Car rental pricing is almost always a circus. Prices change by the hour depending on availability, vehicle class, travel, and sometimes even weather. On top of that, most car companies will have a ‘pay now’ price and a ‘pay later’ price at checkout, leading you to ask “when it comes to car rental, do I pay now or pay later’?
The answer usually seems pretty clear: prepaid car rental is cheaper, so why not pay up front? Well, there are a number of reasons and factors that might make you reconsider. Here’s why you shouldn’t always prepay for your rental car.
If you shouldn’t prepay for your rental car, then why are prepaid car rentals an option? It’s essentially the same reason why you can show up with a confirmed reservation only to find out car rentals are sold out: no shows. Car rental data suggests that up to one-third of people simply never show up for their car rental, leading traditional rental companies to overbook and maximize their profits.
Prepaying for a car rental is guaranteed money for a rental company, which is why they hook you in by offering anywhere from a 5%-30% discount to prepay. It might seem like the better deal, but it’s not always the best option.
Okay, let’s get to it. Why is prepaying not the best option if it’s almost always cheaper? The answer: cancellation fees, shifting plans, and volatile pricing. Many prepaid rental car prices come with sneaky terms and conditions like $25 cancellation fees if you cancel more than 24 hours in advance, $50 if you cancel less than 24 hours in advance, and total loss of your money if you forget to cancel and don’t show up.
While it can seem easy to avoid, if last minute changes or extreme weather pops up, you may be left holding the bag and unable to make changes. The other reason why you shouldn’t prepay for your car rentals is price fluctuation. Folks who score the best deals on cheap car rentals know to check prices daily (and sometimes hourly) for better deals. If you choose ‘pay later’, you aren’t tied to a reservation or subject to cancellation fees and can continue to search for better deals as your trip gets closer and the future is “more” certain.
“Opaque” is a term that refers to sites like Priceline, Expedia, or Travelocity that offer deeper discounts on car rentals without showing you who (and sometimes what) you’re renting. These opaque sites usually offer much lower prices on rental cars than the prepayment option on rental car homepages, but are subject to many more restrictions than you might imagine.
Opaque sites usually have high cancellation fees or inflexible date ranges, so you should be 100% sure of your travel plans before you pull the trigger on these sites.
Avail is a car sharing service that’s a lot like car rental, but way better. We don’t have any hidden fees, and we never overbook. Since we source our cars from regular folks, we don’t have a rental shortage and can offer much lower prices than traditional car rental. Even better, every trip comes with full insurance coverage from Allstate, so you can drive with peace of mind. Check out our selection of great cars from city-smart sedans to rugged SUVs and find the perfect fit for your trip.
Sharing your car is one of the best, low-risk ways to start a car rental business. Click here to learn how to share your car with Avail!
You can rent a car before you’re 25, though it can get expensive. But with Avail, all drivers 21 and over pay the same daily rates.