The automotive industry was hit hard by supply chain issues in the last few years, which made new cars more expensive for buyers. But the average Joe wasn’t the only one impacted by that sticker shock — so were rental car companies looking to expand their fleets. Unfortunately, they passed those higher prices on to you in the form of higher car rental fees.
The AAA Discounts & Rewards® program helps members save thousands of dollars when they travel, including on rental car fees. Below you’ll find the 13 cheapest ways to rent a car so you can save your travel money for the fun stuff.
1. Use Your AAA Membership
If you have a valid AAA membership, you can qualify for special rental car rates through our travel discount partners:
- Hertz: Save up to 20 percent on your base rental rate, plus qualify for exclusive promotions and benefits.
- Thrifty Car Rental: Save 8 percent on your car rental and 10 percent on GPS navigation systems, and get exclusive benefits.
- Dollar Car Rental: Qualify for 10 percent off your car rental and GPS navigation system, and save even more with exclusive benefits.
2. Compare Your Options Before You Buy
When booking a rental car, you can either book it directly through the company or an aggregator site like Priceline or Booking.com. While comparing prices using an aggregator site might be easier, always check the rental company’s website directly. They may be offering a more significant discount (especially if you also do a quick Google search for coupon codes), and aggregator sites may charge additional service fees.
3. Never Pick Up Your Car at the Airport
When you arrive in a new city via airplane, you will need transportation to your final destination in the city. Your options are limited, and rental car companies know it. So while picking up a rental car at the airport is convenient, companies will take advantage of your limited options by charging extra fees or a slightly higher rental rate than if you picked your car up at a rental facility off-site.
Instead, get a rideshare or take public transportation to a rental car facility. You’ll save money if the rideshare is cheaper than the extra fees you’d pay at the airport rental facility.
4. Drive Stick (If You Can)
Driving a stick shift is becoming a lost art. Depending on where you are, you may be able to rent a car with a manual transmission for cheaper than renting an automatic one. However, as rental car companies replace manual transmission fleet cars with automatic transmissions, requesting a stick shift may actually cost you more because it's seen as an upscale amenity for a sports car. Check with the rental company to be sure.
5. Use Your Own Insurance
Many insurance companies will cover you even if you’re driving a rental car, but most car rental agreements include additional insurance through the rental company. As long as you can prove you have your own auto insurance, you can decline the rental company’s insurance. Some credit cards also offer rental car insurance if you pay for your rental with the card.
6. Rent by the Week Instead of by Day
Just like renting a hotel by the week costs you less per day than a single-night rental, renting a car by the week may be cheaper than for a few days. If you’re renting a car for five days, but renting for a full week is cheaper, go ahead and opt for the weeklong rental. As long as the company doesn’t charge you a fee for early returns, you’ll save money in the long run.
7. Go Economy
Sometimes the type of car you rent adds to the experience. Renting a convertible definitely makes a girls’ trip to the beach more fun than driving a four-door sedan.
While renting a car with all the bells and whistles is nice, you’ll pay more for the experience. If you’re looking to save money, always go with the smallest, simplest car that fits your needs. An economy car averages $77.70 per day, $50 below the average car rental price of $128.56, while an SUV averages $172.49 a day.
Skip the Extras (And Their Fees)
When finalizing your rental car, you can select various upgrades, which are convenient but pricey.
- Car seats: While traveling with a car seat can be a challenge, especially if you’re flying for part of your trip, bringing it with you can be cheaper than renting one from the car rental company.
- Toll pass: Rental car companies in areas with highway tolls offer vehicles with toll passes so you can bypass the toll booth. However, the daily fees often add up to more than if you paid the toll yourself.
- GPS: No one likes driving around an unfamiliar area without knowing where they're going. Fortunately, you carry a GPS in your pocket with your cell phone, so there’s no need to purchase a GPS service for your rental car. Just remember to pack a charger and a mount so you don’t get a ticket in any hands-free states.
- Frequent flyer miles: Many car rental companies advertise the chance to earn frequent flyer miles when renting from them. However, many often charge a daily fee for this opportunity. Unless you are getting a significant amount of miles from the rental, skipping it might be a more economical option.
- Roadside assistance: Getting stranded on the side of the road is always a scary experience, especially if you’re somewhere unfamiliar. While rental car companies offer roadside assistance upgrades, you may already have it as part of your personal insurance policy, AAA membership or credit card.
9. Fill up the Tank
Most rental car companies require you to return the car with a full gas tank. If you don’t, they’ll fill it up for you on-site and charge you more than you’d pay at a gas station. To avoid their surcharge, fill up the tank at a gas station before you return it.
For added savings, consider buying prepaid gas cards or discounted gift cards, or using the fuel rewards feature from your local supermarket.
10. Have Only One Driver
Rental car companies frequently add additional daily fees averaging about $10 for extra drivers. Sometimes they’ll waive that fee for a spouse (make sure your addresses match on your driver’s licenses) or if you join their loyalty program.
If you can safely get by with one driver, do it and save a few bucks. However, if you are driving long distances, the benefit of having two or more drivers outweighs saving the daily fee.
11. Use a Peer-to-Peer or Car Sharing Service
Services like Turo or Zipcar allow you to rent a car from a private person, just like renting a vacation home through Airbnb or Vrbo. They offer more flexibility than a traditional car rental company, since you can rent a car for a few hours as opposed to a full day.
12. Explore Alternative Rental Options
Think outside the box when you look for car rental companies. Most car dealerships will rent cars for lower rates than a traditional rental car company. Home improvement stores have a fleet of vehicles like pickup trucks that they rent out by the day.
You can also rent a small moving truck instead of a traditional car, but keep in mind that due to their relatively poor gas mileage, a lower rental fee may be outweighed by the cost of gas.
13. Rent During the Week
Generally, renting a car during the week is cheaper than renting a car over a weekend, just like hotel stays. If it fits your schedule, tweak your rental timeline to avoid weekends.
Save Money on Car Rentals With AAA
Sign up for a AAA membership today and discover other ways the AAA Discounts & Rewards program can save you money on more than just rental cars: