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Travel Alert: Rental Car Rates May Fall with the Leaves

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The post-summer travel lull is known for cheap airfare and discount hotel rates. Now, travelers can add cheap car rental rates to that list of incentives.

Hotwire.com says there are still good deals out there before rental companies reduce their inventories and airline travel picks up in earnest ahead of Thanksgiving “as the industry heads into shoulder season and rental car companies adjust their inventory in preparation for fewer renters,” according to a statement from the travel website.

Car rental fees in hot tourist spots like Hawaii have plunged 50% since high summer, Hotwire says. Kelsey Mays, industry analyst at Cars.com, agrees – even given a 12.5% fall in inventories from 2007 to 2010. “With sluggish demand,” he says, “even fewer cars could lead to lower rates.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard Hotwire’s refrain that rates are falling. During the height of the summer travel season, Hotwire president Clem Bason made the incredible claim that renting a car would cost just as little as a Starbucks latte.  Pay Dirt readers were – how do we say this politely? – not convinced. Few commenters believed one could get a car rental for $4 in Dallas and $8 in Chicago, unusual prices for big cities.

Such absurdly low prices were never realized because rental companies held more inventory and kept prices higher, longer, Hotwire explains in retrospect.

Very low rates are now possible – and are worth fighting for, experts say. Phil Reed, consumer advice editor from Edmunds.com, says he recently negotiated a 50% discount at a rental-car company in Boston. He says fees will “fluctuate enormously” depending on the city and dealer. For instance, it costs $50 to rent a Chevrolet “economy car” on Friday, one-third of the cost on major online rental sites. Reed says get a bus to from the airport to a city center dealer: avoid airport rentals if at all possible – they’re nearly always more expensive. And, he says, don’t always believe you need to take extra insurance.

Pay Dirt readers, have you gotten any great deals on car rentals this fall?

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