Can we do better than an average of $23.18 per day for a rental car?


One of the speakers at the Ann Arbor Do that Drew and I just returned from, (a ridiculously smart kid named Tahsir) gave a great presentation on rental cars.  It had never occurred to me to be part of a loyalty program with a rental car company before in part because I have always thought that we keep our car rentals to a fair minimum considering that we are always traveling.

But do we actually keep car rentals to a minimum?  If you look back at our stats page over the last year, we’ve rented cars about 7 times, a total of 39 days, all costing us roughly $903.85.  (This includes a one-day rental not yet posted in the July stats).

A few things to clarify.  For now “roughly $903.85” is the best I can do since the car rental on July 3 listed as ~$250…is still being worked out by Avis/Budget customer service.  The Budget in the Charlottesville airport accidentally charged us an extra 11 days on top of our 15, and at a totally random rate.  So when I checked my accounts online and saw $973.05 for a 15 day rental I’d been told should be around $250, I called A.S.A.P and was told we’ll be refunded all but the correct amount, which should be around ~$250.


Even if 39 days is a decently low amount for a year of non-stop travel…

Why not join a car rental’s loyalty program?

  • After all, I’ve joined loyalty programs just for the sake of a free coffee after ten.  Why wouldn’t I also make a few rental car points for my rentals?
  • Spending on hotels when we’ll be earning points we can spend on our next stay is easy to justify because that “next stay” is inevitable for non-stop travelers.  While we do try to keep renting cars to a minimum, spending 39 days with a rental car this year shows me that this might be an expense that’s “inevitable” too.
  • Joining a loyalty program can also make the company see you as a more valuable customer and can even automatically start you out with some kind of status, even if it’s the lowest tier.  And in this community we know that status can be really helpful sometimes.

So 39 days for $903.85 comes out to an average of $23.18 per day.

That doesn’t sound too bad to me, but not that impressive either compared to the savings we achieve in other categories via loyalty programs and the like.  After hearing Tahsir talk about the various ways status/loyalty can help out with your car rentals, I can’t help but think we could bring that average down if we were even the smallest bit intentional about signing up for a loyalty program with Hertz or something.  If that’s the case with hotels, why wouldn’t it also be true with car rentals?


Our current strategies are pretty minimal.


Skip renting all together?  Let me explain that.

Why we avoid renting cars all together:

We are sort of public transit junkies.  When we were attempting to live a stationary life in Charlottesville VA we felt like we could afford a slightly more expensive apartment closer to town if we gave up having a car. No car meant no car repairs, no car inspections, no gasoline, no oil changes, no parking fines or fees, no speeding tickets, no car insurance, no property tax (in VA you have to pay property tax on a car).  None of those things that seem to be inevitable no matter how perfect your vehicle seems when you buy it.

Now, that also meant that we spent a bit more time getting places.  Walking to work took me about half an hour and when it was raining I hopped on the free University bus, which also took half an hour.  Drew took a city bus to work for about a buck fifty but I think it took the better part of an hour.

At the end of the day, time and power over that time are the main things lacking from the public transit strategy.  But especially when we’re traveling, we think that sacrifice is especially worth it for a few other reasons.

  • When traveling, all you have to do is figure out which bus or train is yours and then you’re set.  You won’t spend hours in the rental car getting lost.  Or yelling at your GPS for getting you lost.
  • You aren’t going to meet locals in your rental car.
  • Parking AND gas are both things that tend to be more expensive outside the U.S.
  • Some people think driving in a new place is fun.  I think it’s stressful.  Because I am bound to get lost or scared of round-abouts, or whatever.


Even though we tried to avoid rental cars all-together, we still found a reason to justify it for 39 days.  So let’s look at the other side.

When is it awesome having a rental car?

Some of these things are obvious.  But we are a generation that loves lists so here is a list for when we actually like having a rental car.

  • Self-drive safaris.  
  • When you want to see obscure and specific destinations like the ones Drew’s mom wanted to see in the UK that were relevant to her family’s history.  There were no buses going to “CrowenMarsh” because no one is going to “CrowenMarsh”.
  • When you’re in the wilderness, far from any buses or train stations.  For example, I would probably rent a car if I was visiting Alaska.  Maybe not, but I could see how it would be the best option for setting out into the wilderness.
  • When you have a few people to split the cost with and only a short amount of time to see a place.  Having people to split a car with you is not reason enough to do it because, like I said before, I think there are social benefits to public transit when visiting a new place.  We met a man on a train who invited us to his house to borrow his BMW motorcycle for instance.  We would not have met him in a rental car.  But if you only have  a few days to see a place and you find a few other interested tourists, it can be worth it.
  • In the States, public transit sucks.  I’m just now learning more about Amtrak so I hope to be able to rely on the few public transit options we DO have, but for now it can feel like the only option when going from Small Town USA point A to Small Town USA point B.Now, I’ve bean hearing some chatter about things like Uber and Zipcar.  These are kind of like a mix between carshare programs, low-hassel car rental, and taxis.  Uber is kind of like a taxi you reserve or “call for” via an app on your phone.  In the case of Zipcar, you pay a low price for a membership, then you’re able to reserve a car for yourself for a period of time before you return it.

But…the closest Zipcar to my parents’ place is an hour and a half away.

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The more we find ourselves renting cars, the more I realize that we need a plan for saving money when we rent.  Maybe that plan will be signing up for a loyalty program and maybe that plan will be getting wiser about the other transit options out there.

Stay tuned.


How about you?  What are your best tips for renting cars on the cheap?

16 Comments on “Can we do better than an average of $23.18 per day for a rental car?

  1. Learn to drive manual if you don’t already know, that will save you a ton pretty much anywhere but the US.

    • True. The first driving I ever did was with manual but that’s been awhile. Luckily Drew remembers!

  2. has some great special like 5 / 6 dollars a day -I just had a weekly rental for 58.00 — now fox isn’t everywhere but where they are its cheap

  3. My original rental prices always end up being ‘automatically’ slashed when I enter the reservation details into — I say ‘automatically’ because you have to click a few buttons when they email you with a lower price, but I usually save US$50+ or more every time I use the service.

    • Wow, been testing this tool today — impressive so far. (I esp. like the time-saving concept of letting them monitor the price drops & offers for us.) And Carrie, I hadn’t know about the either — and all the sub-searches available on their page too. Thank you both.

      BTW, I am coming across new hotel promos of special note — like the current Carson deal with various car rental agencies, including Thrifty/Budget (book for 3 days, get 9,000 CC points….. hmmmmm…..)

  4. Nice post. I’ve been needing to work on my car rental costs as well. I stay with family the brief periods I’m back in the US and have no interest in owning a car. I’ll give the rental loyalty programs a look. Greyhound can be a bummer experience after coming back from hotel and condo living abroad!

    • Ha! true!
      Yes, even when we lived in the States it was hard to justify a car when we lived so close to town. Where do you spend most of your time abroad?

      • Almost entirely Southeast Asia now. Money goes on forever there, if not the roads. 😛

  5. Hi Carrie, Appreciate your preference for public transit, when available. (and new google maps search feature helps) Yet when traveling and time matters, car rentals often mean more time exploring, less time “transiting.” But as you know, car rental rates are quite the adventure…. have been planning a journey out west over the next month, into awesome country, where rentals essential…. But plans being affected by car rental considerations… At the moment, I’ve been astonished at how “economy” rates vary from under $10 a day, with fees (! — e.g., Sacremento & Pensacola) to $70+ a day (Denver !!! awful). Of course, ymmv — and it does depend on time, season, and demand…. sometimes. ;-(
    Appreciate others above are already chiming in with new resources and ideas to check. From my own experience:
    1. One tools that often can be a life$aver is the ChaseUltimate Rewards travel tab…. (h/t Daraius at mms) where I’ve lately been often seeing much better deals (esp. with Thrifty & Budget) and better yet, we get more than 20% discounts if we pay with Chase UR points…..
    2. The Chase Sapphire Preferred recently added PRIMARY collision coverage for all rentals you use their card to pay for — most cc’s are secondary coverage. (meaning you may end up paying minor ding damage out of pocket — if you have regular auto insurance with a deductible. (Given my recent experience, see below… this is huge…. and this benefit applies even if you reserve the rental via Chase UR points — I checked yesterday. Occurs to me that in your case and others without regular auto insurance, this could be a big $$ saver — so you can still skip the expensive car rental company insurance)
    3. NEVER ever return a car rental without having someone inspect the vehicle with you present. I had a VERY BAD experience with National at CHO last fall…. returned the car late at night, in perfect shape, afaik. Yet they call me back 15 hours later, claiming that there’s a football sized dent underneath the passenger door…. Hard to fathom how I missed that when I went over the car before returning — and I certainly would have felt that kind of impact. That could easily have happened in their parking lot the next morning, but I couldn’t prove it. The CHO reps lamely claim that their one person operation can’t go out and inspect vehicles when you return it. DON’T fall for that malarkey. (sore subject with me — still being disputed & tied up in insurance knots)
    4. Be VERY careful with hotwire rates…. those snakes add on high booking fees…. to that what might appear to be a great rate doubles or triples at the bottom line.

    • Great tips here Scott.
      OMG bummer about the dent! Ugh! Ya when I return a car late I am so much less likely to have them to the check-over but it sounds like it is totally worth it.

      • Scott needs to be careful booking rentals through third parties and expecting a CC’s insurance policy to kick in. Read your T & C’s carefully.

  6. Ooops, posted that without decent editing. Yet few more thoughts from recent experience…
    a. I too had a great recent experience with FoxRentals — via orlando. If you go to web sites like “yelp,” you’ll read lots of reviewers very upset by high pressure sales tactics, to get you to buy extra insurance, etc. (perhaps in the past, and the company has posted very large signs and videos — at the orlando terminal anyway, stressing what was and was not required) Went very well for me.
    b. Airport rentals usually are more much more expensive… and one can save a bunch if one gets to off airport locations — (such as via Enterprise promotions) Yet the time and hassle may not be worth it — unless you’re at a hotel which already had free transit from the terminal.
    c. speaking of airports…. companies like Fox are often much cheaper because they have “off terminal” locations, requiring shuttles. (at some airports, like Denver, they all have shuttles) Be sure the one you want has shuttles operating when you need them — and plan extra time.
    d. Sometimes renting “on airport” is a huge plus. At San Juan (PR), there’s a new on airport, state-of-the-art, car rental facility used jointly with National/Enterprise/Alamo (same company). Nice thing there they have an automated system to take pictures of all sides and angles of the car as you return it…. (see my above BAD memory of CHO return)

    • Nice. Ya my recent attempt to be more intentional with car rentals included avoiding airport rentals but you’re right, it can be way way more convenient. Guess it might depend on how you feel when you land. (Sometimes we don’t make the rental reservation until we land).

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