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How far in advance should I book my car rental?
September 21, 2021

How far in advance should I book my car rental?

Maybe you’re one of those people that books your trips way in advance. You’ve got flights secured nine months out, hotels ready to go soon after, and the rental car selected months beforehand. Or maybe you’re one of those folks who waits until the very last minute to book those logistics like the rental car. 

No matter the traveler or the destination, knowing when to book a rental car can feel like gambling. But there are a few rules to play by when it comes to browsing the best options and getting the right price. Not sure how far in advance to rent a car for the best price? Let’s dig into the details. 

Find a deal 

Rental car companies want to secure money on their vehicles. They want to keep those reservations piping and ensure their inventory is constantly generating revenue. Thus, they often offer discounts on early bookings or pre-bookings to entice you to secure your rental as soon as possible. 

If you book in advance, you can secure a potentially discounted price. That gives you time to shop around for other deals on other sites, track the best deals, and change the booking if you find something cheaper. Book at a great rate in advance and you’ll at least know you have your rental secured. 

Book your rental car in advance and you’ll also have more time to figure out all the logistics that come with renting a vehicle. What sort of insurance coverage will you need? Do you need to add a second driver? How many miles will you cover on your trip?

Luckily, you probably won’t have to deal with any initial costs when you book a rental car in advance. Most companies don’t charge any upfront fees—you’re simply reserving the vehicle at that set price. You won’t pay until you go pick up the rental, or sometimes you won’t pay until you turn in the car. 

Explore options 

You may think rental companies have endless amounts of cars just waiting to be rented. But think again. During busy travel seasons, like summertime or the holidays, it’s common to come across a rental company with pretty limited options. Ever been one of those people that gets to a rental desk, only to find their fresh out of cars? It can happen. 

Additionally, if you want a specific vehicle, like a minivan, a swanky sports car, or a car with four-wheel drive, you’ll definitely want to look in advance to make sure the company still has the vehicle available you’re looking to drive. Rental car companies don’t have unlimited fleets, and they tend to carry less of those unique vehicles. So book ahead to make sure you’ve got a good selection to choose from and can get the right car for your trip. 

Avoid accidental fees

There’s nothing more agonizing in the car rental process than trying to avoid potential fees. All the small print, caveats, and varying policies can be pretty confusing—it feels like a trap! 

To avoid unwanted charges, do your research in advance. That means you’ll need some time to look at all the rental car policies. Here are a few questions to ask yourself (or the car rental company) when you get into your research: 

  • What’s the insurance policy for car rental? Not all car rental insurance policies are the same
  • How much does it cost to add that second driver? Sometimes the second driver is free, but more often than not, you’ll have to pay a fee. 
  • Is there a per-day mileage limit? Many companies limit you to a certain number of miles a day. Go over it and you’ll pay extra. 
  • Is there a young driver fee? If you’re under 25, there’s a good chance you’ll pay a higher rate. 
  • What happens if you rent in one spot and pick up in another? You’ll probably incur what’s called a drop fee. Make sure you know how much it will cost you. 
  • Do you have to pay with a credit card? Lots of rental companies only allow you to pay with a credit card for liability purposes. 

There are all sorts of fees that come with car rental. Make sure you’ve got time to lock down the policies so you can avoid shelling out extra cash at the end.

woman booking rental car in advance

How far in advance to rent a car

You can always browse rental car prices the second you book your trip. But generally speaking, if you’re renting the average car (like a compact or economy vehicle) during a normal time of the year (not peak travel season), four weeks is a good time frame to book. Four weeks out should give you enough time to explore options, find the right price, and familiarize yourself with the rental policies. 

However, if you’re looking to rent during a high travel season, look farther in advance. And if you need one of those more unique vehicles like a 7-seater, give yourself a few months to browse. For more complex rental situations, three to six months in advance should get you some pretty competitive prices. But be careful! Renting a year in advance could actually be more costly. 

The best days to rent a car

Rental car rates, like hotels and airlines, fluctuate based on supply and demand. When you rent in advance, you can get better prices on certain days of the week and even at certain times of day. Rental spots with offices at big airports or popular vacation destinations, for example, tend to fluctuate throughout the days and weeks. 

Some say that one of the best days to rent a car is on a Saturday. Why? Everyone tends to have their car rental booked for a Saturday, but not everyone shows up. Plans change or flights get cancelled, and rental agencies are left with empty cars. How do they make last-minute money? They lower their prices.  

Get peace of mind

If you’ve ever rented a car, you know picking up the vehicle can be time-consuming and exhausting. Book the car in advance and you can at least avoid the extra time at the ticket counter scrounging for last-minute options. Knowing you’ve got a clean car prepped and waiting for you when you arrive at your destination makes the whole trip way easier. 

When it comes to how far in advance to rent a car, it’s actually pretty simple: you can avoid hours of searching for the best deals and stress of finding a rental during high season by borrowing with Avail. Your car reservation is always ready to go when you arrive, and you’ll get nothing but honest, affordable pricing.