If you'd like to get the most out of your dollar and your trip, Pauline Frommer's Travel Guides are for you. I put a fresh spin on budget travel, showing you how to experience the best for less and how to see it in a more authentic way -- the way the locals do. In this series of monthly tips, you'll find some terrific tips to help you get the most out of every trip. This time around, I share some insight about getting the best car rental values.
Keep checking rates.
Car rental rates fluctuate more wildly than airfares, but the perk with car rentals is you don't have to put any money down until you get to the counter. So make your reservation and then check back a couple of times to make sure prices haven't dropped. If they have, make a new reservation at the lower price.
Rent the smallest model of car available.
It's always much less expensive to upgrade at the car rental counter than to do it in advance, and the economy cars usually go before the luxury ones do, so you may get a free upgrade anyway (especially if you're arriving late in the day).
Consider renting from a local firm.
Such companies as Rent-a-Wreck and Fox don't renew their fleets yearly, so while you may be driving an older car, you could be saving a significant amount. You can often save as much as 30% by shopping outside the major brands. This is particularly true if you're thinking of renting a car in Europe. To find local car companies, go to www.bnm.com. The downside with these companies: lack of service. If you drive the car outside of their immediate vicinity and something goes wrong with the vehicle, you won't get the kind of quick help that you would from an Avis, Hertz, or Enterprise.
Check your own car insurance before you get to the counter.
Rental car agents are trained to up-sell you, and you usually don't need everything they're offering. Most car insurance policies will usually cover you for third-party liability and other things as well. Consider an opaque booking engine. Try Priceline.com or Hotwire.com. They only deal with the national companies (so you won't be getting a lemon) and can save you a lot of money.
Rent off-airport when you can.
Taxes and additional fees for cars rented at the airport can add a significant amount on to the total cost. In Dallas for example, a $4-a-day fee is added just for the use of the airport rental facilities (this is on top of other taxes for airport use). Car rental offices not located at the airport will usually send a shuttle to pick you up; in fact, there are times when this type of service may end up being faster and more convenient.
Look into public transportation options.
In such cities as London, Paris, New York, and Washington, D.C. you have a much easier vacation without a rental car because the hassle of parking and driving in these cities is tremendous.
Compare apples with apples.
Some websites don't include all of the costs in their estimates of price, so be sure that you're getting all the figures before you make a decision.
Crunch the numbers.
Usually, even if you only planned on renting for five or six days, the weekly rate will be lower. So consider renting at that rate and then just turning the car in early.
Find out more about the Pauline Frommer Travel Guide series, read articles by Pauline, and listen to Podcasts on Pauline's page on Frommers.com.