Rental car prices: how to hit a moving target

Rental car prices vary a lot. The price you pay depends on a number of factors including the rental agency you choose, the type of car you want to drive, your location, the time of year, and even the time of day. According to USA Today, the price of a rental car can change several times a day. In fact, they can increase 50 percent or more within 24 hours. While it can be hard to hit such a constantly moving target, the following tips should help you get the best deal possible.

-Don’t rent more car than you need. If you only need a standard compact car, don’t pay for a specialty SUV.

-Make a commitment. The weekly rate might work out to be cheaper than the per day rate (you can always return the car early, but you'll pay if you return the car even a little bit late). Many travel experts also advise you to make your reservations at least a week in advance, although I am personally a big fan of last-minute deals.

-Shop around. You can call or surf around on your own or use a Web site like to compare prices. Don’t overlook coupons—I found one in the “e-book” sold at my daughter’s school.

-Name your price (or try to anyway). Sites like and allow you to negotiate on the price. My dad’s best vacation memory was time he paid only $32 a day to drive a red convertible. (Note: he did not follow the first tip!)

-Flash your membership card. You probably already belong to an organization with rental car benefits. AAA, Union Privilege, and AARP are just a few examples of organizations whose members enjoy rental car discounts.

-Join their club. Many rental car companies have their own loyalty programs with discounts for frequent renters. If it is free to sign up, you’ve got nothing to lose.

-Don’t pay for add-ons you don’t need. When you rent a car, you will be offered insurance products. Before you agree to pay more, check to see if your existing car insurance policy covers the rental.

-Know the cost of convenience. Try to avoid renting at the airport; most airports charge convenience fees and many add rental taxes in addition to sales tax. If you have a child who needs a car seat, bring it (‘it’ meaning the car seat) along. And don’t forget to fill up the gas tank at the end of your trip to avoid facing high refueling charges.

Finally, don’t forget to look into alternatives. Research other methods of transportation including traveling by bike, bus, hotel shuttle, or taxi.


Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.