When Is the Best Time to Rent a Car? Answered

Rental car key on a car-shaped keychain

Renting a vehicle can be costly. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can save money on car rentals, including timing it right. Yes, there are better times to rent a car to snag the best deals and the best selection.

Below, we’ll take a look at the best times to rent a car, as well as tips on how you can get great deals at your favorite car rental company.

When Is the Best Time to Rent a Car?

Whether you’re looking for a good deal or a great selection, here are the best times to reserve your next car rental.

For the Best Deal

We’ve found a number of time frames that will help you decide how and when to book car rentals for the cheapest prices.

  • Two weeks in advance: Data from travel agency site Kayak.com found that in most areas, you can save the most money on car rentals by reserving two weeks in advance. There are a few exceptions to the two-week rule:
    • Two to three weeks in advance: Best times for Miami, FL; New York, NY; and Seattle, WA
    • Three weeks in advance: Best times for Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco, CA; and Washington, DC
    • Last minute: Best time for Los Angeles, CA
  • Weekends: We called a number of major car rental companies to compare daily rates and found that weekend car rental rates are typically much lower than weekday rates. At major car rental companies, compact and midsize car rentals that range from $50 to $75 daily during the week generally drop to average rates of $20 to $30 on the weekends. Some companies offer even more deeply discounted weekend rates. For example, Enterprise Rent-A-Car has an ongoing weekend rental car special starting at $9.99 per day when you rent a car from Friday through Monday.
  • Saturdays: According to CBS News, Saturday is the best day to rent a car because of the high rate of people who reserve a rental car for Saturday and don’t show up to claim it. If you reserve the cheapest car at the lowest rate for Saturday and actually show up, you’ll have better than normal chance of getting a deal or a free upgrade.

By most people’s definition, these are the best time to rent a car — because you can get one for the lowest price.

For the Best Selection

Finding the right rental car is always dependent on the availability of vehicles at the rental agency.

For the best selection to choose from:

  • Rent early in the day (for airport car rentals). If you’re flying and need to rent a car at the airport, you’ll find the best selection available with early flight arrival times. We called a number of major car rental company’s airport locations, and customer service representatives recommended that arriving before noon ensures the most popular car rental models will typically be available at the best daily rates.
  • Make your reservation in advance. There’ll be a wider selection of cars available if you book your car rental ahead of time. In most cases, you should try to reserve a car rental at least two weeks in advance for both the best price and the best selection.

Keep in mind that if you arrive late for your reserved time, the car rental company may rent your reserved vehicle to someone else, and you may have to select a different model. Most companies will only hold a vehicle for a limited amount of time after your scheduled pickup time.

For example, Hertz Rent a Car’s late arrival policy states that reserved vehicles will be held for two hours after the pickup time at airport and railway station locations, and one hour after the pickup time for non-airport/railway station locations.

Tips for Getting the Best Deal

No matter when you need to reserve a rental car, there are a few things you can do to get the best rates possible:

Avoid Airport Rental Locations (If Possible)

According to Time magazine, you can get the best car rental deals by avoiding airport rentals. This is not only because of the captive-audience mentality that often results in higher rates (since many people flying into an airport need to rent a car and often won’t look further than the nearest rental counter), but also due to the additional taxes and fees that airport car rental companies tack onto the higher rates.

To save money, try booking your car rental from a location near the airport or from a neighborhood location. It’s often cheaper to take a taxi or a rideshare like Uber or Lyft from the airport to the closest non-airport car rental place and rent the car there.

Reserve Directly from the Rental Company’s Website

Booking a rental directly from the car rental company’s website is typically cheaper than booking through popular travel discount sites like Priceline, TripAdvisor, and Orbitz.

We researched major car rental websites for comparison and found that the cheapest rates shown on travel discount sites are also available directly from the car rental company — either as the current daily rate or as a special advertised on the website. You also find additional coupons and discount codes on company website home pages.

Call a Specific Rental Location Directly

According to CBS News, you’ll get the best rates on car rentals by calling the location you’re renting from. This is because many car rental companies are franchise-based businesses, and each franchise will have its own rates, deals, and discounts.

Join Car Rental Reward Clubs

Like many other types of businesses, major car rental companies typically have reward programs that offer discounts for members. Here’s the list of car rental reward programs and clubs you can join for free to save money on car rentals:

  • Alamo Insiders: Offers 5% off all car rental rates and deals on daily rates.
  • Avis Preferred: Earn Avis Preferred points with every purchase to use toward rentals, upgrades, and accessories.
  • Budget Fastbreak: Receive exclusive member deals and skip the line at the rental counter.
  • Dollar Express Renter Rewards: Earn Renter Reward points with every purchase to use toward free car rentals and receive VIP counter service.
  • Enterprise Plus: Earn points toward free car rentals.
  • Hertz Gold Rewards Plus: Earn points toward free car rentals, fuel, and optional service charges, and skip the counter lines at Hertz rental locations.
  • National Emerald Club: Earn free rental days, skip the rental counter, rent any available car from the Emerald Club Aisle, and more.

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