Thinking of a road trip for the upcoming long weekend? Here’s all you need to know about renting cars to have a stress-free holiday.
For those of us with a driving licence, there’s nothing quite like a road trip vacation. Ditch the hustle of the airport and the rigid timetables of the train station – when you’re behind the wheel, you have the freedom to chart your own course.
Of course, you’ll need a car. This, unfortunately, is where a lot of people end up spending too much for too little.
But not you! In this post, we’re going to learn some way of saving big on rental cars, no matter where the road takes you.
Tip 1: Start searching with Autoslash (and use it to monitor price drops)
Given how many different coupons and rates there are out there, finding the best price on a rental car can feel like trial and error. Instead of wasting time running the permutations yourself, why not use a free service like Autoslash?
Autoslash looks at thousands of coupons and members’ rates to find the best deal on rental cars. You just need to provide it with your travel details and any memberships you hold (keep in mind that simply having a Visa/Mastercard or being part of KrisFlyer may already entitle you to special rates); the platform does the rest.
Rates for rental cars, like hotel rooms, constantly change based on inventory and demand. The good news is that almost all rental car bookings are fully refundable (many reservations don’t even require a credit card number), so there’s nothing stopping you from rebooking when prices drop. What’s more, Autoslash will automatically monitor your booking and alert you when it finds something cheaper.
Tip 2: Try Hotwire if you’re not fussy about brand
If you just need four wheels and aren’t particularly fussy about where you rent from, try an OTA (online travel agency) called Hotwire.
Hotwire operates what’s known as an “opaque” model, where the name of the vendor is hidden and only revealed after your (nonrefundable) payment is made.
In the example below, Hotwire is quoting US$21 a day for a standard-sized rental car for a week-long rental at San Francisco airport. Your actual car could be from Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty, National, Enterprise, Alamo or Sixt — all major, reputable rental agencies.
Upon payment, you’ll receive the full details of your rental. Do keep in mind that booking through Hotwire means you lose all flexibility to cancel, so make sure your travel plans are locked in and that the non-refundable rate represents a significant savings over what Autoslash (see previous section) offers.
Tip 3: Save on one-way rentals with Transfercar and iMoova
Whether it’s San Francisco to Los Angeles via the Pacific Coast Highway, or Melbourne to Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road, some of the best scenic drives in the world are better done as one-way trips. But one-way rentals are notoriously expensive, as rental companies often tack on an additional “drop fee”.
Take the rental below from Seattle to San Francisco, for example. The base rate for a week is reasonable enough for an SUV, at around US$630. But that nasty drop fee of US$450 adds 70% to your total cost!
Fortunately, there’s a much cheaper way of getting a one-way rental. Rental companies may sometimes need to relocate inventory from one place to another. Instead of hiring an expensive transport company, why not get someone to do it for free?
That’s the idea behind platforms like TransferCar and iMoova, which cover the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Not only will they rent a car or campervan to you for almost nothing (often free, or a nominal fee of $1-5 per day), they’ll even cover part of your petrol costs. In return, you’ll drive the vehicle safely from one point to another within a pre-agreed period of time.
Some sample routings are shown below. Note how the company gives you a certain number of free days, which in its estimation are sufficient to get the vehicle from Point A to B. You can add on additional days if you wish for a fee, although this many not always be possible.
These rentals will also include a certain amount of free mileage, and again you’ll have the option to add on additional miles for a fee.
You’ll need to have some flexibility in your travel plans, as these listings generally go up 2-3 weeks before the vehicles need to be relocated. Moreover, you may not be able to find the exact city pairing you’re looking for. However, it’s still a great way to snag an almost free one-way car rental, and is definitely worth checking out.
Tip 4: Try Turo, a P2P car sharing solution
What Airbnb is to hotels, Turo is to rental car companies — a disruptive startup that allows car owners to make additional money renting their cars to third parties.
What’s great about Turo is that you can get exciting vehicles like Ford Mustangs, BMW 3 series and MINI Coopers, often for the same price you’d pay a traditional rental car company for a boring old Toyota Corolla or Hyundai Avante.
Turo works very much the same as Airbnb, with community reviews and inspections to ensure a safe renting environment. I’ve personally had many excellent experiences with the platform, which is currently available for rentals in the USA, Canada, Germany, and the UK.
Do note that your travel insurance may not cover P2P rentals (since the model is so new, many policies only cover rentals from a “licensed car rental business”). Turo offers its own insurance coverage starting from 15% of the trip price, so be sure to get yourself adequately covered.
Knowing how to find cheaper (and better) car rentals can free up more cash for your road trip, and with the tips in this post, you’ll be well-placed for your adventure. Remember to respect the rules of the road overseas, and drive defensively!
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By Aaron Wong
Aaron started The MileLion to help people travel better for less and impress “chiobu”. He was 50% successful. This is his story.