Rental car booking tips and coupons

First published on September 4, 2011

From the few times that I’ve rented a car, I’ve discovered a few simple tips that make for a smoother booking and renting experience.

Sign up for the company’s membership program

Signing up for the often free membership program is worth it simply to bypass the normal lines at busy locations (such as at airports) and use the shorter member-only lines. The time savings can be negligible to an hour or more. Enterprise Rent-A-Car‘s Enterprise Plus program is free, as is Hertz #1 Gold (for a limited time; search around online to see if you can also get it free if you have various affiliations such as particular credit cards).

There are other benefits, which may or may not be useful to you. Free car upgrades are good if you are interested in driving a nicer car, but cars at higher levels are usually bigger and less fuel efficient. Some of the promotional deals they e-mail you about might be interesting as well. And, if you are a frequent renter, then you might make use of programs such as Hertz’s that give you points with each rental that can be used toward future discounts.

Use Entertainment Book coupons

The Entertainment Book often has coupons for all of the major car rental companies: Avis, Budget, Enterprise, National, Alamo, and Hertz. It’s a good idea to search around for other coupons, but the few times I’ve booked a car, I found the best savings by using an Entertainment Book coupon. (And the last time, it worked out to be a 60% savings; I’m not sure whether that was a system glitch or not.)

Use comparison sites… for price comparison

From what I’ve seen, most of the rental car companies are very similar. They all get overwhelmingly mediocre reviews online, but you can get a straightforward, pleasant experience from all of them depending on the circumstances. Make use of Priceline and Hotwire to see what deals are available, but don’t assume that they will offer a better deal than booking directly with the rental car company and using a coupon. You also have to pay immediately and give up the right to cancel your booking if you book through one of the discount, comparison / bidding sites.

Other tips

  • Insurance is important: check to see whether you already have a membership, normal auto insurance plan, or credit card that already covers your car rentals.
  • Beware of the upsell: there are often GPS, gas prepayment, and toll auto-payment offers that you are presented with at the time of car pick-up when you don’t have the energy or time to think them through. They are always touted as a great deal or a savings, but are usually not. For example, I was told that if I prepaid gas for the car I would save over filling up at a gas station — this was true, but only if I were to return the car with a completely empty tank.

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