Best Ways to Rent a Car for the Freelancer on the Go
While you may swear by a certain rental car agency, there really isn’t all that much difference between them. According to JD Power & Associates “In this industry, there really is no 'poor' performer. The rental car experience is the highest-rated part of the entire travel experience. Rental car satisfaction tops hotel, airline, and airport satisfaction." And according to Travel & Leisure “Overall, car-rental companies posted higher scores this year than last year…” The pandemic has forced people to travel by car more than they ever have, and thus rent cars more than they ever have. Apparently, car rental companies have outperformed. So really, you can’t go wrong with whichever you choose. “What’s this article for then?” Well car rentals, like any form of travel, offer one of the best opportunities to save money. You shouldn’t only be satisfied by a good experience, but afterward you should think “I saved a pretty penny.”
We all know, and have probably tried Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis. There are plenty of other wide-reaching car rental services worth trying, most of which, are probably a bit cheaper.
National may be a division of Enterprise, but the company consistently receives high service rankings and positive customer reviews of its own accord. National has over 1,500 service locations worldwide and prides itself on its vehicle selection, which includes more than 40 class options of cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans. National is also proud of its website and app, both of which are highly regarded, with the company placing first and second place respectively in those categories in the “2019 JD Power Survey of Travel Industry Online Portals.”
National's loyalty program, the Emerald Club, allows you to skip the counter and earn rewards on your booking. Car renters can put their air miles toward renting cars with points from several standard programs including Delta SkyMiles, American Airlines AAdvantage, and Southwest Rapid Rewards, as well as points from hotel programs like Hilton Honors. Overall, it’s a solid bet if you want an easy way to book cars at a fairly standard rate.
As the largest car renter for international travelers visiting North America, Alamo's business is centered around serving people on vacation. This means many of Alamo’s 1200 outlets are located at airports. Although, Alamo also has many locations on college campuses making them very popular among Millennials. The company prides itself on its car rental deals and offers a variety of ways to save money on rental fees, from partner point programs with hotels and airlines to benefits programs for businesses.
Alamo offers unlimited free mileage as a standard. If you happen to be hitting the open road with a significant other or a group, the second driver's cost is less than a lot of the competition. The Alamo Insiders loyalty program is straightforward when it comes to what it offers: a flat 5% off rental prices. Given that membership is free, the program is a great opportunity to save a bit more money with ease.
Dollar for dollar (pardon the pun) this rental company is one of the cheapest in the industry. Their rates average at about $30/day and a further 15% off discount on base rates if you sign up for their newsletter. If you’re only focused on getting the most for your money, this is the rental company for you, but don’t go into your rental looking for top-quality customer service.
Being a subsidiary of Hertz and a partner of Thrifty (the companies share over 1,500 storefronts globally) surely doesn't hurt Dollar's ability to offer great car rental deals. It offers a full fleet, from basic economy cars to pick-ups and vans that can be a lifesaver on family trips or moving days. Customers really benefit from Dollar’s loyalty program Express Rewards. This program allows customers to skip lines, add additional drivers, and earn free rental days. It also offers deals like quadruple American Airlines points when you rent a compact car for more than three days. Membership is free, so if you ride with Dollar even once, it's worth signing up.
Peer-to-peer car renting has been making serious inroads into the market. Allowing people to rent cars from individuals can provide a massive range of options and prices that traditional rental services can’t offer.
Turo claims to be the world’s largest car-sharing marketplace with over 350,000 vehicles listed on its service compromising more than 850 makes and models including really interesting options like classic cars, supercars, or the Tesla Model 3.
It’s free to sign up to Turo and set-up is relatively straightforward. The renting process is nearly identical to that of any traditional rental vehicle. When renting, in addition to the car owner’s rental rate, each rental charges a trip fee (that varies depending on the location), a security deposit, and taxes. The car owner may also ask the renter to pay for additional post-trip costs, such as cleaning and tolls. Typically, renters pay for their own gas. Rental pick-up location and drop-off are determined by the rental owner. If you want the car to be delivered to you then the car will be delivered at a designated Turo location near you (and may cost extra). Most Turo rentals can’t be unlocked with the app or a card like other car-sharing services because Turo Go, the hardware that allows this, is optional and not available in many areas. So drivers need to meet the owner for the key exchange unless the owner uses a locked key box. You can only rent cars by the day on Turo, not by the hour.
If you’re looking to buy a new car and want some quality time to live with one before buying, Turo may even be a great way to test drive something. Turo provides 24/7 roadside assistance and depending on the vehicle, insurance is provided to the driver from either Turo, or the car owner.
Like Turo, Getaround is a peer-to-peer car-sharing service, meaning the cars you borrow belong not to Getaround, but to other users. It's currently offered in more than 300 locations around the world. Getaround launched in 2013 and now says it has 5 million members worldwide. Ride-hailing giant Uber has also partnered with Getaround so you can rent the cars through the Uber app. Getaround has a large selection of privately owned vehicles, but unlike Turo, this does not include classic or specialty vehicles. Also unlike Turo, with Getaround, all rentals can be unlocked with the app. You don’t have to meet the owner or mess with a key box. This requires rental owners to install hardware and pay a monthly membership fee, but it’s free for drivers. Drivers on Getaround have a set mile limit they can travel, at up to 200 miles a day. Additional miles can be added but at a cost. Drivers can rent by the hour, or day, on Getaround.
It’s free for drivers to sign up. Drivers cover their gas and are required to return the rental with the same gas level. If you happen to be under 25, there's a sliding scale of fees to cover insurance costs, but all fee descriptions are available at the Getaround website.
ZipCar, a subsidiary of Avis, is one of the most popular services on this list. It also works in a unique way. Zipcar is station based, meaning drivers need to go to a designated ZipCar location to pick up the rental. If you’re approved to drive, ZipCar will mail you a membership card that opens their rentals. No need to meet an employee, just show up to the lot, find the car, and open it with the card. ZipCar is one of the few services that includes gas. ZipCar offers 12,000 vehicles across 500-plus cities and more than 600 college campuses. The company claims that a Zipcar is reserved somewhere in the world every six seconds.
Zipcar offers members vehicles from more than 60 different makes and models, including Audis, BMWs, Mini Coopers, Prius hybrids, minivans, pickup trucks, and cargo vans. Each vehicle has a reserved parking space (called a ‘home location’), where it must be returned with at least one-quarter tank of gas. Members book reservations through Zipcar’s website or mobile app, which they use to locate the rental car. You can rent a Zipcar for as long as 14 days.
A membership fee of $7 a month or $70 a year is required to join ZipCar. There is also a one-time $25 application fee. ZipCar also offers Extra Value Plans for drivers who drive a lot. Keep in mind that it takes longer to get approved for your first rental than most other services. ZipCar drivers are limited to 200 miles a day. Additional miles cost $0.45/mile.
When really trying to seek out a good price, we often turn to price comparison sites. Most popular among them being Kayak or Expedia. Well here are a few more to turn to, and you may never turn back.
Costco Travel consistently offers lower rates than the other major online agencies. The first thing you’ll notice when searching for a rental car on Costco Travel is that they provide a chart of the prices at 4 major rental agencies (Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise), so you can quickly see where the best price is from (the lowest price in each category will be in red).
Most renters through Costco travel save an average of $29 when compared to booking straight from the rental sites, and the savings jumped to $69 when looking at luxury rentals. Have a Costco membership? Use it to save money on your next rental car, and as an added bonus, you can often add a second driver for free.
If you don’t know about Autoslash, put it on your list of places to look at when searching for a car rental. On the surface, Autoslash is another car rental search engine. Beneath that, it’s a huge money saver.
Because most rental agencies let you cancel without penalty, that means it's possible to search again later for a better deal and re-book. Doing that also takes work and time. This is where Autoslash steps in. They will automatically track a booked car rental from any agency and let you know when they find a better one so you can re-book. To track it, Autoslash needs several key pieces of information: date, time, confirmation number, and total price. Plus, Autoslash also has a database of coupons for the best prices of every car rental company.
While American Express is known mainly for their credit cards, they also offer a travel booking service. You don’t need to hold an American Express credit card to use Amex Travel, but it can often get you more benefits. Amex Travel offers a nice table layout so you can easily compare prices from many different rental agencies.
Prices at Amex Travel are generally in line with what’s offered directly through the car rental agencies. However, if you book with Amex you’ll usually be able to take advantage of the “Pay Now” discount. Maybe the biggest boon of Amex Rewards is you’ll still be able to earn points and/or bonuses from whichever rental agency you end up booking through.
We aren’t necessarily recommending an Amex card, but the Platinum Card® from American Express offers good rental benefits and discounts.
When searching for a great deal on a car rental, checking multiple sites will certainly be your best bet. Just as important, make sure you know what it is you need out of a rental. Where are you going and for how long? Are you visiting a place with a comprehensive public transit system? Are you traveling alone? Answering these questions will help you narrow down the maddening amount of options one has these days, and hopefully save you a buck.