Don’t let car hire costs ruin your next vacation budget
When I look at our total cost of trips for the year, our second highest cost seems to work out to be car hire. Being a family of 5, always with multiple items of luggage and for many years now needing to fit 3x car seats of booster across the back – if not more if we are taking the grandparents – the normal tricks for scoring cheap car hire aren’t always an option.
If like us you are looking for practical ways to save next time you hire a car on vacation, have a think about these pointers.
***This article contains affiliate links that may earn us a small commission based on our recommendation at no extra cost to you. We only recommend companies and products that we have used ourselves***
1. Shop around for the cheapest deals on search engines
Goes without saying, I know. But where and how do you find the best deals these days? We don’t use one, but several price aggregator tools every time we want to book. We book the same size car, the same airport every year and every time we get a different result, so don’t just bookmark one old faithful -shop around with your shopping comparison tools too!!!
These are the 3 best tools we have found searching for standalone car hire:
**We recommend you bookmark these pages to your browser so you can use them later!**
Price comparison sites are great to narrow down your options, but there are still more steps you should take before immediately booking to ensure you really are paying the best price. We detail all of these things to think about below.
2. Check with the rental provider directly
Once you’ve found your best price, check the provider’s website directly too! You never just know if they have a monthly special going on. Call the companies direct too, you may get a better price.
3. Location flexibility
Like all things travel costs, the more flexible you can be with dates, time, the location you can get a better deal. That said, with kids in tow I’ve probably already picked out the best value-for-money flight with my idea arrival time; I’m not then going to fuss about trying to find a car rental place a million miles from the airport while my kids are melting down waiting to get to our destination.
Now IF your kids are past that lovely stage of life and do have the patience, then yes; car hire facilities located away from airports tend to be cheaper as your rate will not include an almost certain compulsory airport charge.
- Perhaps you can taxi to your first destination and sightsee for a few days before you need a car? or
- Can one of your group go and collect the car while the rest of the family waits at the airport? Many large airports have shuttle services that can take the driver to/from the hire depot then they can swing by and pick your group up from arrivals.
4. Can you downsize?
Going down a category class to a smaller vehicle than what you might usually use at home will instantly drop your quoted price. But do consider if this is practical for your family needs. Going down a car category drops the width of your back seat and the size of your boot/trunk.
We have had the car seat dilemma for years too, but we as are slowly graduating from car seats to boosters, and huge suitcases to well, a medium-sized (we’re not that carry-on only family, yet!), but it’s not always necessary for us to have a full-sized people mover type vehicle on every trip.
And there’s always a chance you will be upgraded to a family-sized car on arrival – worth playing the chances if it will save without overly compromising on space.
5. Are you miles restricted?
Consider the type of driving you will be doing. We travel in country Australia a lot covering vast differences, but when doing the maths, we have days where we don’t come anywhere near breaking the mileage limits given.
6. Can you drive a manual?
Or stick as I know our US friends call it! I’ll admit it, I can, but I hate it! Not driving one day-to-day I find the thought process too much on vacation – but that is just laziness talking. Manual transmission cars are almost always cheaper than automatic, and much more common in Europe. If you think your driving skills will allow, this could be an easy way to save (and in some locations, you may not have a choice!).
7. Can you apply a coupon or discount code?
This can be easily established by doing a Google search for “discount codes xxxxxx – (insert hire car company!)” you will get thousands of results so try narrowing it by season/date and location.
Most, though not all, tend to be associated with airline or hotel loyalty programs – the vast majority of which are free to join; so do some simple math on the time it takes you to sign up if you’re not already a member. (NB usually doesn’t matter if that’s the airline you fly, they just want your frequent flyer membership number).
There are also some great cashback websites you can try searching whereby you split the commission with them. Simply book via their website rather than with the hire car company directly.
Related Reading: Want to know why we love airline loyalty programs
8. Loyalty programs
Have you thought about joining the car hire company’s loyalty program too? (Yeah, yeah I know this means more emails in your inbox. We have a neat system for this where they all get directed to one travel folder and we don’t have to read them!).
As and when we need a car hire, we can go back and look at these emails to see if there are extra loyalty discounts we can apply. As always, being prepared in advance you are likely to lock in a better rate during a sale and promotion period, too.
9. Do you even need a car? Or just hire one when needed
I admit I love the convenience of door to door and relying on a car every day at home, it’s something I’m simply used to. But many destinations don’t lend themselves well to car hire. Be it traffic and congestion, or overnight parking (some cities are killer – your cars resting spot could cost as much as your own!)
- What might a taxi or Uber cost in comparison to having your own car?
- Are their easy public transport options in your city?
- Can you just hire a vehicle from somewhere nearby on day trip days?
Airport to the hotel door and vice versa has its conveniences but at a cost.
10. Watch for the extras – car hire add-ons explained
So, so many extras to be aware of! Which one of these could you cut down on or remove from the bill without losing your sanity?
You know the scenario; you’ve just landed from your 16-hour flight, exhausted. The kids are going crazy, you’ve got luggage everywhere, someone needs a pee and you just want to get in your car and GO!!!! Then they shove the paper under your nose and the bottom line has suddenly DOUBLED. What the….?
What you are probably being quoted is extra insurance to reduce the excess. They quote you some horrifically high price to pay if you have an accident and in a state of panic that you would need a small mortgage to cover this you sign: BE PREPARED!
If you have taken out travel insurance (because you’re a good, organised traveller, right?) then it will almost certainly be able to cover you in this situation.
Equally, even if you don’t have separate travel insurance, if you’ve booked using your credit card, you could well be covered for the excess component by your credit card insurance (check the fine print, it will normally say something along the lines of >50% of travel costs must have been paid using that card for the travel insurance to apply).
Additionally, if you are hiring within your own country, you may simply be able to add the vehicle to your own domestic vehicle insurance policy.
Vehicle Damage Pre-Hire
Hand in hand with the extra insurance above, do read your contract fine print and check the vehicle for scratches! Some companies are more scrupulous than others.
Photograph and document anything suspicious immediately even if there’s no one in the car yard to report it to and email it to the company.
Some will add extra for this, some won’t. This will not always be disclosed at the point when you’re comparing policies and can come as a nasty surprise when you pick up the car. Whilst I know splitting the driving especially on long trips is super handy, what does this add up to? Can you survive with just one driver?
Infant car seats and boosters
This can be one of our largest extra costs. Maybe if you only need one seat you might accept the cost to reduce your baggage. But once you’re hiring multiple car seats for multiple weeks – the cost significantly exceeds not only the original car rental but the cost of having bought a brand new car seat! We strongly suggest the best option is to BYO, however, we know this isn’t always practical.
** An exception to this might be coming to Australia where car seat laws are incredibly tough and only Australian manufactured seats are allowed. I find it hard to believe that an overseas seat from the same manufacturer, same brand as you can get in Australia does not pass – but I guess risk a fine in the very, very unusual position that you are pulled over (psst, I’ve never heard of anyone getting pulled over for this!) More to come in a later post about car seats in Australia – it’s a technical subject.
GPS these are wonderful to have in the car, but who doesn’t have a mobile phone these days? Google maps have honestly sufficed for us again and again (just make sure you’ve downloaded the maps you need in advance for offline use if you have no data). Many cars also have input GPS these days too. Check the model you’ve booked to see if this is the case.
Check the places you will be travelling for tolls. Most vehicles are fitted for electronic tolls in the city/location you have hired them from when they apply – but watch for whether you are being charged a per use or per day charge for using any toll roads.
- Do toll gates have a cash option so you don’t pay any bills later? or
- Is there a weekly fee you can pay upfront to use toll roads that’s cheaper?
Now none of us will deliberately be breaking the rules in a hire car, would we? Just remember, for every fine you cop in a rental car, there’s an administrative fee for the driver to pay to the car hire company on top of the fine to the authorities.
One way drop off fee
This can add significantly to your hire, depending on the location and how remote place A is to place B. We have frequently done this in Australia and the price is not horrific but can vary by vehicle type.
If a remote location doesn’t have much stock of a particular vehicle type, they are not too pleased when all their vehicles are taken out of location and somehow need shifting back.
It might be worth playing around with the vehicle size and direction of travel to see if this shifts your one-way charge.
Bring your vehicle back full of fuel
The refill costs charged by car hire companies can be extortionate; always try and refill before you return if you are on a full-for-full rental contract.
How do you save money on your car rentals? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments
More money-saving ideas from the Globetrotters
We have more posts that you might find helpful in planning your family trip and helping you save money or cash in points
- Can families really save money flying? An industry insider gives out tips on how airline pricing really works
- Can I fly use my points to fly business class if I have an infant – Your frequent flyer points may not add up to quite the bargain you expected.
- 5 travel challenges for the family of 5
- Our favourite travel booking resources
Still to come soon
- Hotel hacks that families can use too
- Best travel insurance policies for families
Found this useful? Bookmark this page or save it for later
Disclosures: This page contains affiliate links that if you make a purchase through may earn us a small commission at no extra cost to you. You can read our full disclosure policy here.