How to cheap out on car rental?
March 5, 2009 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Looking to find a way to save money renting a car, with a few wrinkles...

Boyfriend and I are wanting to rent a car to go from Oregon to Michigan, one way, over the course of 2 days. He'll be driving the car, and he's not 25 yet, so we know there'll be an "underaged driver" surcharge. But while comparing rates online, it's obvious that otherwise identical service (unlimited mileage, same car, etc.) is crazy less expensive for a round trip rental than a one way, to the tune of over $100/day difference. (Example: Hertz economy car renting at $30/day if dropped off at the same location vs $140/day dropped off at another location).

Reading some previous AskMeFi questions, it seems some people go the route of renting round trip but dropping it off and saying the trip was cut short, much like buying round trip and only using it as one-way makes for cheaper travel in other areas. Are we just asking to have ourselves surprised by extra fees when we drop off the car if we try that? What other options do we have to make this cheaper than $140/day + surcharges?
posted by asciident to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
You're going to get dinged with huge surcharges and fees if you go the route you're suggesting. And for a two-day trip, it could easily break even. If you were talking about a 5 or 7 day trip, it might make more sense to take the ding.
posted by Netzapper at 12:26 AM on March 5, 2009

Also, I just wanted to point out that you're not talking about "identical service". Especially if you're taking the car from a "destination" (Portland) to someplace with little to no rental car market (Flint). You're taking a valuable resource from someplace where it's needed and been allocated to someplace where it isn't needed. They're going to have to spend money rebalancing the distribution.

When I was in a similar situation (needing to do one-way), I managed to get it done at a much cheaper rate by changing my destination city. Instead of taking the car to St. Louis where they didn't want it, I took it to Kansas City where they did. I didn't get the local rate, but I got a much cheaper one. So, you could call up the local rental place and negotiate with them instead of trying to get a web deal.

If he's a good driver, one approach might be to rent a truck instead of a car. Penske just quoted me $600 for their smallest truck from Portland to Lansing. I guess that's more expensive than the $350 you're probably looking at for a car, plus it's more in gas (or diesel).

I was about to offer you a ride for $150 + gas, since I'm in need of a roadtrip... but, a trip to Michigan would be the end of my tires. I need them to last another couple months. Sorry. (Although, if you wanted to give me $400 for tires + gas, I'd be glad to drive you there.)
posted by Netzapper at 12:39 AM on March 5, 2009

A quick note about renting a truck: mileage is generally not unlimited. (I see now that Penske is the exception to the rule.)
posted by thejoshu at 5:45 AM on March 5, 2009

I would try calling the individual car rental places, or if it's convenient maybe even stop by a local one. I can't cite exactly where I've heard this, although I know I've heard it several times - apparently the individual branches have a bunch of latitude re: what they charge you. So it might be worth a shot calling up a bunch of places and trying to negotiate a better rate.

I would be afraid to risk renting the round trip but dropping it off in Michigan - I'd rather have a known $140 a day charge over god-knows-what-they-can-tack-on-to-send-a-car-back-to-oregon.
posted by KAS at 8:20 AM on March 5, 2009

I had the same underage problem - $27 underage fee is extortion. I signed up for the Hertz Gold Club membership and it got my underage fee waived :) The membership is complimentary.
posted by bbyboi at 3:30 PM on March 5, 2009

Consider Craigslist or another service to see if there is someone who needs a car returned to Michigan. Maybe moving companies would know.

Or take the train and forget driving.
posted by yclipse at 6:47 PM on March 5, 2009

I did a one-way trip from Charleston to New Orleans and got a decent rate through Budget directly from their website (around $200 for a week's rental, I think). although 1) they required me to drop the car off at the original location I had reserved it for - the airport, instead of a location closer to New Orleans downtown, and 2) the lady at the airport spent almost 20 minutes actually getting my rate down to what it was 'supposed' to be (I had used a random coupon code I found online which clearly gave me a price far under their normal rates, but had managed to get the proper documentation for that quote from the pickup location). Look for coupon codes and try various pickup and dropoff points. Netzapper is correct; you will get widely different prices depending on what your endpoints are -- I've found those can vary even from location to location in the same city. Make sure you take printouts of the quote you get and keep all the papers you receive when you sign up for the car. Also keep in mind that rental insurance isn't included in quotes (at least those I've seen) and adds a HUGE amount to the daily costs, either plan for this or make sure you're covered elsewhere.

If you're restricted to one or two car rental agencies by virtue of the driver's age, you may have more trouble finding good rates.
posted by ragaskar at 4:49 AM on March 13, 2009

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