we'll take a look at some of the popular ways to save money on rental cars and examine their strengths & weaknesses.

Search One And Done

Kayak is a one of the best price-comparison search engine for rental cars. It helps you find the cheapest rental car across most rental agencies based on your needs & preferences. It can also help you figure out if you'll get a better price by going to an off-airport location or a nearby town or city.

While Kayak is an excellent tool for price and availability search, the rate is almost always the highest you're likely to pay for that rental car. This is because Kayak shows you the Rack Rate and in almost every case, you can easily get a discounted rate by simply using a coupon.

Opaque Booking = Fabulous Deals

Priceline & Hotwire have an interesting business model. In exchange for your commitment and an upfront payment, you get a deeply discounted rate on your rental car. The rental agency is typically revealed after the booking is complete, but is guaranteed to be one of the major rental car suppliers. On the contrary, car rental companies and most Online Travel Agencies (OTA) don't require an upfront payment and you are free to change or cancel your reservation at any time (for free).

While opaque booking sites offers deep discounts, it is important to note that you're locked-in to a specific rate when you book. As car rental rates fluctuate based on demand and supply, the regular rate may drop lower than your opaque rental rate as you move closer to the pick-up date. When this happens, you won't be able to take advantage of the lower rate since your opaque rental rate is locked-in and paid for. With that in mind, it's best not to commit to an opaque rental too soon.

In addition, by booking a rental car at the right time (not the last minute) and with the right coupon, you're likely to match or beat opaque rental rates and still retain an open reservation. If a better rate comes along, you'll be able to jump on it and save even more!

Lowest Rate + Coupon = Best Deal?

Do you use coupons to save money on rental cars? If you said NO, then you're definitely overpaying. If you said YES, then you're on the right path, but are you doing it in the right way?

Here's how most people do it - Look for the cheapest rental car and then look for a coupon to go along. Find coupons for the rental car company and try each discount code to see which one gives you the lowest rate. Some people spend minutes doing this, while others spend hours. While this may seem like the right way to use coupons to get a great deal, it really isn't.

Lets say you're headed to Orlando for a week and are okay with renting from any of the major car rental companies. You head over to Kayak and figure out that Thrifty offers the lowest rate ($150/week). You look around for a coupon and find one that saves an additional 10%. You're now down to $135/week. Pretty sweet. Isn't it?

Now consider this - You ruled out Hertz solely based on the higher rate ($200/week). However, Hertz offers a stackable discount with 20% off and an additional $35 off dropping the rate to $125/week, which beats the discounted rate you have with Thrifty.

In order to get the best possible deal on a rental car, you need to consider not just the initial rate but also coupons available for each rental car. There's a reason why almost no one does this and that's because its incredibly hard. The good news is that this is something Zalyn can help you with. When you look for a rental car on Zalyn, it sorts the available rental cars by not just the rental rate, but also the potential discount from eligible coupons.

The One Size Fits All Coupon

If you rent cars frequently and use discount coupons, you're likely to run into a coupon that saves you an exorbitant amount of money. You're thrilled at your amazing find and stash it away for future use. However, when you use the same coupon for another rental, you're shocked to see a meager discount.

Most of us expect that if a coupon works well for one rental, it should work just as well for any other rental, but that's rarely the case. In reality, the coupon that works best for your rental is dependent on a number of factors, primarily
  • Where you're renting the vehicle
  • The vehicle pick-up date and how long you're renting for
  • The kind of vehicle you're renting (Minivan, SUV, etc)
  • Number of days to the vehicle pick-up date
  • The current rate of the rental car

The best coupon for your rental is unique to your specific situation and there simply isn't a One Size Fits All coupon that works best for each and every rental. The only way to know which one works best for your unique needs is to try each coupon to see which one gives you the lowest rate.

Nothing beats Costco Rates

In some ways, this is similar to the One Size Fits All strategy except that there's a whole slew of Costco car rental discounts with some really good discounts. Play around with some of these discount codes and you'll quickly realize that nothing else comes close. It probably seems reasonable to think that you've found the holy grail of car rental discounts. Despite some really good deals, there are a number of reasons to look beyond your Costco discount.

First and foremost, Costco offers discount at only four (Avis, Budget, Alamo, and Enterprise) of the eight major car rental companies. At times, you're likely to find a lower rate at one of the other four major rental agencies (with or without a discount code) that beat the Costco rate. Secondly, rental agencies that offer the Costco discount can sometimes have better promotions that are available for everyone to use. In the past, we've seen Budget offering the fantastic Wendie Deal with an Economy or Compact car for $15/day or $119/week, which easily beats the Costco member discount by a mile depending on where and when you're renting.

Wrapping it up

Got a winning strategy you'd like to share? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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