How to save big money on your rental car this summer

Driving is expensive any day.

But renting a car makes those costs even higher, with a weeklong SUV rental coming close to $1,000 in popular vacation spots.

It’s one of many things making travel costs add up quickly, even when you choose to drive instead of fly, like Holly Palello.

“You drive instead of flying to save the money but then you spend it on the overnight accommodations,” she said.

Gas prices aren’t exactly helping, either, with prices near their 2024 highs right now.

“I’m not happy with high gas prices, but you gotta pay it,” one driver said.

MORE: The 2nd half of 2024 might be a good time to buy a car

How to trim your rental car costs

One way to trim your travel budget is to strategically choose a rental car, rather than simply visiting the website of a major car rental firm and choosing your dates.

Skyscanner’s Laura Lindsay said unlike a flight, where you book months in advance, it pays to wait until about two weeks before your trip to rent a car.

“The prices tend to drop much, much closer to your departure date,” she said.

In addition, she said pushing your pick-up time just 60 minutes after your flight arrives often means lower prices, especially during peak travel times.

“It means that you’re grabbing a coffee while the queues die down, and then you pick up your car and go straight on your holiday,” and at a lower price, she said.

One reason waiting works now is that the rental car shortages of 2021 and 2022 are long over, meaning renters have more bargaining power.

If you like having your trip all planned well in advance, and want to book early, Lindsay suggests you book a rental car with free cancellation. Then check for price drops, and cancel and rebook if you find a better deal.

“If you can see a price, which is much cheaper, cancel the original booking and take a new booking,” Lindsay said. “That might save you hundreds of dollars.”

She said you should compare rental companies and also check third-party travel sites to save up to 30 percent off.

MORE: Avoid these 5 hidden travel costs to save money on your next trip

In addition, ask yourself whether you really need a rental for your entire trip or just a few days. Why spend $75 a day to have your rental car just sitting outside your condo?

And if possible, avoid renting from airports that tack on extra fees, and where cars are in high demand.

“It can quite often be cheaper to pick up from a city center location than an airport,” she said. “Because airports are where the demand is.”

Supply and prices returning to normal

The good news: Lindsay said the supply of rental cars is back to pre-pandemic norms. That means rentals aren’t quite as expensive as the past few years.

Rental car prices are down nearly 9 percent compared with a year ago, according to the latest government inflation data. This is good news for summer travelers, so you don’t waste your money.


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This article originally appeared on WCPO, Scripps News Cincinnati.

About the Author
John Matarese

John's goal is to help as many TV viewers as possible save money, avoid bad deals, know a rip-off when one comes their way, and be educated consumers. His informative weekly consumer segment "Don't Waste Your Money" now airs on 45 TV stations from San Diego to Tampa to Houston and Cincinnati. More.


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