Cross-country rental car help, please!
July 1, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Cross-country rental car help, please!

In a couple of weeks, we are flying from Boston to San Francisco for a wedding. After the wedding, we will be driving cross country to the Midwest, with as many stops at national parks as we can fit into a nine-day drive. This means that taking buses or trains for transportation will not work and we will be renting a car in California and dropping it off in Iowa.

After looking up rental cars online (kayak, expedia, the rental sites themselves), it appears that it will cost us over $200/day plus gas to rent a car which will cost at least $1,800. This seems absurdly expensive. Does the hivemind have any suggestions or alternatives for us to consider to reduce the amount we will spend on a rental car?
posted by lolalivia to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
One-way rentals are stupid expensive in the US. The one time I had to do this I actually decided to just save money and lose time and do a round-trip rental instead [that's right, driving the car across the country AND BACK] and saved a ton of money. I know this sort of sucks for a whole bunch of logistical reasons but often you can get sort of crazy deals [and look at renting from places that are not right at the airport or right in the city and sometimes you can save money on taxes]. Other options include asking your city friends for a one-month rental from them and offering them some serious cash and/or looking on Craigslist for the same thing. Alternately having someone you trust drive the car back from Iowa. Rentals make me sort of nervous and I don't know how I would personally feel about this, but I did want to let you know that yeah this sort of thing is a problem and in a few decades of doing this sort of travelling, I have not come up with a better solution.

There are a few driveaway companies that might give you a car for something like this BUT they are usually all about getting the car delivered fairly quickly and would not be very good for this sort of trip.
posted by jessamyn at 8:28 AM on July 1, 2010

I took a quick look at Budget and got prices ranging from $825 to $1100 for a nine day, one-way rental from San Francisco to Iowa City in mid-July. Avis is in the $1100-1200 range, and Alamo is definitely in the $1800-2000 range.

This is the sort of thing for which it makes sense to book your rental with your flight, as there are package deals for this sort of thing. But this is going to cost you in excess of $100 a day. I just don't see a way around that. One-way rentals are more expensive than return trips, as they involve more work and dead-heading for the company.
posted by valkyryn at 8:32 AM on July 1, 2010

2nding Budget. Skip Orbitz & the like and look at car rental sites directly. I needed an SUV to move furniture from Vegas to St. Paul last year, & had the same problem. Ended up paying around $1000 for a week. The other problem you are running into is the length of your trip: most places will offer a weekly rate that's slightly better than the daily rate x 7. Given that you are planning on a 9-day trip, you might need to accept that there will be a premium for an odd number of days on the road...
posted by East Siberian patchbelly wrangler at 9:06 AM on July 1, 2010

Yeah, you need to hit each car rental site individually and not through an aggregator. You need to look for their current one-way specials, which are driven by "Hmmm, we have too many cars in X and we need to get them to Y". Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that one of those routes will be California to Iowa. That said, look for deals, coupons, specials, discounts. Google [name of car company] and [discount code]. You will have to be very aggressive to get a one-way rental from CA to IA at a reasonable price. To make things worse, less people are renting cars, because less people are traveling, thus making one way rentals even less attractive. I couldn't get anything from Phoenix to LA for July that was acceptable and finally gave up and booked a plane.

Perhaps give up trying to drive from CA, and instead fly into somewhere like SLC and then hitting the national parks in a radius, returning to SLC and flying home? Mr. M.'s family did that eons ago. Find somewhere you can use as a hub to hit the national parks?
posted by micawber at 9:46 AM on July 1, 2010

If you are comfortable with buying and selling used cars why not do that? Peruse the local craigs list for a nice used car in san francisco, that is in demand where you live (the california cars will be rust free...) buy it, drive it back, then sell it for about what you paid (check local craigslist to make sure of the price before you buy one). If the cars are selling for the about what you paid for it, you get a car for free. I have bought lots of used cars that I wouldn't hesitate to drive across country, however if you are not a car guy this probably isn't the best idea for you.
posted by bartonlong at 9:50 AM on July 1, 2010

« Older How bad is the crime in Albany, NY (really)?   |   Digital photo frame that saves 'touched' pictures? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.