Driving a car is the best way to see all that a foreign country has to offer. While renting a car is certainly unnecessary (and frustrating!) if you’re exploring a big city, it’s generally the smart way to go when covering more ground.
The cost is cheaper when you share rental fees with other travel companions rather than buying individual bus or train tickets. These savings roll over as you’ll no longer need to find more conveniently placed (and highly priced) accommodations near train lines and cities. You’ll also have more flexibility when renting a car as you don’t have to worry about keeping to a schedule, whether it be through a bus tour itinerary or the bus and train systems themselves, and you won’t have to worry about packing lightly.
Most importantly, you’ll end up seeing more of the country you’re visiting as you weave through its winding roads (which you most likely wouldn’t be driving on) and make unexpected stops in charming towns as unnoted attractions catch your eye (which you don’t have the privilege of doing otherwise).
But just because driving a car is the best way to get around, it doesn’t mean there aren’t wrong ways to go about renting one – and those wrong choices can certainly cost you.
It is always smarter to prepay for your rental car when you book. You can save upwards of 15 per cent when you prepay, you’ll know exactly the price you’re paying in Canadian dollars compared to foreign currencies on location, and you’ll avoid an overseas transaction fee that you would’ve gained paying at the counter on another continent. Just be sure you know the company’s cancellation policy as some rentals are non-refundable.
Don’t rent at the airport
While picking up your rental at the airport seems convenient, you’ll end up paying twice as much for you car in the end. Not just for the price of your car, but for those added “customer facility” and “concession recovery” fees as well, which can add an extra 10 to 30 per cent of your entire bill. Price out rental locations in the area or consider getting a packaged deal with your hotel, flight and car rental.
Look at aggregator sites like Expedia, Kayak and Car Rentals to find the greatest deals across the board, but be sure to go directly to the company’s website when booking to see if they have steeper discounts. And if you search the internet for discount codes – typing in the company name followed by “coupon code” into your browser’s search engine – you could save an additional five to 25 per cent.
Skip insurance and other extras
Rental agents are always looking to make more money, which means they will always try and sell you every possible feature they can, including insurance, roadside assistance, WiFi, GPS, etc. So know your coverage, be it through your own auto insurance policy or that of a credit card provider, to avoid paying for unnecessary add-ons. Using offline maps on your phone’s Google Maps app also makes the need for WiFi and GPS extras obsolete, so be sure to download these maps before you go and they’ll be available offline for the next 30 days.
Do you have AAA? Airmiles? How about a Costco Membership? Being a member of such organizations can score you incredible deals on car rentals and, not only will most provide additional insurance coverage, they’ll most likely waive certain fees and offer additional discounts. On top of that, you can earn even more miles simply by renting your car this way.
Join a rental car loyalty program
Like I said, being a member comes with a few perks. While loyalty rewards programs vary by company, they’re typically free and, when picking up your vehicle, you’ll be able to jump the line and potentially score special discounts or free upgrades in the process. Most loyalty programs will also offer to carry over your status from any other program, so if you gain elite status with one, you can gain it in all.
Opt for economy cars
The car you choose will depend on the purpose of your travel and who your companions are during this trip, but if you’re able to take the gamble, reserve an economy car. These cars are typically the smallest, most affordable vehicle offered, meaning it is the option that will most likely be booked. This then means there’s a chance this car won’t be on the lot when you get to the dealership and you’ll be offered a free upgrade instead.
Be strategic about pick-up (drop-off) times
Be sure not to book a pickup time for earlier than you need the car and try to book a drop-off time that falls within that location’s office hours. It can be a bit nerve-wracking having to leave the key in an unattended box, and this way, you can be sure everything is tickety-boo when finalizing your paperwork. And remember, car rentals are generally rented in 24-hour periods, so if you pick up your car at 10 a.m. on day one, but drop it off at 1 p.m. on your last day, you’ll be charged a whole day’s rental for just three hours of driving.
Avoid sneaky fees
Always remember: Top off the gas tank before you return your car or you’ll be charged two to three times the price of a full tank; inspect your car for any dings and damages before pulling off the lot and snap a picture of any you find to avoid a dispute on your return; and if you’re running late for your drop-off appointment, call the agency to see if it’ll be cheaper to pay the late fee or extend your rental – it may be worth adding another day.
Travel blogger for thehereandwow.com and member of the Travel Media Association of Canada. Follow her adventures on twitter (@ginaalward), Facebook (The Here and Wow) and Instagram (@thehereandwow).
Note: This article has been adapted from the Telegraph-Journal and was originally posted on Oct. 27, 2016. Click here for link.
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