Renting a vehicle can be a frustrating experience if you have not done it before or do not know where to start looking. Who’s got the best deal? How do I acquire it? How do I know when I should book? Renting can actually be an exciting experience, when you have the King do all the work for you! I have arranged tens of thousands of rentals over the years. In doing so, I have discovered there are a number of key factors that establish car rental pricing.
Car rental prices are based on supply and demand.
The more cars a company has available for your particular dates, the cheaper your rate will be. Likewise, prices will be higher if they have fewer cars available. Booking your rental 3-4 months in advance can be advantageous. The benefit is, you have a locked in rate that more than likely will continue to rise as they book more rentals. Most of the time credit card information is not required to book a rental so should a lower rate present itself, it does not cost you anything to cancel the original rental and move to the lower rate option.
In my experience, the busiest months of the year to book are:
December: By far the busiest month of the year, particularly the last two weeks. This is the busiest time of year to visit Florida and Disney World as well as Hawaii. If choosing to rent during this time period, you should book 5-6 months in advance, especially if you are looking to rent a SUV or Minivan. They are always the first models of vehicles to sell out.
February & March: Second busiest time of year to rent. Peak spring break time in Florida, California and Hawaii. Again, it is best to book 4-5 months in advance of spring break.
June-August: Summer time is the third busiest season of the year. With the kids out of school, Mom and Dad love taking vacations!
There are two places in North America where I suggest booking nearly one year in advance. Anchorage Alaska and St. John’s Newfoundland. These locations are usually only visited in the summer months due to the harsh winter conditions. Vehicles if rented at the last minute can be as much as $1000 a week for a simple compact car. I strongly urge you to book as far ahead as possible to avoid over paying!
In my experience, the least busy months of the year to book are:
January: Right after New Year’s there is a lull in the rental market and prices drop to some of the lowest rates of the year.
April and May (before Memorial Day): After spring break and before the summer rush is a fantastic time to book cars just about anywhere. Deals in the $80-90 per week range are not uncommon.
Late August to November: In the United States, kids head back to school earlier than they do in Canada leaving a gap in the rental market later in August. You will find rates start to decline towards the end of the month and continue somewhat low all through September, October and November. The fall is a great time to visit the southern United States!
One way rentals.
One way travel is typically always more expensive than if you were to drop the car off at the original pick-up location. This is because each individual car rental outlet, regardless of the company is locally owned. That means, once you return the car, the company must pay someone to drive it back to its original place of rental. You have to pay for that! Companies either bury a “drop charge” fee in their price or charge it as a line item on your bill.
Long Term Rentals / Flexibility.
If you are considering renting a car for an extended period of time, I will more than likely present you with the option of renting at the airport (if you are flying) as well as picking up at an in-town location close to the airport. Renting at the airport for an extended period of time adds up because you have to pay airport tax. In my experience, I can save my clients an extra 10-20% by finding rental outlets close to the airport. $20 in cab-fare could save you hundreds. It is also possible to pickup a car in-town and return to the airport without any penalties. This way, you are only inconvenienced with taking a cab once. I may also suggest this type of scenario if I notice weekly airport prices to be unusually high.
Selecting additional options at the counter.
I strongly urge you to do your research on your insurance coverage needs before renting! There are generally 3 ways to cover the vehicles for damage.
1) Your own insurance – you may have extra coverage on your car insurance that covers non-owned vehicles. Check with your insurance broker to understand what you are and are not covered for. The cost may be minimal to add this extra coverage to your insurance policy however, in the event of damages, you would need to file a claim on your insurance policy for a car you do not own
2) Credit Card Coverage – many cards offer a “Loss of Damage” coverage when renting a car. This may be “free” coverage but be aware of your cards limitations on coverage. Some cards don’t cover vehicles over a certain value, or when a rental is parked or glass/tires. Every card is different so do your homework!
3) Damage Waiver option – All car rental companies will offer a per day fee and cover the vehicle for you. Every company is different so ask about what limitations there are and if there is a deductible. This coverage offers usually the best peace of mind while renting however, comes at a higher up front cost.
Other items such as GPS units and car seats run between $65-$100 a rental and in some cases it is cheaper to buy your own units to bring with you!
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