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Short-term vs long-term car rental
Booking a rental car is straightforward, but the number of things to consider — from knowing which car rental agency to use to selecting from a long list of add-ons like a toll transponder, a second driver and various types of trip insurance — can be overwhelming. As a starting point, having a better understanding of what a short-term car rental is compared to a long-term car rental can help you navigate this process a little more smoothly. We’ll review some of the key differences and frequently asked questions so you can book your next rental car with confidence.
1. What is considered a short-term versus long-term car rental?
A short-term car rental includes anything from one-day car rentals to weekly car rentals. Some agencies consider a long-term car rental to last at least 15 days, while others require the booking to exceed 28 or 30 days. This is important to know because different rental lengths can come with different discounts. For example, sometimes a seven-day booking will reduce the daily rate below that of a six-day booking. Likewise, if you’re just shy of what the agency considers to be a monthly car rental, you may be able to save money if you add a few more days to exceed the 28- or 30-day mark.
2. How are prices determined for car rentals?
Supply and demand play a large role in how companies set rental rates. But there are a host of other factors that also come into play. These include the pick-up lot’s location, whether you’re renting round trip or one way, the time of year (whether it’s high season), the class of car you choose, the pick-up and drop-off times selected and the length of the rental period.
In addition to the daily rate, you’ll be charged taxes and sometimes service fees. There are also add-ons and other fees that can come into play, no matter whether you have a one-day car rental or a monthly car rental. Additional fees may be included on your contract for a young driver, a second driver, insurance coverage, refueling and adding equipment, like a GPS device, toll transponder and child’s car seat. All of the above can greatly increase the final price of your rental at checkout.
3. How can I get a discounted rental rate?
There are a few tricks you can try that may decrease your daily rate beyond changing the vehicle type. Make sure each day of your rental is a full 24 hours. If you’re booking a daily car rental for a day and a half instead of two days, for example, you may be charged more for renting for a partial day. Also, adjust the pick-up and drop-off times in half hour increments up and down. You may stumble upon a quiet time for that branch, which may lower your rate. If you have flexibility in your schedule, try changing your pick-up and drop-off days to see if that makes a difference.
Search for member discounts and coupon codes. If you belong to the rental agency’s loyalty program, you may receive benefits like a free upgrade. Or if you have a membership to AAA, USAA or your university’s alumni association, you may be able to access discounts for specific rental agencies. Sometimes these promotions are only valid for one-day, weekly or monthly car rentals, so increasing the number of days you book can actually decrease your final cost.
Some companies are unique in how they offer discounts. Avail car sharing, for example, will waive the daily insurance fee if you provide proof of a valid personal auto policy at checkout. They also don’t charge a fee to add a second driver, so you automatically get those savings without needing a discount code or promo special offer.
4. What added fees should I be aware of for short-term and long-term car rentals?
No matter whether you have a short-term car rental, weekly car rental or something longer, you will have to pay a daily car rental rate, plus taxes and potentially service fees. Beyond those costs, you might opt in or be required to pay for insurance. Potential add-ons include a second driver and devices and equipment, such as a GPS, toll transponder and a car seat for children. Trip modifications may require you to pay the difference between the daily rate you booked and the new daily rate, if the new rate is higher. You may also be required to pay a change or cancellation fee.
Finally, there may be fees associated with vehicle usage, such as returning the car late, smoking or vaping inside, bringing a pet (service animals are accepted), damaging the vehicle, unauthorized drivers, excessive wear and tear and returning the car with less gas than was provided at pick up.
5. Are different types of vehicles available for short-term versus long-term car rentals?
Some rental agencies may offer different vehicle options for monthly car rentals, but it comes down to supply and demand. There may be fewer vehicles available for longer periods since many could already be booked multiple times throughout the month for one-day car rentals or other shorter trips. If you plan to rent for a week or more, book early to have the best chance of reserving the type of vehicle you want for your long-term car rental. You may even be able to swap vehicles during a longer rental period, but you’ll need to speak with a customer service representative to find out if that is a possibility.
6. What are the benefits of car sharing for short-term car rentals and long-term bookings?
Car sharing is an ever-growing alternative to renting for everything from daily car rentals to monthly car rentals. When you use car sharing, you’re borrowing a car from a local and therefore putting money back into the community.
A company like Avail, for example, operates dozens of neighborhood self-service locations that use a secure on-site key box to make pick-up and drop-off quick and easy. Avail also offers plenty of ways to save on your final bill. You won’t pay an additional fee to add a second driver. You can also waive the insurance fee by uploading valid proof of your personal auto policy. Like traditional rental agencies, Avail runs promotional offers and publishes discount codes from time to time too.
7. Can I extend my short-term booking when using car sharing?
Just like with traditional car rentals, it all comes down to whether the company needs the car back. This could be because it’s booked for another trip or because the owner is scheduled to pick it up. If neither is the case, you should be able to extend the rental period by phone or online by editing your reservation. Adding days to your rental term will increase the final price and you may need to pay the difference immediately upon confirming this reservation change.
8. Can I end my long-term booking early when using car sharing?
Yes, you can. You’ll just need to modify your reservation in your online account so the company knows when to expect the vehicle back. Avail, for example, will issue you a refund for the unused time if you’re returning the vehicle 24 hours early or more since they charge in 24-hour increments.