Renting a car has practically become a dreaded part of the travel process for even for the most experienced travelers. The rental company often finds ways to add unexpected charges to the final bill. Rarely do customers end up paying the initially advertised price. My recent vacation to Utah is a perfect example. I booked a car on a comparison site thinking it would cost a total of about $200. It came in far closer to $600.
Want to avoid getting ripped off? Here are seven tips from savvy travelers and rental car industry experts.
1. Do research beforehand
Knowledge is power when it comes to car rentals. Educate yourself about your own car insurance and credit card policy coverage before you sign the contract. Research the location of nearby gas stations, so you don’t have to sign on for any of the rental company’s gas offers. (Here are some reward credit card to help you save at the pump.)
“Do your research and plan before you go so you’re not caught off guard,” said Dan Bagby, creator of the travel planning site Honeymoon Always.
2. Book in advance
Rates are almost always lower when you book in advance. Planning ahead also gives you time to comparison shop. You can use an online price comparison website to find the best rates. There may be some companies that offer special rates or larger discounts.
3. Skip the airport rental
Airports often charge additional taxes and fees that the rental car companies pass along to the renters, said Chad Rixse, director of financial planning at Forefront Wealth Partners and former rental car agent.
“The convenience of being able to pick up the vehicle right after you get off the plane also means higher daily base rates,” he said. “Instead, find a neighborhood location in the vicinity and research estimated taxi fares to get there.” Many rental companies outside of the airport offer free shuttle transportation to their locations.
4. Take pictures
Make it a point to take pictures of the car when you pick it up and again when you drop it off, said Mitch Krayton, owner of Krayton Travel.
“This is great evidence to show the condition of the car if they claim you damaged it and it was not you,” he said.
If you get in an accident in a rental car, here’s what to do.
5. Skip the GPS
If you're driving in a foreign city, a GPS device is often a must. But add-on fees from a rental car company can pile up, said Ben McLaughlan, creator of Horizon Unknown.
“In many countries, SIM cards and data plans are more cost effective than adding on a GPS device from the rental company,” said McLaughlan. “This way you can still have solid GPS directions without feeling like you've been scammed during the add-on section of your car hire.”
6. Ask about the return time
Much like a hotel check-out time, there’s a set time rental cars need to be returned, said Ehab Odah, founder and CEO of Prestige Exotics luxury car rental.
“Not all companies will let you know so be sure to ask to avoid hidden late fees,” said Odah.
Here are some other fees you should never pay.
7. Just say no
The best way to save money on car rentals is to just take a hard pass on any potential extras the agent offers. There are often cheaper alternatives.
Instead of paying for additional insurance, get a credit card that provides rental insurance, said Bagby. Instead of paying an inflated rate for gas to be filled up, plan for a few minutes to fill the tank before you return it.