I have been car free for several years now, but there are times when I do need to rent a car. I have found that there is one way to consistently get rock bottom prices on a rental car that exceeds coupon specials and all the other advertised deals out there almost every time.
Most people I know look for what rental cars cost using whatever comparison service they happen to be using when they book their flight and hotel room. This will usually get you a mid-sized car for about $45 a day depending where you live, but it is easy to get cars for much less than this. I have found that the cheapest way to rent a car is to use the name-your-own-price option on comparison sites like Priceline.com or HotWire.com. Using this method, I am usually able to rent a car (mid-sized) for between $10 and $15 a day.
You do have to be willing to give up a little to get these prices. Although all the cars I have rented have come from well established rental car companies, when you use this method you can’t choose the specific rental car company. This is also not the way to go if your plans might change. Part of the reason you are getting the great price is that you are billed right away when your bid has been accepted. Once accepted, you won’t be able to get a refund or cancel / change your reservation.
When making a bid, I always choose the non airport rental car dealers if possible. The price you bid is for the car, not the fees that go along with it, and airports many times carry an extra airport fee making them more expensive.
To continue to save money, check what insurance your credit card covers. Many (but not all) credit cards come with complimentary collision insurance if you pay for the rental car with your credit card. Mine does so I don’t need to add that to the price. Your credit card policy should have a lot of details of what is and isn’t covered (and why it is important that you read and find out exactly what you credit card does and doesn’t cover). For example, my credit card covers collision as long as I rent the car for less than 31 days in a row and the suggested retail value of the car being rented is less than $50,000.
In addition, contact your auto insurance to see what it covers. Many will cover liability when you are driving the rental car meaning that there is no need to get any extra insurance (be sure to call and ask specifically what your car insurance policy covers and doesn’t cover when you rent a car). Since I don’t have a car and liability auto insurance for it, I have to choose between getting a non car owner policy from a car insurance company or opt for the rental car liability insurance. I figured out for me that if I rent a car for 20 days or more over a six month period, I come out ahead getting my own liability insurance (with much better coverage) rather than through the rental car company.
I know that many people aren’t in my situation where they don’t have a car, but many people do rent a car on occasion and if you even rent a car once, this little trick can save you hundreds of dollars over what you would pay going through the normal coupon or deal discount methods.