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Getting the Best Deal on Car Rentals: So Many Options!

A few months ago, I shared my plans to visit the New York area in October of this year. The flights and hotel rooms are all set, so the only missing piece of the puzzle is car (or van) rental. I didn’t reserve it right away and frankly, forgot about it until recently. Well, the price has actually gone up since then. Always reserve a car right away as long as there is no penalty to cancel. I still ended up getting a decent price, so let me walk you through the process.

Getting the Best Deal on Car Rentals

I don’t rent cars very often, but when I need one, I check Kayak.com first, in order to get a general idea. This was the best deal on minivans for three nights, rented from and returned to Newark airport:

If you happen to have a decent stash of Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You points, definitely check their reward sites. Very often, you’ll get the best deal through those respective portals. I actually looked at UR portal right after I booked the flights, and I could have reserved a van for $200 all-in, or 13,500 Ultimate Rewards points via Chase Sapphire Reserve.

However, I didn’t want to lock my points into a car rental that I had to cancel three days prior in order to receive a full refund. Plus, I didn’t like the idea of prepaying it ahead of time. So I didn’t pull the trigger. Well, maybe I should have because the price has gone up by $100:


So, at this point, Kayak was actually a better option. Plus, it didn’t require a prepayment.

Other options

Using miles

You may be surprised, but if you happen to have a co-branded AAdvantage credit card (either Barclay or Citi), you might want to consider burning your AA miles. I do recommend this option only if you are certain that you won’t be canceling your reservation.

But take a look at the rate for three days:

Yes, it’s 19,600 miles TOTAL for three days, but the fine print says you may have to pay additional taxes:

Still, that’s not bad at all considering the fact that other portals are charging close to $300. You will only get this rate if you have a co-branded AA credit card. Otherwise it’s 44,000 miles for the same exact time period. Be aware, the name of the primary driver will be the owner of the mileage account. There is no way to change it.

I sure don’t want to drive around New Jersey, so I’ll have to come up with another plan. I might call Budget and see if they can change the name at no cost, but according to T and C, it’s not really an option.

A reminder: the sign-up bonus on Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard (personal and business versions) is currently increased to 60K miles. Both offers pay us referral if you choose to apply through the site.

Priceline

Another possibility is bidding on Priceline.com. I’ve never reserved a car via Priceline before, but a lot of people swear by this method. We don’t really care which company will end up renting to us, just the car class. The reservation will once again be non-refundable, so I would only consider doing it when the trip is right around the corner.

Turo

This is an interesting option, but it wasn’t a good one in our particular case. Turo service is an innovative concept because you are dealing directly with individuals. Unfortunately, if you want the driver to pick you up at the airport, you will usually pay a surcharge, which can be as high as $100. So, it may negate any potential savings. In our case, we would end up paying close to $300, so might as well go through a reputable car rental company.

AutoSlash for the win (for now)

I’ve seen many people rave about AutoSlash, including my reader Audrey. I haven’t tried it personally because like I said, we don’t rent cars often. I think it’s been at least three years since I’ve done it last time. Anyway, it is a pretty cool (and free!) website. You put in your information and what type of memberships you have (AAA etc,) and AutoSlash finds you the best rate.

In my case, it was $246, only $6 more than what I’ve originally found. I’ll take it. I didn’t have to prepay the reservation. So, if I find a better price or even decide to burn AA miles, I can always cancel it without penalty. I like the fact that AutoSlash will track your reservation and re-book it for you if the price drops. How cool is that? So, I went ahead and signed up for it because it’s free. Free!

Covering your car rental via credit card sign-up bonus

Car rental transaction codes as a travel purchase, so you have many options to cover the expense. The most logical choices are Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard and Capital One Venture Rewards. You simply charge the car rental to your card, and then request the credit online. Note that the transaction has to be at least $100 on the former card in order to be eligible for reimbursement.

As I’ve mentioned earlier in the post, you can also redeem your flexible points, such as Ultimate Rewards. If you happen to have Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll get 1.5 cents per point. You will get 1.25 cents with cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Preferred Business card. You can also use Citi Thank You points if you have Citi Thank You Premier card and get 1.25 cents per point toward rental. But do compare the rates with other websites first. You can read about all the mentioned cards and respective sign-up bonuses here.

Bottom line

When it comes to car rentals, there are many options. Which one you end up choosing will depend on what type of points/miles you have and how much flexibility you are comfortable with. If you are busy (and who isn’t these days?), just go through Autoslash and be done with it. They’ll do all the work for you and get you the best rate available. Plus, you can always cancel if one of your kids gets sick all of a sudden.

P.S. You should also check and see if your current credit cards offers extra perks or top-tier status with car rental companies. Here is a comment from reader Natasha:

We just rented a car from Hertz where you get automatic gold status if you are an AMEX Platinum member. The platinum card gives you a 4 hour grace period for free. I booked a rental for Monday 9:00am to Wednesday 1:00pm and didn’t have to pay anything for the extra 4 hours.”

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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16 thoughts on “Getting the Best Deal on Car Rentals: So Many Options!

  1. We need a car for our trip to the Canadian Rockies next year. Calgary is 2 hours away from Lake Louise. I booked Budget from Calgary airport as soon as dates came out in April. It appears that rates have already jumped 10 months out. I also used autoslash but budget’s direct rates so far have it beat. I like your advice to book early.

    We just rented a car from Hertz where you get automatic gold status if you are an AMEX platinum member. The platinum card gives you a 4 hour grace period for free. I booked a rental for Monday 9:00am to Wednesday 1:00pm and didn’t have to pay anything for the extra 4 hours. Perhaps a perk you may want to discuss with your readers.

    • @Natasha It definitely doesn’t hurt to book early, especially if there is no penalty to cancel. Oh, and thanks for reminding me of the Hertz perk via Amex Platinum card. Definitely a nice thing if you need those 4 extra hours. I will update the post.

  2. I usually ended up using credit card points – last year I used Citi TY points and this year I will use Wells Fargo Propel points. Assuming its 1 cent per point, Wells Fargo is count out about $25 cheaper then every other site.

    • @HML I usually try to burn credit card points as well. That’s actually what I did last time, if memory serves me correctly. But it pays to check various options. Perhaps it was a mistake not to take advantage of UR portal when the rate was only $200 all-in. Oh well! You win some, you lose some.

  3. Nice article…had no idea about the AAdvantage miles, but I may be using Autoslash for our NYC trip. Costco has been the cheapest for us so far (before I knew about Autoslash) and they allow 1 free driver, unlimited miles, etc. and they let you cancel and rebook if the price goes down. They key is definitely to book early a refundable rate because I have found lower prices at odd times during the year…but the closer to the trip you get, the higher it goes. My rental car in Maui is now going for $400 (good thing I got it for $191).

  4. We usually use costco, and often there are insanely good rates (even in NYC) and autoslash generally works with costco as well.

    As far as AA goes, if you don’t have citi/barclays AA cards, is there a way to see what price you’d get if you had one of those cards? What site are you using for that — UseAA?

    • @Joe Yep, Autoslash has a place to add memberships, including Costco. Really nice website, I’m impressed.
      On AA miles, I wrote a post describing using AA miles on hotels. The same principle applies to car rentals: https://milesforfamily.com/2016/01/04/was-i-crazy-to-use-aadvantage-miles-on-hotel-redemption/
      Basically, the price is displayed for general public first, but when you log in as a cardmember, it’s much lower. In my case, it was 44,000 miles vs. 19,000 miles. Huge difference. The only thing I’m not certain on is taxes. But I can’t imagine for three days it’s more than $50 max. I’m just not sure since I’ve never used miles this way. But I might, and it will be a good research opportunity for my blog.

    • @Joe At the top right hand corner, you’ll see “elite members receive exclusive discounts” and “Login” next to it. It also includes those who have co-branded cards. Fill out your information and the system will recognize you as a cardholder. Let me know if it works.

  5. Thanks for the article! I’ll look at autoslash (and Costco too), but I will prob try to do Priceline again (after keeping backup reservation.)know Thest two trips it booked us on hertz and was waaaaay cheaper.

    • @Megan Glad you found it beneficial! There are a ton of options, for sure. I mentioned a few of them, but he list is not comprehensive by any means.
      I’m tempted to give Priceline a try, but using AA miles is also a decent option. As long as I don’t have to cough up “real” cash, I’m good. Decisions, decisions…

    • @Uri I’m sorry for the late reply! I’ve been in Europe over the last few weeks, and things have been very hectic. To be honest, I try to avoid renting cars in Europe so not to add stress to our trips. My SIL likes to do it, though. For the most part, I imagine that the same principles apply. Overall, AutoSlash seems to offer decent rates, but check individual websites as well. If you can drive stick, you should get good selection of prices. Automatic option is usually tough to get, and runs on a high side due to limited supply.

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