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Why Do We Satisfice (accept less) on Rental Car Discounts

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Satisfice means settling for a decent option, instead of putting in more effort looking for the optimal option. If you use coupons to save money on rental cars, chances are you've satisficed. The reason is that while its pretty easy to find a coupon that saves you a few dollars, you need to put on some serious elbow grease to find that elusive coupon that saves you a boatload. Some of the reasons why we satisfice:
  • Time: Most of us have little free time on our hands and its hard to spend all that precious time looking for a better deal on a rental car.
  • Fatigue: If you're lucky to have a lot of free time on your hands, looking for discount codes and trying 'em out over and over isn't exactly entertaining. Most of us simply get bored and give up 
  • Murphy's LawAnything that can go wrong, will go wrong. You're likely to run into coupons that look great, but just don't work. When it happens a couple of times, you're likely to get disheartened and give up.
Now, let's examine why looking for the optimal coupon is hard and takes up so much time and effort that you would rather satisfice. 

Too many freaking 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.

The hard part is figuring out which one to use. You can't simply look at a bunch of coupons and predict which one's going to save you the most. Heck, you won't even know if its going to work for your rental. That means your only option is to try out each coupon to see exactly how much you save with each coupon. This ain't so bad if you're up against a few coupons, but it'll take hours when you're up against hundreds.

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.

Sneaky Terms & Conditions

While there are hundreds of coupons up for grabs, only a small fraction is actually relevant to your rental. If you want to rent a SUV for a weekend in San Diego, coupons that require a weekly rental or the ones valid only in Florida or the ones that apply to midsize cars ain't gonna work. Our research shows that the average car rental coupon has a fineprint  that's a whopping 231 words long & includes 4 conditions you need to meet.

To make matters worse, over 99% of us don't read the fineprint. That means you're likely to run into coupons that are not eligible for your rental car, but you still go ahead, punch it the code and go through the reservation process only to realize that it ain't working. Not only does this take up valuable time, but you're also likely to get disheartened when this happens over and over again.

Our data shows that if you consider the terms & conditions, most rentals are only eligible for one out of every three coupons out there. This means you're two times as likely to waste time on a coupon that's just never going to work. Some of the stuff you'll find in the fineprint of a car rental coupon include
  • Valid only on Weekend / Weekly / Monthly rentals
  • Requires a Saturday overnight
  • Valid on rentals of 3-5 days / Min 3-day rental required / Max rental of 14 days
  • Valid on Midsize car and above
  • Valid only in Florida / Not valid in New York

Complicated Math

Now, anyone can tell that a $30 discount is better than a $20 off but comparing car rental discounts is not as straight-forward. 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 little taste of the kind of discounts you might come across
  • 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
How do you decide which coupon to try out first? To further complicate matters, some discounts are only applicable on specific vehicles. Now you may not be considering that midsize car because the upfront price is higher than the compact car, but it may turn out to be cheaper with the discount factored in.

The other problem is hyperbole, especially when it comes to coupons that offering a percentage discount like save upto 40% on your rental. In most cases, you're likely to save only a fraction of the 40% that attracted you. The same coupon may save you only 5% on one rental and a whopping 40% on another. Go figure.

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