Recently, I went to Philadelphia to visit family and I needed to rent a car. There are several different ways to save money when it comes to a car rental, which I’ve listed below, but what I really want to talk about is the importance of asking a lot of questions.
While picking up my rental car, I was asked the question they always ask: “Do you want to prepay for a tank of gas?” In preparation for this question, I had search area gas prices on the Waze, so I knew gas prices ranged from $2.19 – $2.35 a gallon. To prepay for a tank of gas, I had to buy the entire tank at $2.47 a gallon. Obviously, I said no, because in order to even come close to getting my money’s worth I would have to return the car running on fumes and even then I’d pay more per gallon than if I had filled up at a local gas station. Anyways, as I was leaving I noticed a sign listing all the options. One was called: “We Refuel.”
It caught my attention, as it appeared I was about to miss out on a deal. According to how the sign was written, it appeared as if you could pay a $9.99 flat rate, return the car with gas tank at any level and they would refuel for you. I quickly did the math. At $9.99, I would only need to use about 4.5 gallons of gas to get my money’s worth, which I thought was totally doable.
But something didn’t add up, why would a car rental company charge a $9.99 flat rate and let you return with any amount of gas? Seems like they would lose money in the deal and any smart business is not going to lose money unless they are getting something out of it. I checked their website, thinking someone was being funny by messing with the sign, but their website appeared exactly the same with the same options listed at the same price. That’s when I decided to call customer service and ask about it. I inquired about the “We Refuel” option and was very direct in my question: “Is it a $9.99 flat rate or is it per gallon?” The customer service representative on the other end couldn’t answer. She told me she wasn’t sure and had to put me on hold to ask somebody else. I was put on hold while she went looking for an answer. Finally, she returned and told me it was per gallon. Before getting off the phone, I casually mentioned that nowhere on the website or the sign did it say per gallon that the way it was written implied a flat rate.
So my warning to you is to always ask a lot of questions! Not just with car rentals, but anything. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Below you can find several other ways to save money when renting a car.
SEARCH FOR PROMO CODES
A quick google search for car rental promo codes will usually come up with some sort of response. I also like carrentals.com to find smoking deals. Also, compare prices over several days/weeks before booking, car rental prices change daily just like plane tickets, so don’t feel stuck if you don’t feel like you’re getting a deal.
Honestly, most people will tell you to avoid the prepaid car rental all together, because if prices drop you are locked in with what you have already purchased, but if you don’t prepay you can cancel and score a better deal if one arises.
DON’T FORGET THOSE OTHER DISCOUNTS
Belong to AAA or AARP or Costco? Now is the time to scour all your frequent flier clubs, credit cards and membership organizations for discounts on car rentals. Even a 10 percent discount or $35 rebate off a weekly rental will help to offset rising rental car costs.
SAY NO TO THE INSURANCE
Most of the time your personal car insurance or even your credit card will cover you. Just make sure you call them ahead of time to be sure.
NO GPS OR SATELLITE RADIO NEEDED
I always say no to the gps or satellite radio, but that’s me. I have a cell phone for a reason. It works great for gps, so why would I shell out more money for capabilities that I already have.
AVOID THE AIRPORT PICKUP
This is one piece of advice I never use. I always rent from the airport for one reason: convenience, but if you are a real penny-pincher try shopping around at car rental places that aren’t at the airport. Just remember you may need to find a way to pick up the car.
RESERVE THE CAR FOR LONGER THAN YOU NEED
Sometimes reserving the car for the week versus 5 or six days is actually cheaper and most of the time the company won’t charge you for returning the car early. Another idea is to vary your check-in/check-out times to see if that will affect your rate.
AND REMEMBER: RETURN THE CAR WITH THE GAS TANK FULL!
Or you could get stuck with that $9.99 per gallon fee!