I don’t know about you, but I hate booking rental cars. It always seems like a shot in the dark guessing which site will offer the cheapest options – and there’s no way I’m checking them all.
To solve the mystery, I decided to run a test: I compared prices at seven different websites to see which had the cheapest rental cars.
And to my surprise, there was a big difference in price depending on the website; I’m talking more than $100 for a four-day rental.
Here are the results of my investigation into the cheapest rental cars.
How I tested 7 sites to find the cheapest rental cars
I decided to use three sample scenarios on each site. I searched them all on the same day and for the same level of car (economy) and then recorded each site’s lowest price (rounded to the nearest dollar).
A few notes about the different sites:
- I planned to include BookingBuddy, which allows you to search a dozen sites, including Hotwire, Expedia, Travelocity, and RentalCars.com, but I found its interface and prices to be lackluster, so I left it out of this story.
- BookingBuddy and Hipmunk allow you to search only rental cars available at airports, which are generally more expensive than rental cars in city locations.
- Since Car Rental Express uses only local rental agencies, it’s not available in every city and doesn’t allow one-way rentals.
- In the past, I’ve had good luck with Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool. Unfortunately, I couldn’t test its prices for this post because once you make a bid, you’re obligated to purchase.
Ready for the results? Let’s take a look.
(Note: CR Express = Car Rental Express; VVVroom = VroomVroomVroom.)
1. Four-day rental from San Diego airport in August
2. Last-minute four-day rental in Indianapolis
3. Seven-day September rental with pickup in Atlanta and drop-off in Nashville
4. Total prices across all three scenarios
That’s nearly a $200 difference between the cheapest and most expensive car rental websites – can you believe it?
How to get the best rental car deal online
Now, I won’t tell you which site to use, but I will tell you how I’m going to proceed in the future.
I’ll search Priceline and Kayak first. If I have time – and because I like supporting local businesses – I’ll also do a quick search on Car Rental Express.
Then, I’ll use that data to inform my bid on Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” tool – but only if I’m certain my plans won’t change, as those bookings are nonrefundable.
Want to make your car rental even cheaper? Here are a few additional tips:
- Don’t rent at the airport; rent from a city location.
- Decline the agency’s car insurance; rely on your credit card’s coverage instead.
- Use memberships – such as AAA, AARP, Costco, and BJ’s – for further discounts.
Searching multiple sites and following the steps above might require some extra effort, but if it saves a few bucks, isn’t it worth it?
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