5 Ways to Save on Your Car Rental

Gas pricesMotorists, start your engines: Summer driving season has begun. You just may need to put in a little extra effort this year to keep it from being a budget-buster.

It’s not surprising that many families are rethinking their vacation plans and driving less as gasoline prices linger within striking distance of $4 a gallon. But for those who are planning to rent a car this summer, there are plenty of ways to keep costs down.

Ways to save go beyond comparison-shopping and seeking out small fuel-efficient cars.

You can save on your car rental this summer by paying attention to these five tips:

Unpredictably high gas prices may tempt you to consider the rental car company’s offer to pre-pay for a whole tank of gas. Think twice. Yes, it’s convenient and the prices they offer generally will be less than the current price at the pumps. But many drivers end up paying more in the end because they don’t use up the full amount they paid for in advance. Gas prices are coming down a bit recently from their peaks, providing another reason to hold off.

Just be sure to return the car with a full tank or you can be socked with even higher costs. National car rental companies are charging as much as $9 a gallon to top off a tank when a car is returned. Take note of gas stations near the airport or wherever you’ll be returning the car so you can refuel. The American Automobile Association (www.aaa.com ) has a smartphone app that shows nearby gas stations and their prices.

Sites such as Rentalcarmomma.com, Rentalcars.com, Rentalcodes.com and Rentalcarchoices.com have coupons that provide discounts of 5 percent or 10 percent off daily car rentals, 10 percent to 20 percent off weekly rentals, or give a third day free when renting for two weekend days. Some coupons can be applied to already discounted prices.

Companies such as Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and Thrifty are represented in the deals. They also often have their own special offers on their websites.

If you’ll be relying on a particular rental agency, check to see if it has a presence on Facebook or Twitter through which they announce promotional offers.

Drivers with auto insurance probably have adequate coverage — if not through their policy, then through the credit card they’re charging the rental tab to. If you’re already an insured driver, you can resist the inevitable pitch at the rental counter that’s designed to plant enough doubt to scare you into buying their coverage.

Don’t take it for granted, however. Call your auto insurer and credit card issuer and ask if you are covered for collisions and liability while driving a rental. If more than one person will be driving the car, make sure that won’t cause a problem.

Car rental agencies rack up millions of dollars annually in “just in case” insurance fees because drivers didn’t check their coverage in advance. A MetLife survey last year found that nearly two-thirds of those who bought insurance from the rental agency weren’t sure if a loss with a rental car would be covered by their existing policy.

Joining a rental car agency’s loyalty program can give you access to special deals and promotions and save you time as well. It will speed you through lines or allow you to skip them altogether, sometimes enabling you to go straight to the car. Consider it even if you’re not a frequent traveler, just a once-a-year vacation renter, advises Greg McBride, senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

Look for frequent traveler partnerships, too. You can earn points through such affiliations with airlines, credit card companies, hotels and other companies. For example, you can earn 100 frequent-flier miles or more per day if your car rental agency has a partnership with a major airline. And if you are a member of AAA or AARP, ask if extra discounts are available.

Book your rental car well in advance to ensure you get the vehicle type you want at a decent price. But as the travel date approaches continue to shop on rental agencies’ websites and those of travel sites such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity. If they have a lot of cars and no one’s renting, McBride notes, the price will come down as the date nears.

Source: The Associated Press.