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How to Optimize Your Next Car Rental
Issue #9-23 of The Family Travel Bulletin features a look at the best ways to optimize your next car rental
How to Optimize Your Next Car Rental
Continuing with last month’s theme of optimizing and maximizing your travel as much as you can, this week I go over the general thought process I use to book all of my car rentals to travel better, travel smarter and optimize for value along the way.
Before I dive in to my tips and tricks I use for car rentals when traveling, I think it is first a good idea to realize there is an “illusion of choice” when it comes to rental car companies.
Although there seems to be many car rental companies and brands, in reality there are only three major companies:
Enterprise owns both National and Alamo
Avis owns Budget, Payless, and Zipcar
Hertz owns Dollar and Thrifty
Together, these three companies account for ninety-five percent of the domestic car rental industry in the United States.
In my opinion and based on my experience renting cars when traveling, this is why in most cases prices are pretty much the same or very similar between all of these companies, as there isn’t much competition. It can be hard to find a deal when renting a car, unless you have the right discount code or use some of the tips I discuss below.
Here are my tips on how to optimize your next car rental
Always book as early as you can, especially during peak travel season, for the best prices and selection of cars. You don’t want to be left with no car availability or a huge rental cost if waiting too late.
Check your car insurance coverage
I recommend checking your own policy information and talking to your insurance company, but in most cases, your auto insurance policy will provide equivalent coverage for a rental car as long as you use it for personal purposes.
For example, if you have comprehensive and collision insurance, your rental car will likely be covered if it’s damaged, stolen or totaled, as long as the rental is of similar value to your own vehicle. Your deductible, a predetermined amount subtracted from the claim payout, will still apply if you file a claim with your insurer.
Always check with your insurance company for details and if you are unsure
Use a credit card that will cover primary insurance
Most premium credit cards often provide coverage for rental cars, assuming you used the card to pay for the rental and the rental is in your name.
Credit cards can be a particularly useful option overseas in places where your personal auto insurance won’t cover you. You’ll automatically have this coverage if it’s included with your credit card, no need to call or sign forms. But it’s usually secondary coverage, meaning your own auto insurance policy will pay out first if it’s available
Some credit cards offer primary coverage, so you may not even need to get your own car insurance company involved. Examples include the Ritz Carlton Rewards Visa Infinite card, which I always use to book my car rentals
Take advantage of loyalty program elite status
Similar to hotel and airline loyalty programs that reward you for staying with or flying them, car rental companies have similar programs that offer benefits like free car upgrades, skip the line car access, free rentals, no 2nd driver fees and many other special offers/discounts.
Examples include Avis Preferred, National Emerald Club, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, Enterprise Plus, Budget Fastbreak, & Alamo Insiders
Each of these programs have different tier levels based on how often you rent and spend with them.
If you don’t rent enough during the year, then having the right credit card to unlock higher status is the way to go.
For example - the Amex Platinum card offers National Emerald Club Executive status, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle status & Avis Preferred Plus status, which can then be matched to your preferred car rental company.
With Avis Preferred Plus status, you can skip the main line and typically just walk out to your rental car and be on your way, save you valuable vacation time.
Book direct if you have a discount code that can offer great savings
Examples of discount codes include credit card programs, discounts for personal use from where you work, from your bank, or other similar programs.
I have discount codes for personal use I can use for Avis and Enterprise from my main job that saves me anywhere from 30-50% on base car rental prices.
Amex Platinum has discount codes available to use for Avis, Hertz and National when using you card to book
If you don’t have a preferred car rental company or a discount code to use, I always recommend checking Costco, AutoSlash, or AAA, depending on your preferences and memberships.
Other general car rental tips include:
Always take a video (or lots of pictures) of the rental car
This is especially important if there are small dings, scratches or other concerns you may have with the car.
If you spot a dent, always take a picture and video before driving off the lot.
I have had to use my video evidence on at least one occasion I can remember to prove certain dings and scratches weren’t caused by me.
Car seat recommendations
If you have young children, I recommend bringing your own car seat
Car rental companies car seats aren’t always the greatest (from what I’ve seen) and for younger children it’s always easier installing the car seat that is familiar to you.
If your kids are a little older, I feel like you can get by with a booster seat from the car rental company.
I always consider the cost/benefit of bringing our own booster seats or just renting it depending on the length of the trip, where we’re traveling and if I want to lug around a booster seat.
Pre-Pay the gas for peace of mind, time savings & safety
I typically pre-pay for the gas to avoid the hassle of trying to find a gas station close enough to the car rental location.
It makes it so much easier not having to worry about filling up the gas tank, especially if you’re running late, hit traffic, or are concerned about the location/safety of the area you’re filling gas up on the way to the airport.
By utilizing some of these tips, I hope you can optimize your next car rental in terms of saving money and time.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” -Dr. Seuss
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I hope this email helped spark some travel inspiration!
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The Family Travel Bulletin is a once weekly newsletter by Randy Singh featuring a curated summary of family travel news, special offers, travel advisor insights and recent blog posts from The Family Travel Guy to help you travel better, travel smarter and optimize value along the way.
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