It feels good to score a deal when you’re booking travel arrangements. But since rental car rates are dynamic, changing frequently depending on factors like the time of year and supply and demand, it can feel impossible to know whether right now is the best time to book a rental car for your trip. You don’t have to leave it to chance. We have some tips that will help you find the right vehicle for your trip at a great rate.
Tip 1: Ways to find rental car deals
Rental car companies want to secure reservations on their vehicles to ensure their inventory is constantly generating revenue. One way they do this is by offering discounts on early bookings or pre-bookings to entice you to reserve your rental as soon as possible.
Booking in advance can be a good strategy, but only if you’re able to modify or cancel your reservation without penalty. If you can, then this gives you time to shop around for deals on other sites, track rates over time and change your booking if you find something cheaper. Worst-case scenario is that you don’t find something better but still locked in a great rate in advance and know you have your rental secured.
Another benefit of booking your rental car in advance is that you’ll have more time to figure out the rest of the details that come with renting a vehicle so you can save time and money later. For example, determining whether you need insurance to rent a car and what level of coverage you’re comfortable with. You may also want to weigh the costs of adding a second driver or adjusting your itinerary based on any mileage limits set by the rental agency.
If you decide not to prepay for a rental car, you probably won’t have to deal with any initial costs when you book a rental car in advance. Most companies don’t charge upfront fees, as you’re simply reserving the vehicle at a set price. But you should check to see if there is a change or cancellation fee so you know what kind of flexibility you have in case you find a better rental car rate before your trip starts.
Tip 2: Best times to book a rental car in advance
You may think rental companies have an endless supply of cars just waiting to be rented, but that’s usually not the case. During busy travel seasons, like summertime or the holidays, it’s common to come across limited options since there is more demand for rental cars. In this case, it makes more sense that the best time to book a rental car is as far in advance of your preferred dates as possible so you don’t get stuck with a vehicle that doesn’t suit your plans.
Additionally, if you want to rent a specific vehicle, like a minivan, a swanky sports car or an SUV with four-wheel drive, you’ll likely need to book farther in advance to ensure you lock in the vehicle you’re hoping to drive. Rental car companies tend to have fewer of those unique vehicles in their fleets.
Likewise, if you plan to book a long-term car rental, you probably want to ensure you’re able to get a particular kind of car for the duration of your reservation. In this case, it’s best to book your rental well ahead of time to secure the car you need.
Tip 3: Best day of the week 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. Some say that one of the best days to rent a car is on a Saturday. Why? Many people book their rental car for a Saturday, but not everyone shows up. Plans change or flights get canceled, and rental agencies are left with uncollected vehicles. How do they make last-minute money? They lower their prices to attract last-minute bookings.
Tip 4: Ways to avoid added 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, especially if you don’t rent cars frequently.
To avoid unwanted fees, you first need to know where to look for them. Here are a few different ways car rental agencies might add extra charges to your final bill:
- Insurance. You almost always need to pay extra for insurance if you don’t have existing coverage. This add-on isn’t necessary for everyone if you understand how car rental insurance works and whether you personally need it.
- Second driver. You may have to pay an extra daily fee to add a second driver. There are few companies that don’t charge at all, like Avail car sharing, and some won’t add a fee if the second driver is a spouse. Other times, you may need a particular membership or status level with the agency to have them waive the charge
- Mileage limits. Check to see if there is a daily mileage limit for your rental. If there is and you go over, such as when you’re renting a car for a road trip, then you may be faced with an overage fee for every mile that exceeds the stated limit.
- Young drivers. If you’re under 25 years old, there’s a good chance you’ll be charged extra to rent a car. However, there are ways to avoid paying the young driver surcharge if you qualify. Or, you can rent from a company like Avail, which doesn’t charge extra for young drivers under 25.
- One-way rentals. If you want to pick up your rental from one location and return it in another, you’ll likely incur what’s called a drop fee.
- Debit card payments. Many rental companies only allow you to pay with a credit card for liability purposes, but you may be able to rent a car with a debit card if you are ok with making a large security deposit.
There are a variety of fees that can come with car rentals. Make sure you’ve got time to look into the policies so you can avoid shelling out extra cash at the end of your trip.
How far in advance to reserve a car
Generally speaking, if you’re renting an average car (like a compact or economy vehicle) during a normal time of the year (not peak travel season), then four weeks from when your trip starts is a good time to book. A month out should give you enough time to explore options, find the right price and familiarize yourself with the rental policies.
However, if you’re planning to rent during a busier travel season or need a special type of vehicle, start looking farther in advance. For more complex rental situations, three to six months in advance should yield some pretty competitive prices. But be careful — reserving a car too far in advance could actually be more costly.
Book a car with less hassle and fewer fees
If you’ve ever rented a car, you know that picking it up 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. Whether you’re using a car sharing company like Avail or a traditional rental agency, knowing you’ve got a clean car prepped and waiting for you when you arrive at your destination makes the experience less stressful. When you book through Avail, pick-up and drop-off are even quicker since all of our locations are self-service. You just grab the keys (or drop them off) and head on your way.
Additionally, our affordable daily rates come with some extra perks. You won’t pay more if you’re younger than 25 years old, and we also don’t charge extra to add a second driver. If you’ll be renting in Chicago or Denver, save yourself hours of search and comparing by booking with Avail.