On the hunt for good deals and insider travel tips, I stopped in to my local rental car agency. Here are a few pearls of rental car wisdom the branch manager shared with me. I hope you’ll find them useful next time you rent a car…
**1. Book ahead. Whatever price you’re given when you reserve, that’s the price you’re guaranteed. If the location where you’re renting runs out of smaller cars and has to give you a nicer one, then you still pay the same rate. But if you show up without a reservation and they’re out of small cars, you might have to pay a higher rate.
**2. Reserve the smallest car you’re comfortable driving. Chances are, when you get to the rental car location, you can upgrade to a nicer car for cheaper than you can online, and sometimes even for free. Just ask. It all depends on what they have sitting on the lot. If there aren’t any upgrades available, or you don’t want to pay for one, you’re still in a car that you’re comfortable driving.
**3. Don’t rent at the airport. State taxes, airport taxes, and airport bus fees drive prices up on airport car rentals. Instead, try booking online or by phone with a location close to where you’re staying. Sometimes it’s still cheaper, even after you factor in the price of a taxi or shuttle from the airport to the rental car location.
**4. Call ahead to check the rental agency’s rules and regulations. In many rental car agencies, you can’t rent a car with a debit card unless you have proof of your residence in that area, like a piece of mail addressed to you. Call ahead to make sure you know what you need and you can save yourself an hour or two when you get to the rental location.
**5. Consider “frequent renter” programs. Most agencies have a free program you can join, just like airline frequent flier programs. Signing up can save you loads of time when you get to the rental agency, since they’ll already have your information in their system. Contracts that would otherwise take at least half an hour to fill out will be ready for you to sign in about five minutes. Plus, you can often bypass lines, earn points, get special deals not available to all customers, have access to better vehicles, and more.
**6. Check for weekend sales and specials. Many of the big rental car agencies will offer weekend sales (sometimes even half off) and seasonal specials. Check around online before you reserve.
I also asked the manager what he’d like to tell the public… one thing that people do that he wished they wouldn’t. Without hesitating, he said, “Don’t smoke in the car.” He’s a smoker, himself, he told me, but he won’t smoke in a rental car. “It’s just not fair to the people who rent it after you.”
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]