Booking travel, whether it’s a hotel, flight or rental car, can be a frustrating experience. One day you check prices, and the next they’re already different! Which leads you to this article, as you try to strategize when is the best time to rent a car for your next trip. Although an analysis by NerdWallet shows that you’ll save on your rental if you book within a week of your travel dates versus three months in advance, the truth is that the real best time to book depends on your preferences, desired travel dates and risk tolerance. Here are some tips to help you decide when to hit the checkout button.
4 tips for saving on a rental car
1. Book early
If you’re a planner and like to have everything set well in advance of your vacation, then booking early is a wise move. This will ensure you’re able to reserve the vehicle you need, which is especially important if you want a specialty vehicle or need a family-sized car to accommodate several children.
Although NerdWallet’s analysis shows that waiting to book may result in a lower rate, there is no guarantee. Demand could spike at any time, and you’ll have fewer options to turn to if you are faced with higher prices just days before your trip. Those with a higher risk tolerance or a flexible budget may feel ok with taking the gamble. But if that’s not your case, then book early and don’t add unnecessary stress to your life.
2. Travel during the off-peak season
To figure out when is the best time to rent a car for vacation, find out when the peak season is for your destination. Those times will be more expensive than off-season dates. For instance, renting a car in Chicago during the winter months will likely be much less expensive than the spring and summer. Similarly, you’ll probably find higher rates at beach destinations during summer months.
Also consider the timing of your trip in relation to school break dates. Spring break, summer vacation and the winter holidays are all considered peak travel times, regardless of the weather. Traveling outside of those dates could save you a lot of money on your car rental. Plus, you’ll avoid high demand and enjoy more inventory to choose from. Both of those are great news for your wallet if you have the flexibility to schedule your trip outside of peak dates.
3. Take a weekend getaway
Car rental companies frequently offer the cheapest rates when you book for a full weekend. Maximize your savings potential by figuring out how the car rental agency defines the weekend. Often it includes Thursday afternoon through Monday morning. You may also be able to snag one free day when you book for three. Even if you don’t need the rental car for the full weekend, you may save more by extending your reservation to qualify for the weekend rate. Some car rental agencies build these discounts directly into their pricing. But you may be able to find discount codes or coupons to use for additional savings. Check the fine print to see if there are any limitations on combining discount codes and other online offers.
4. Check for a free cancellation policy
Regardless of when the best time is to rent a car, always check the car rental agency’s cancellation policy. It’s a major bonus if there’s no fee to cancel. That way, you can continue to monitor prices for your travel dates. If a better deal pops up, simply cancel your first reservation and then rebook at the better rate.
Be sure to understand the terms of the cancellation policy. Some car rental companies don’t require you to prepay for your reservation, making it easy and risk-free to cancel. In some cases, it depends on how soon your trip is about to take place. For instance, if you cancel within 24 hours of your trip, you may get a refund on any booking fees you paid, but have to pay a cancellation fee.
Some car rental agencies also charge staggered cancellation fees. For instance, you may pay a lower fee if you cancel more than 24 hours in advance, versus canceling within a day of your reservation. The ideal scenario is to make a reservation that has no cancellation fee at all.
Car sharing with Avail
If you want to rent a car in Chicago or Denver for less, try Avail car sharing. We help you save money on everyday rates by not charging extra to add a second driver or to modify or cancel your reservation. Allstate insurance protection and 24/7 roadside assistance are available for every trip, so you can enjoy your vacation with peace of mind.