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Why is it so hard to find the best car rental deal on your own?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Satisfice means settling for an acceptable outcome, instead of putting in more effort looking for the best  outcome. 

If you've ever used a coupon to save money on a rental car, chances are you've satisficed on the discount. This is because the only way to be sure you're getting the best deal is to try every coupon out there & then pick the best one.  But, this is easier said than done. Here's why -

Trying out a coupon is a lot of work 

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of coupons out there and the only way to know which one works best is by trying each one out. This is a very slow & labor intensive task. You typically need to
  • Copy discount code from one website
  • Paste it into the discount code field on the car rental company's website
  • Type in your rental details (location, date, time, etc)
  • Hit the search button & browse the results
  • On some websites, you may need to select a vehicle to see the final price (including taxes)
  • You also need to keep track of the discounted rates you find, or you won't know which one worked best when you're done.  
This ain't so bad if you have a few coupons, but that's rarely the case.

There are just too many coupons

Finding a coupon for your rental car is the easy part. After all, they're everywhere! You'll find 'em in the deals section of every rental car company's website. Hand over your email address and you'll receive a bunch of coupons every other day. Hop over to Facebook and Twitter for some more. Check out the membership cards in your wallet or desk and chances are that they entitle you to even more rental car discounts. That's not all, you can even sign-up for over a dozen frequent flyer programs (for free) and use their discount codes.

In case you're wondering why you can't simply focus on coupons for just one rental agency (the one with the lowest rate), read this.

You can't decide which offer to try first

Since we all have limited time (& patience), you probably realize that its virtually impossible to try out each & every coupon. A better approach may be to spend your time only on coupons that offer the biggest discount. After all, what's the point of trying out a coupon that offers a $20 discount over another that offers a $30 discount. While this could potentially save you a lot of work, its not as straight-forward.

Car rental discounts are offered in a number of creative ways, making it virtually impossible to figure out how they stack up against each other. Here's a taste of the kind of offers you're likely to encounter. How do you decide which one to try first?
  • Take $20 off your next rental
  • Save 10% on your rental car
  • Save upto 30% on a midsize car
  • Rent over the weekend and enjoy a free rental day
  • Rent an Economy car for $15.99/day
  • Save upto 20% and get $10 off your next weekly rental
To further complicate matters, some discounts  only apply to certain vehicles. So that $50 off a Luxury car may not be better deal than a $25 off a Fullsize car. The other problem is hyperbole, especially when it comes to coupons that offer a percent-off discount like this one, which offers upto 40% off. You may think that the upto 40% discount offer is better than a upto 30% discount, but that's not the case. In most cases, you're likely to save only a fraction of the 40%. At times, you'll only save 5%, while other times you may save 50% with the same coupon. Go figure.

You can't easily tell which coupon is applicable

Another way to save time & effort is to simply skip coupons that you can tell won't apply to your rental. So if you need a SUV for a weekend in San Diego, it should be pretty easy to skip over coupons that are for weekly rentals, or for Florida rentals or for Midsize cars only. Except,
What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away
Most offers typically mention very little (if at all) requirements in the offer statement. You're more likely to see something like Save $25 on your next rental, while important requirements like
  • Applies to weekly rentals of 5+ days only
  • Must include a Saturday night keep
  • Valid on Midsize car and above
  • Offer expires on Oct 31
are relegated to the fineprint. The average coupon fineprint is a whopping 231 words long & has 4 requirements that need to met. Now, that's a lot of ground to cover.

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