I live in a big city, and as I mentioned in my article about saving money in a city, I don’t own a car… So, what do I do when I need to travel someplace by car? I get a rental car! I also rent cars when I travel to other cities for vacation. I like to think that I do a pretty good job of finding the best prices for rental cars. Here are some tips and things to keep in mind when searching.
Where Do I Start When Looking for a Rental Car?
I start with Hotwire, because they always offer pretty low prices for rental cars. This is where I do my initial search to see what the price range is going to be for the date and location I’m looking at.
After that, I head to Priceline, and do the same exact search I did on Hotwire. Why? Well I want to compare prices. Usually the Hotwire price will be lower, but that’s okay, because on Priceline you have the option to “Name Your Own Price.” NOTE: They don’t allow you to do this for all rental car locations. It does work for every U.S. airport I’ve tried so far.
Next: How Low Can You Go?
Priceline has always advertised that you can save up to 40% on rental cars, but I usually save a lot more. I think the most I ever saved was 73%. Basically, there’s no logic or mathematical equation to the prices I choose, but a lot of it is based on what I found on Hotwire originally.
Here are a couple examples:
- If I found a rental car for $20/day on Hotwire, I would try to name my own price between $12-$15.
- If the price was $14 on Hotwire, I would probably try for around $10.
It can be a guessing game and sometimes it will depend on how much time you have before you need to book your rental car. Usually, you can only name your own price 1 or 2 times every 24 hours for a specific car type. So, if I say $12 for an economy car and it’s rejected, I can’t name my own price on that car until the next day… I can choose a different car type though and try that (say, a compact or mid-size).
Sometimes Naming Your Own Price Is Not Lower
You can get lucky with naming your own price, but the last couple times I found that the Hotwire price ended up being the lower option. Not a big deal though, I just went back to Hotwire and booked my car there. Some people may ask, “Why do I even waste my time at Priceline?” Well, even though it doesn’t work every time, I’ve still booked some really great deals on rental cars by naming my own price! I got a rental car for $7 a day once! You can’t beat that!
Location is Important When Booking a Rental Car
Location. Location. Location. That’s what they say right? It’s key! Reserving a Rental Car at an airport is usually the best option. That’s what I’ve found to be true over the last 5 years. Try comparing rental car prices at locations within a city and at the airport. Most times it’s cheaper at the airport. You can also find that prices will vary depending on the airport… especially with big cities that have multiple airports.
- New York City has three major airports surrounding it. Newark Airport seems to always have rental cars that are 2 or 3 times cheaper than JFK or La Guardia.
- Chicago has two major airports. O’Hare for the most part is usually the cheaper option compared to Midway.
- I’ve never rented a car in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but make sure you shop around!
I’m sure that this method may not work for some people, and others may ask why not book through a rental car site (Hertz, Alamo, etc.) and earn loyalty/rewards points for booking rental cars? Good point! If you rent cars often you could probably collect enough points to get free days or other discounts… I say, if that’s what you want to do, go for it! For me, the big discount I can get on rental cars through Priceline or Hotwire out weighs the rewards I could get later by staying loyal to a specific rental car company. I don’t rent cars often enough and usually when I’m looking to rent a car, I’m looking for something quick and cheap. This works for me… What works for you? Let me know if you have any questions or comments!