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Next time you're traveling for a month or more and have to leave your own wheels at home, don't sign a rental contract until you've looked into the agency's long-term rental program as well. Chances are they won't have one if you're dealing with Hertz or Avis, but some discount operations offer special price structures for rental periods of two weeks, a month, or more, which can amount to savings up to 25%. If you're visiting Europe, the benefits of long-term rental are even greater.

With Enterprise's (tel. 800/209-3602; www.enterprise.com) Month or More program, you won't see hefty discounts unless you're using the car for two months or longer. Enterprise's monthly base rate depends on the pickup location, but from there, the second month is $25 less than the first; the third month is $50 less than the first; and any month after that, up to eleven months, is $75 less.

For example, from Manhattan's 11th Avenue office, a midweek economy rental is $1,022 a month, with taxes and unlimited mileage. For two months, it's $2,019. For three months, it's $2,991. For four months, it's $3,938, and $947 for each additional month.

You'll see that in some cases, it's cheaper to build a package on the weekly rate, depending on the pickup location and relevant specials. If you're booking just one month, get quotes for both the Month or More rate and for the weekly rate times four plus two days (a 30-day month, in other words, priced with the weekly rate). The weekly rate for the Manhattan rental would be $227.24; based on that, four weeks and two days are $1,133.67. Clearly, in this case, the monthly rate is lowest by more than $100.

In Philadelphia, however, an economy rental is $950.94 a month with tax; the current weekly rate is on special, however, at $178.40. So four weeks and two days are only $781.78 with tax. You actually save significantly by renting on the basis of the weekly rate. Investigate both options before you book.

For European rentals of 17 days or longer, look into Renault's Eurodrive program (tel. 800/221-1052; www.renaultusa.com), more of a short-term lease than a long-term rental program. At pickup locations in 35 Western European cities, Renault guarantees a brand-new vehicle, with unlimited mileage, and no VAT (value added tax). The program is ideally suited for long-term visitors and expatriates, especially in France, Renault headquarters. Outside France, Renault charges a pickup and drop-off fee of $275 each way. If you're picking up in France and dropping off in another country, though, you'd pay only the drop-off fee.

Through Renault, a brand-new economy car in Paris is $899 for 17 days, with no pickup or return fee throughout the country. For 30 days, the rate is $1,182. For two months, it's $1,812. The price continues dropping with each additional month, with a maximum rental period of 175 days.

In Rome, the car is an additional $550, for pickup and return, for a total of $1,449 for the first 17 days. The 30-day rate is $1,732. Two months are $2,362. Again, the rates keep dropping, for a maximum rental period of 165 days, to allow for the car's return to France.

Auto Europe's (tel. 888/223-5555; www.autoeurope.com) Peugeot buyback program is similar, and its prices are usually lower than Renault's. The benefit of working with Auto Europe is that they run specials throughout the year that further lower prices. Be sure to investigate both programs before you book.

For rentals under 30 days, you'd go through Auto Europe's standard rentals, so you wouldn't score a brand-new vehicle, but prices are cheaper than Renault's. A 17-day rental in Paris in early April, for example, is $655.50, including taxes and surcharges, plus $14.25 a day for each additional driver. For a month, you'd get into the buy-back program. From April 1 to 30, a brand-new economy Peugeot is $1,133. If you book the same dates by March 31, the rate drops to $1,076. For two months, it's $1,793; $1,667.49 if you book by March 31.

In Rome, you likewise pay a pickup and drop-off charge, but the rates are still lower overall. Seventeen days are $816.35, including all taxes and surcharges, and $6.20 a day for each additional driver. In Rome, 30 days are $1,683, including all taxes and pickup and drop-off fees. If you book before March 31, it's $1,626.35). For sixty days, the total is $2,343; and $2,253.35 before March 31.

Another cheap option, for both international and domestic travel, is Vancouver-based CRX Car Rental Express (tel. 888/557-8188; www.carrentalexpress.com). CRX is a Web-only clearinghouse -- like Orbitz, Expedia, or Travelocity -- but their specialty is independent car rental agencies throughout the world (in the US, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand). CRX claims its rates are 15% to 25% cheaper than nationals. We found this to be true for short-term rentals in Europe, but their domestic prices seem comparable to Enterprise's.

Enterprise Manhattan - Weekly rate $227.24
- Four weeks, two days $1,133.67
- Month or More rate $1,022
- Two months $2,019
- Three months $2,991
- Four months $3,938
Enterprise Philly - Weekly rate $178.40
- Four weeks, two days $781.78
- Month or More rate $950.94
- Two months $1,876.88
- Three months $2,827.82
- Four months $3,703.76
Renault Eurodrive - 17 day Paris $899
- one month Paris $1,182
- two month Paris $1,812
- 17 day Rome $1,449
- one month Rome $1,732
- two month Rome $2,362
Auto Europe Peugeot Buy Back - 17 day Paris $655.50
- one month Paris $1,133 ($1,076 if purchased before 3/31)
- two month Paris $1,793 ($1,667.49 if purchased before 3/31)
- 17 day Rome $816
- one month Rome $1,683 ($1,626.35 if purchased before 3/31)
- two month Rome $2,343 ($2,253.35 if purchased before 3/31)
CRX Car Rental Express - New York weekly $225.99 - New York one month $1,001.35
- New York two months $1,972.88
- Paris 17 days $550.59
- Paris one month $939.24
- Paris two months $1,910.86

CRX is a good source for discounted, long-term rentals because they work with independent companies that set their own rules and run their own specials -- such as Super Cheap Cars in California or Capp's Van Rental in Texas. Vice president Karen Andersen says, "It's an alternate marketplace, so we have agencies that rent unusual sorts of vehicles -- like motorcycles, BMWs, or Mercedes. And they'll feature special discounts for, say, long-term rentals, AARP members, or airline employees. They make their own rules."

Every agency listed with CRX has a customer rating of up to five stars. When you enter a pickup location on the CRX Web site, the search engine draws up a list of independent agencies in that location with information on each company. Each agency receives a customer rating of up to five stars. You can also see how many years it has been in business, the minimum age required to rent, whether the agency accepts cash payments, whether it offers airport service, and the types of vehicles in its fleet. When you return a car, CRX asks you to rate the agency, and they incorporate your response in the rating system.

CRX lists nine agencies in New York. The cheapest deal for the week of April 1 to April 8 is at JFK International: an economy car is $225.99 for the week, including all taxes and surcharges. For a month, it's $1.001.35. For two months, it's $1,972.88; for three months, it's $2,978.21.

For European rentals of one month or less, CRX seems to be the cheapest option. In Paris, a 17-day economy rental, from April 1 to April 18, is $550.59, picking up at Charles DeGaulle Airport. For one month, it's $939.24. For two months, it's $1,910.86.

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