The Cheapest Ways to Rent a Car Detailed: Discounts, Rewards, etc

The cheapest way to rent a car will vary depending on when and where you are traveling, what type of vehicle you need, and whether you qualify for any additional discounts. Below, we cover how to find cheap car rentals, how to get rental car discounts, how to save on car rentals using credit cards and personal insurance, and more. (For maximum savings, you can also combine several of these tips together.)

Search on Aggregator Travel Websites

An important step in finding the best car rental deals is being able to compare as many options as possible. Many aggregator travel sites include car rentals, allowing you to compare prices for several cars in one place. These sites check well-known rental car companies like Avis and Hertz, plus lesser-known companies that may offer cheaper rates. Some of the most well-known aggregator sites for car rentals include:

Most of these sites allow users to set price alerts for notification of lower prices. It’s also a good idea to compare the rates you find on aggregator sites with the rates on the rental company websites to be sure you are getting the best price.

To compare the general base rates and other features of major U.S. car companies, see our car rental selection tool.

Check Budget Rental Car Companies

Budget rental companies often offer cheaper rates than large, well-known rental companies. Since they are smaller, these companies may not appear on travel aggregator results; you may want to check their websites separately while planning your rental.

Discounted car rental companies include:

Keep in mind that these companies are usually not located directly onsite at airports. However, they typically provide free shuttles from airport terminals to the rental site. (Generally, it’s more expensive to rent vehicles directly at airport terminals, since rental companies often charge a premium for the convenience.)

Take Advantage of Member Discounts

You may be able to save money on car rentals if you qualify for a discount with an organization you belong to. You can either call the rental company before booking or ask for a list of eligible discounts at the desk to see what you qualify for.

Below are some of the most common programs that can help you get the best deal on a rental car. You can also input many of these discounts, such as AARP, into travel aggregator sites when searching for rentals to factor them into your price comparison.

AARP Member Discounts

AARP members can save up to 30% at Avis or Budget Car Rental and 5% on rentals from Payless Car Rental. They may also qualify for discounts from other car rental companies.

AAA Member Discounts

AAA members save up to 20% off base rates at Hertz. After completing their first paid Gold rental at Hertz, AAA members also receive enrollment bonus points.

Corporate Discounts

Rental car companies sometimes offer discounts for corporate clients (for example, Hertz and Enterprise Rent-A-Car each have corporate discount programs). To find the best price, check directly with the rental company or input the discount into an aggregator site when searching for rentals.

Frequent Flyer Discounts

American Airlines offers discounts at Budget to American Airlines AAdvantage members. In addition, you can earn American Airlines miles on qualifying car rentals, which will ultimately save you money on future travel. Check with your frequent flyer programs to see if you qualify for a rental car discount.

Government Employee and Military Discounts

Car rental companies may offer discounts for government employees or active-duty and veteran military members, whether on business or leisure travel. Some rental companies also offer free upgrades for government employees and the military, including Thrifty Car Rental. For details on the discounts available at specific rental companies, see our research on federal employee and military discounts.

Hotel Loyalty Program Discounts

Marriott Bonvoy offers discounted car rental rates with Hertz. Users who book Hertz rentals through their Marriott Bonvoy accounts can earn 2,000 Marriott points for rentals of two or more days at participating Hertz locations.

IHG Hotel Group has a partnership with Hertz that offers IHG Rewards Club members savings on base rates, along with Rewards Club points for renting with Hertz. It also offers its own car rental rewards program, Cars Anywhere, which allows you to put your IHG Rewards Club points towards car rentals.

Look for Other Coupon and Rewards Programs

There are several programs dedicated to helping you find travel discounts, including coupons and rewards you can use to get deals on rental cars. Discover how to get rental car discounts using the websites and programs below.

AutoSlash

In addition to searching several vendors to compare rental car prices, AutoSlash allows users to search for coupons and discount codes and input their memberships (such as with AAA and AARP) to save more money. You can also use AutoSlash to track rental rates and set alerts to be notified when prices drop.

Costco Travel

Costco members can use Costco Travel to get discounts on car rentals with Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise.

Silvercar by Audi

Silvercar by Audi is a rental website and app that only rents Audi vehicles. It offers first-time customers a 20% discount. Silvercar by Audi offers rental features such as a navigation system, Wi-Fi, Sirius Radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, child car seats, and skiing and surfing racks at no extra cost. Customers can earn points with qualifying rentals and redeem points for future rentals.

Rental Company Rewards Programs

If you’re loyal to a specific car rental program, you can often earn points to redeem for free rentals and other perks:

  • Alamo Rent A Car: The Alamo Insider program is free to join and offers 5% off normally advertised rates.
  • Avis: Avis Preferred allows users to accumulate points with every qualifying dollar spent, which they can use for rentals, upgrades, and accessories, with no blackout dates. Members also receive expedited service at Avis locations.
  • Hertz: Hertz offers the free-to-join Gold Plus Rewards program. Members accumulate one point for every dollar spent and can use points to obtain free rentals and other rewards. Users can progress to the Five-Star Rewards tier and accumulate 1.25 points for every dollar spent. Once users reach the President’s Circle tier, they earn 1.5 points for every dollar spent and qualify for guaranteed upgrades on rentals.

Plan Ahead

To get the best price, it’s a good idea to book your rental significantly in advance. Three to six months is often recommended as a general rule, and it’s a good idea to check prices for any changes over the course of a couple of days if you’re going to a popular destination, according to SIXT’s website.

Use Credit Card Benefits

If you have a credit card or two, check their terms and benefits before you book. You might be able to make your car rental cheaper by taking advantage of built-in travel perks.

Rental Car Insurance

Certain credit cards provide you with rental car insurance when you use your card to book the car. This way, you save money on rental car insurance, which can substantially increase the cost of a rental.

For instance, American Express provides insurance coverage on rental vehicle damage, theft, injury, and personal property damage. Chase Sapphire provides reimbursement for damage due to collision or theft for most rental vehicles (in the United States and abroad).

Paying with Rewards Points

If you’ve saved up points on a rewards card, you can often use them to pay for rental cars. For example, Chase allows cardholders to pay for rental cars using rewards points.

Use a Peer-to-Peer Rental App/Website

Peer-to-peer car rental companies allow you to rent a car from its owner. You can book, modify, and pay for your rental through the app or website and communicate with the owner directly to coordinate pick up and drop off. Two of the most-used peer-to-peer rental companies are:

It is usually cheaper to rent a car using a peer-to-peer rental app or website than to book through a major rental company, regardless of the length of your rental period (for more on how Turo’s prices compare to traditional rental services, see our research on Turo).

Getaround rentals include insurance, with additional protection plans available for about $5 to $10, depending on the coverage level and vehicle type; Turo offers roadside assistance and optional insurance and protection packages. For more information on these peer-to-peer rental companies, see our comparison of Turo and Getaround.

Final Tips: How to Get the Best Car Rental Rates

Once it’s time to finalize your booking, keep the following tips in mind to make sure you are getting the lowest possible rate.

Choose Economy Vehicles

If you don’t need the extra space, the cheapest way to rent a car is to keep it small. Economy and compact cars will generally be your cheapest options when renting.

Rent for a Week or More

Almost all car rental companies offer both short-term and long-term rentals. You can generally save about $6 to $10 per day when renting for a week versus renting for only a couple of days.

Prepay to Save

When you search for a rental car online, you will often see a cheaper rate if you prepay the full amount during booking instead of waiting to pay when you pick up the car. This is usually the cheapest way to rent a car for a week or a month, since the savings compound over a longer rental period. When we searched for rental cars, we found that drivers can save between $30 and $100 by prepaying for weeklong rentals.

Save With Your Personal Auto Insurance

Some auto insurance policies cover rental cars. Check to see whether yours does. If it doesn’t, and you’re a frequent renter, check to see whether it’s cheaper to upgrade your personal insurance than to pay for rental insurance separately.

Watch out for Young Driver Surcharges

Some rental car companies charge a fee if a driver is under 30, and some charge a fee if the driver is under 25. In the course of our research, we found that the average price for renting a car for a week was about $10 to $15 cheaper for a 30+ driver than for someone younger. Our previous research details what companies will rent to drivers under age 25 and lists their young driver fees.

More Information

To prepare for your upcoming trip and car rental, see our previous research on car rental policies: