By Quentin Fottrell
Renting a car for a day might cost you just as little as a Starbucks latte. Travel website Hotwire.com has compiled a list of the top 16 U.S. cities where consumers can find car rentals for $16 or for as little as $4 (see the full list, below). Are these prices too good to be true? “Rarely have we seen prices like these in bigger cities,” says Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group. “There are too many cars and not enough renters.” But he warns that these prices won’t last into September.
Pay Dirt surveyed car rental experts for top tips for renting a car this summer:
Don’t rent at the airport
Neil Abrams, president of rental consulting Abrams Consulting Group in Purchase, NY, says consumers can save 20% to 30% by getting a bus or train to the nearest town or city rather than renting a car in the airport. Car rental companies based at airports have higher costs of doing business and, as a result, have airport concession fees and other surcharges that they often pass onto the customer, he says.
Consider lesser-known brands
Typically a name brand car rental companies don’t provide pricing as low as those quoted by Hotwire, says Steve Loucks, spokesman for Travel Leaders Group, a consulting group in Plymouth, Mn. Companies like E-Z Car Rental, Pay Less Car Rental and Fox Rent A Car may not be as well known to all drivers, but they can offer some solid deals. “Look into the non-household name brands,” Abrams adds.
Fill the tank before you return the car
Hotwire’s Bason cautions customers not to get caught with an empty tank when they get back to the car rental service after their trip, as the agency will inevitably charge more for gas than the local gas station. “I always do a quick Google Map search so I don’t get stuck buying gas before returning to the car rental company, he says. “It’s usually really easy to find that gas station near the airport.”
Beware of hidden fees and charges
Are you already covered for car insurance? Abrams says consumers letting loose on vacation don’t always know that they don’t need extra insurance, which can add another 50% onto the cost of renting the car. “A GPS system might be cool to have for your trip, but it could cost another $10 a day, which is a lot of money,” he says. He recommends GoogleMaps apps and mobile phone apps like MapQuest, which he says can help with directions.
Test drive latest models
For those looking to buy a car, renting may be a way to test out a model for a few days. Rental agencies keep large fleets on weekdays for business travelers, so prices tend to be lower on weekends when inventory soars, says David Thomas, a senior analyst at Cars.com. He says automakers also increasingly send their latest models to agencies to impress the renters. “See if you can rent one for the weekend at an even lower rate,” he says. “It will be more educational than a typical test drive and worth the investment.”
Here are Hotwire’s cheapest 16 cities for car rentals:
1. Dallas: $3.95
2. Chicago: $7.95
3. Minneapolis: $9.95
4. Philadelphia: $11.95
5. Atlanta: $9.95
6. Boston: $13.95
7. Washington: $13.95
8. Sacramento: $14.95
9. San Francisco: $14.95
10. Orlando: $15.95
11. Las Vegas: $15.95
12. Ft. Lauderdale: $15.95
13. Tampa: $15.95
14. Miami: $15.95
15. Southwest Florida: $15.95
16. Denver: $15.95
Pay Dirt readers, what’s the best deal you’ve gotten on a car rental?