Friday, November 14, 2008

Stealthy Rental Car Maneuvers

Some tactics to help you save money, time, and stress on car rentals:

One way rentals may cost LESS than standard rentals (pick up and return to same location).

For a trip to Germany, I planned to fly into Frankfurt and then visit Trier, Saar and Mosel valleys, and the area. When I compared rental car rates, it cost less to pick up in Trier and return to Frankfurt than to pick up and return to Frankfurt. Why? I don't know, but I took advantage of it. Bonus was being able to take the train from Frankfurt airport to Trier (very nice) and get some tips from the passengers.

Every year, during late spring, there is an exodus of cars from Florida. Car rental companies rent cars for as low as $1 a day. You can find great deals on one-way rentals. Book early (before March) for the best deals (rates and availability).

Car rental companies want their cars to be as close as possible to the home location (where the car is registered). Someone may pay a relatively high rate for a one-way rental but the return one-way rate will be relatively low. I had a RAV4 this summer, between Vancouver and Calgary, at a rate lower than other rental classes. The car was registered in Alberta and Avis was happy for me to drive it one way. I was happy to get a nice vehicle for a great rate.

Matching Rates or LESS

Different locations usually match rates. During trips, I often find an office that is more convenient than where I rented. There may be a downtown or suburb location that is better for me than going back to the airport. Even though my reservation is set up to pick up and return from the airport, I will return it to another location and get the same rate. Sometimes it is even LESS because of some promotion or fewer taxes and fees.

On one of these returns, I asked if I could get the same rate on a future rental. The agent said it was a fantastic rate, she did not think so, pushed some buttons and booked it. It never hurts to ask!

For that Vancouver to Calgary rental, I had a reservation at the downtown location but noticed a desk when I arrived at the train station. He had a low mileage (kilometerage?) RAV4 for the same rate as my reservation (midsize car).

Free (or Cheap) Upgrades

When an agent offers me an upgrade, I view that as an invitation to negotiate. For instance, I reserve an economy (i.e., cheapest rate) car and the agent offers a better car for "only $10 a day extra." Agents receive commissions or bonuses on their upgrades.

My first question is always, "do you have any economy cars?" If they do not have cars in the class I rented than I ask for one in whatever class they do have. I have ended up with luxury cars, jeeps, SUVs, even a monster Ford Expedition one time. So, free upgrades are certainly possible. The larger car might end up consuming much more gas and thus not be a good deal for you.

If I cannot convince them to give me a free upgrade, then I negotiate the price of the upgrade. When they offer something for only $10 more per day, I counter with $2 a day. I have not paid more than $4 extra per day but sometimes they are not willing to negotiate.

Ask for a Better Car

Another way to get a free upgrade is to ask for a different car. I have received (and rejected) cars that were dirty, smoky, or damaged. I have requested larger vehicles because I intended to visit family or friends (and wanted to eliminate the hassle of more than one car). I have requested vehicles with low mileage, better traction (in winter weather), or certain models. I do not always have my request honored but asking ensures that it may happen.

What do you think? Do you have your own stealthy car rental tactics? Send me e-mail or post a comment. Thanks!

© 2008, Charles McCool

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