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Why You Should Never Pay Full Price for Your Rental Car

By Marissa Kozma
Read time: 4 minutes

A rental car can easily blow through a large portion of your vacation budget. Booking a vehicle is a must if you need to get around your destination and can’t rely on public transportation, but the hefty price tag might cause you to reconsider the duration of your stay or abandon plans altogether. However, savvy travelers know that there’s no reason you should be paying full price for your rental car in the first place. Here are some useful tricks for getting your rental car at a discount.

Check if You Qualify for Promo Code Discounts

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Before you book your rental car, double-check that you’re not already eligible for any discounts. Often, universities, alumni associations, or corporations will offer discount codes for specific rental car companies. While many of these codes can be found online, front desk agents may ask to see proof of employment, alumni status, or university enrollment. But if you provide identification, you can knock down prices at major car rental companies such as Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise — and potentially waive underage or additional driver fees. 

Still not eligible? No problem. AAA, the popular roadside assistance club, also offers up to 20% off Hertz rentals, plus other perks like discounts on prepaid fuel and a free additional driver. Meanwhile, USAA members who are active military personnel, veterans, or the spouse or child of a military member or veteran can receive up to 25% off rentals through Budget, Hertz, Enterprise, and Avis.

You Can Avoid Underage Driver Fees

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Younger drivers can have an especially hard time finding a low rental price because the standard rental age in the U.S. is usually 25 or older. But there are a few ways to bypass an underage driver fee. USAA members under the age of 25 are eligible to have the fee waived, and AAA members will also receive the same benefit. Another solution is to let a family member or friend drive you around instead. If that’s an option, the lower price may be worth it, as most rental companies tack on an additional $30 per day on your reservation if you’re between the ages of 21 and 24 — or a whopping $50 per day if you’re between the ages of 18 and 20. 

Credit Card Perks Come in Clutch

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Many credit cards — particularly travel rewards cards — offer exclusive rental car perks and discounts. These may include complimentary vehicle upgrades, grace periods for returning your vehicle late, a free additional driver, or membership in elite status programs. Most travel credit cards also offer car rental insurance, which can help limit out-of-pocket costs in the event of an accident. 

In particular, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred card are noteworthy for offering primary insurance coverage in the event of damage or theft (meaning you don’t have to go through your regular auto insurance provider first). These cards also offer up to 30% on Avis rentals and 25% off National rentals. The Platinum Card from American Express also offers discounts and top-tier Hertz benefits, including special discounts and priority services.

Airlines Offer Exclusive Savings

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If you’re a frequent traveler, you’re probably already enrolled in one or more airline rewards programs. Before booking directly through a car rental website, log into your airline frequent flier accounts and see if you’re eligible to use your points or miles towards a reservation. Also check to see if the airline offers discounts if you book through their portal. 

For example, American Airlines AAdvantage members can save up to 35% and earn 500 bonus miles at Avis. If you’re flying Delta, you can enjoy extra savings with Alamo, Enterprise, and National, while United Airlines offers up to 35% savings with Budget and Avis.

Apps Provide Alternatives

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Photo credit: Milko/ iStock

Remember: You don’t need to book directly with a traditional car rental company. Ride- and car-sharing companies such as Turo, Avail, Uber, Kyte, Zipcar, and Lyft offer vehicles to app users, and sometimes the deals are better than rates at big-name rental brands. Some of these vehicles are owned by fellow travelers who are renting out their car when they’re out of town, while others are parked at private residences with instructions on how to access the vehicle, where to find the keys, and so forth. Using an app can be a great way to book for a much lower price, plus you won’t be surprised since you’ll know exactly what vehicle you’re getting. 

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