When it comes to travel hacking, rental cars can be a tough nut to crack. Even when you get status with a rental car company or can use your rewards, prices (in both points and dollars) are often all over the place.
My favorite way to save on rental cars is to book on Expedia.com (lowest prices most of the time) or use Chase Ultimate Rewards. And even then, the price difference between those two options can be astronomical.
When it comes to rental cars though, one strategy always seems to work – booking early. Of course, the key to booking early is booking a rental that can be cancelled if you find a better price.
For any given trip, I might book and re-book a rental car 4 or 5 times as prices go down. But by booking early, you can lock in a price and protect yourself if prices go up.
Case in point: For winter break this year, I booked a week-long stay in Puerto Rico. We’re spending half of our time in and around San Juan and the rest in Fajardo, but we’ll still pick up only one rental car for the entire week.
Six months ago, a weekly rental was around $250. That wasn’t great, but I went ahead and booked it through Expedia.com just in case. Since then, I’ve checked with Priceline, Avis, National, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and everywhere else on the web, only to watch prices go up.
Now, a month out from our trip, the exact same car through Expedia.com is $652 per week! Through Chase Ultimate Rewards, on the other hand, a weekly rental from the same company would cost more than $500 per week.
Fortunately, I booked a speculative rental car early. Otherwise, I would be stuck forking over a ton of points or paying more than twice as much in cash.
Another Option: Using Auto Slash
Since I’m a travel nerd, I enjoy searching for rental car rates manually. If you have better things to do with your time, however, you can accomplish the same thing with a service like Auto Slash. When you book through Auto Slash, they will search for a lower price then re-book your car if prices go down.
I will note, however, that Auto Slash works best when you follow my advice and book early. I just searched for our dates over Christmas break, and the cheapest car you can book out of San Juan through Auto Slash is $815 per week!
No matter how you plan to pay for your rental car, it’s wise to plan as early as you can. When you fail to think ahead, you’re at the mercy of rental car companies and whatever rates they can charge.
Personally, I like booking speculative car rentals I can cancel then checking prices periodically as my travel date approaches. That way, I can lock in a lower price if I find one while also locking in the lowest price I can find right away.
What is your favorite way to save on rental cars?
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