Reserve now and shop opaque later
Travelers looking to get the best deals on car rentals should find a great, refundable rate now and reserve it. As you get closer to your travel date, check sites like Hotwire (or mobile apps like Hotwire’s free iPhone app) to see if any last-minute, discounted rates have become available. Car rental agencies often use sites like Hotwire to rent out cars at incredibly low prices the closer you get to your travel dates – as little as $11.95 a day. So, if you find that great last-minute deal, you can cancel your original reservation (which is typically free to do) and book the discounted rate instead.
Related: How To Find Last-Minute Hotel Deals
Check out off-airport rental locations
Many of our car rental partners are expanding their off-airport presence, which means there are now more fantastic deals available with lower taxes and fees. Airport fees and taxes in some locations can really drive up the final price of your car rental, so it’s best to shop both on and off-airport locations in order to see where the low prices really are when you total up the costs.
Consider smaller agencies that have more flexibility with pricing
By searching on car aggregator sites like CarRentals.com, you not only see the prices of the bigger agencies, but you also get results from smaller companies such as Sixt, Advantage, ACE, USave and Payless. Going with smaller companies can net big savings because they have to be more competitive with prices to draw business away from the big guys.
Consider your booking dates
Travelers should choose their hotel and air travel dates wisely in order to get the best deals and the same rule applies to car rentals. If you book your trip over the weekend or extend your vacation to be at least seven days, you will be able to save more. Rental agencies give preferred pricing over weekends and for longer rentals.
When possible, reserve a smaller car
Even if you’d like a mid- or full-sized car, book the economy option. You’ll naturally save money with the economy or compact option as they are priced lower per day and save you on gas. Plus, since these options tend to book up the quickest, and many agencies do not have enough cars for the demand, the agency will give you an upgraded vehicle without any additional cost.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.