Rental Car Discounts
Looking for a car rental discount? On this page I’ve compiled lots of tips and tricks, plus there are links to pages that provide dozens of rental car discounts, coupons and codes that can potentially save you a hundred dollars or more on a one-week car rental!
General Advice on Car Rentals
- Do You Need a Rental Car?
- Rental Car Location Info
- Renting a Car at Walt Disney World
- General Information, Tips & Tricks for Rental Cars
- Other Ways to Rent a Car
Rental Car Codes, Coupons and Discounts
At Walt Disney World, if you are staying on Disney property the extensive Disney Transportation System can get you to any of the Disney resorts, parks, water parks and Downtown Disney by bus, boat or Monorail. The system for getting people between the Disney resort hotels and the theme parks is quite efficient, though it can be time-consuming. Some people find it relaxing to sit back and let Disney do the driving. Personally, I don’t. (You can read my report on going without a car at Disney.)
If you want to get from resort to resort at Disney World (for instance, to attend a dinner show such as the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, which is at Ft. Wilderness Campground) it can be very frustrating to use Disney’s transportation system. In that case, you may well want a car. And if you are staying off-site, a rental car can save you a huge amount of time in getting back and forth to the parks. Remember, you’re paying a lot for this vacation — your time is valuable!
By the way, if you will be renting a car and you own a GPS navigation unit or are considering purchasing one, click here for information that will make getting around Disney World even easier.
At Disneyland, everything is very compact. If you are staying at a Disney resort hotel or one of the many nearby hotels and motels, you can walk or use the hotel’s shuttle service to get to the parks. However, if you want to eat off-site or explore other parts of Southern California, you will need a rental car (or you can take a taxi, if you plan to stay local).
At Orlando International Airport (MCO) all of the major rental car agencies (Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty), plus a couple of less-known agencies, are located right in the parking garage across from the terminals. After going to the rental desk or kiosk in the terminal, you walk out to the garage and get your car. Some agencies (Alamo/National) even offer frequent renter and/or online check-in systems that allow you to skip the desk or kiosk in the terminal and go straight to the garage and pick your car.
MCO airport also has over 15 less-known agencies that are off-site. For those agencies you’ll need to grab a shuttle from Level 1. Of the off-site agencies, the most promising (based on my readers’ reports) are SIXT and Payless. They sometimes have excellent rates and they are both national or international chains.
In addition, there are Alamo/National locations on-site at Walt Disney World, which is very convenient should you wish to keep your car for only part of the trip. (For more information about renting cars on Disney property, click here.)
There are also rental car locations at several of the hotels in the Downtown Disney area.
At Orange County/John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is the closest airport to Disneyland, the on-site rental agencies are Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty. All others are off-site, so you will have to take a shuttle.
At Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), another popular airport for Disneyland trips, there are over 40 car rental agencies, many of which are small and local. Ten are allowed to send their shuttles right to the terminal: Advantage, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, Fox/Payless, National and Thrifty.
I am frequently asked how someone can rent a car for one or two days in the Disney World area. A lot of times people plan to use their hotel’s transportation system to get to and from the Disney parks, but they are interested in doing something outside of Disney during the trip (such as visiting Universal, SeaWorld or the local Disney outlet stores) and the cheapest and easiest way is to rent a car.
Also, some people who are staying on Disney property like to use Magical Express to get back and forth to the airport, but they prefer the convenience (and sometimes lower rental rates) of picking up a car once they are at Disney.
- Click here to learn more about how to rent a car at Walt Disney World (or nearby) efficiently and cheaply!
- Useful Tips and Tricks
- Best and Worst Agencies in Orlando
- Understanding Rental Car Company Relationships
- Beware of Suggested “Upgrades” at the Counter
- Prepaid Gas Option
- Florida Toll Passes (SunPass)
- Child Safety Seats
I can’t stress enough that it is worthwhile to check the rental car websites periodically for new rates. Like the airlines, rental car companies change their rates constantly. However, unlike the airlines, there is no penalty for canceling or making changes to your car rental reservation. I have saved as much as $150 on a one-week rental by rebooking my reservation when the rate dropped.
Always print out your confirmation when booking online, or request that one be faxed or emailed to you, if you make your reservation by phone. Take the confirmation with you on your vacation. It can be a lifesaver if the amount the car rental agency tries to charge you doesn’t match the amount you agreed to when you made your reservation, or if they question a discount code, etc. This happens more frequently than you might think, because of errors in the rental car companies’ computer systems or even because one of their agents is not aware of a particular promotion. If you have a printed confirmation, it will be very difficult for them to charge you a different amount.
Join the “frequent renter” program of any rental car company you are going to use, even if you think you’ll never rent from them again. It can save you hours in line. In fact, with some programs being a member allows you to bypass the counter completely! Joining these programs involves giving the company your drivers license and credit card information in advance. It can usually be accomplished online in a few minutes, though you should allow a week or two to get your membership card in the mail. When you join, you can also specify whether you want the CDW/LDW insurance, which can save a lot of hassles at the counter.
Stay over a Saturday night if at all possible. Like the airlines, most car rental companies offer the lowest rates (and almost all of their coupon specials) only to those who stay over a Saturday night. I learned this the hard way when doing a rental from a Sunday night through a Friday afternoon — none of the coupons seem to apply.
Rent for 5 days or more (if it fits your travel plans). Usually weekly rentals require a 5-day minimum. Weekly rates are almost always cheaper than daily rates, and coupon specials often apply only to weekly rentals. Note that you cannot turn in the car early and still get the original rate.
Rent for 3 days or less, over a weekend (if it fits your travel plans). Usually weekend rentals require a 3-day maximum and a Saturday night stay. Weekend rates are almost always cheaper than daily rates, and there are often coupons for weekend rentals. Note that you cannot turn in the car late and still get the original rate.
Don’t get stuck on size. If you’re not finding any good rates for a compact or economy car, try pricing a larger vehicle. Sometimes the smaller cars sell out first and the agencies have a glut of midsize or fullsize cars. Depending on demand, it’s not all that unusual to find a fullsize car or even an SUV for LESS than a compact!
If your departure time is an hour or two later in the day than your arrival time, it’s worthwhile to play around with the return times when you are reserving the car online. A few of the rental car companies have a “grace period” before they charge you for an additional day. For instance, the no-charge “grace period” at Avis and Budget seems to be about 29 minutes. Hourly rates apply if you return the car within the period of 30 minutes to 2 hours past the pick-up time. Here’s an example of how this could help you save: let’s say you’re arriving on a Monday and picking up your car at 4:00 pm. You’re leaving the following Monday evening. Turning your car in at 4:15 pm might not incur any additional charge, turning it in at 4:45 pm would incur an hourly rate charge, and starting at 6:00 you’d be paying for a full additional day. Thanks to Dan B and Paula H for the info.
If you have an American Express card that participates in the Membership Rewards program, be aware that the rental car rewards usually cannot be used with other discounts. You’ll have to pay the standard rates, less the dollar amount of the reward certificate. For that reason, the rental car rewards are not usually such a hot deal. Thanks to Cathy D for pointing this out.
My personal favorite is National, because its Emerald Aisle service saves a lot of time and lets you pick your own vehicle. Second favorite is Alamo, which has kiosks to speed your pickup and allows you to pick your own car in some locations, including Orlando. However, Avis, Budget, Dollar and Hertz also offer reasonably good service, car quality and speed of pick-up/drop-off, and they are all conveniently located on the airport property. If you find a better rate at one of those, don’t hesitate.
The Orlando rental agency that gets the most complaints from MouseSavers.com readers is L&M. It is sometimes the least expensive agency on first glance, but if you can find the right combination of codes, coupons and other discounts, I think you’ll usually find you can go with a more dependable agency at a similar price. I’ve received many complaints about this agency, including: car type reserved was not available at pick-up, aggressive selling of insurance, overcharging, poor car quality, etc.
Many rental car companies have divided their business between two different brands. The brands are owned by the same parent company, but generally speaking, one brand is intended for business travellers and the other for leisure (vacation) travellers.
The “business” brand often has newer, better-equipped cars and a higher service level than the “leisure” brand. (A significant exception exists: Budget, while marketed as the “leisure” brand of Avis, offers excellent vehicles and service — equivalent to many “business” brands.)
If you make an effort to shop around, use discount codes, etc — you can often rent from the “business” brand for the same cost as (or even less than) the “leisure” brand.
|Business Brand||Leisure Brand||Other Brand|
Did you know that you probably do not need to purchase the extra insurance offered by rental car companies (i.e. Collision Damage Waiver/CDW, Loss Damage Waiver/LDW, Personal Accident Insurance/PAI) on your rental car? Skipping the extra insurance can result in a savings of $15 or more a day, so be sure to check this out with your own insurance and credit card companies before you go!
Most US residents are covered for collision damage by their own auto insurance policies unless they are renting an unusual vehicle. (Note that some policies may exclude rented SUVs, luxury cars or convertibles.) Call your insurance company to confirm what type of coverage your policy provides for rental cars.
Many upper end credit cards and charge cards, such as Gold and Platinum American Express and some MasterCard and Visa cards, also include insurance benefits when you use them to rent a car. Credit card benefits differ widely, so call to get specifics before choosing whether or not to purchase the insurance.
- Some only offer “gap insurance” that covers your personal auto insurance deductible. The better cards give you “secondary coverage,” meaning you must first submit a claim to your personal auto insurance carrier (if any), and then the credit card company will cover whatever is left over.
- The very best is “primary coverage” — offered only by Diners Club — which means you would not have to make a claim with your auto insurance company in the case of an accident, so your rates would be less likely to increase.
Rental car counter agents may warn that your personal auto insurance or credit card won’t cover your rental, especially for “Loss of Use” (LOU). This can be a real issue, but it’s primarily a scare tactic to get you to buy the extra insurance (and the counter agents are compensated financially for selling high-profit “extras” like insurance). LOU basically means that if the car is damaged during your rental, the car rental company will try to keep charging you the daily rental fee until the car comes back from the repair shop. This is ostensibly to compensate the company for lost revenue. In reality, the rental car company often has plenty of extra cars and hasn’t actually lost any revenue, because the car wouldn’t have been rented out anyway. It’s also apparently common for the rental car companies to pad the LOU bill by claiming the car was in the shop longer than it actually was. Here are a few points to consider about “Loss of Use”:
- Some personal auto insurance will cover Loss of Use for rental cars. In fact, some states require that your auto insurer must cover this.
- Some credit card companies also cover Loss of Use. However, some credit card companies won’t pay the LOU unless the rental car company proves it really lost revenue. If the rental car company won’t cooperate, some credit card companies may say “too bad” and stick you with the LOU bill. Other credit card companies will fight the LOU on your behalf, or pay it for you.
- Call your car insurance company and credit card issuers to ask about Loss of Use coverage. If they don’t cover it, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the risk. I understand some people have hired attorneys who successfully argued against paying for LOU unless the rental company could prove it lost the revenue. This is obviously a big hassle and there’s no guarantee it will work.
If you’ve determined that you don’t need the insurance offered by the rental car agency, be sure to check very carefully and make sure they do not add insurance to your paperwork! A number of people have reported that even after they repeatedly and emphatically told the rental agent that they wanted to refuse the insurance, when they returned the car, they had been charged for the insurance. In some cases this nearly doubled the cost of the rental. It turned out that during the rental process they had been instructed to initial a space that indicated they accepted the insurance. This has been reported at almost every agency. Be sure to read what you’re initialing!
Another misleading insurance sales ploy that has been reported is this: the rep refers in passing to “basic coverage” and implies that this is something included or standard. Rental car companies do NOT include any basic insurance coverage in the US, unless you have some kind of specially-negotiated corporate contract with them (i.e. if you are traveling on business, your company may have some kind of insurance included in its master contract with the agency). Statements like “okay, so you just want the basic coverage” are a way of misleading you into buying insurance you don’t need or want. Again, if you have determined that you don’t need additional insurance from the rental car company, it is very important to examine your paperwork and make sure no insurance has been added. Remember, counter agents earn commission on selling you “extras” like insurance!
If you have determined you don’t need extra insurance, the easiest way to avoid having insurance added during the rental process is to sign up for the rental car company’s frequent renter program. This allows you to do almost all of the paperwork in advance (and usually you get to avoid the check-in line, or stand in a special line). Because you have already chosen “no insurance” in advance, the issue shouldn’t even arise.
Among the various misleading tactics car rental companies use is the “upsell” or “suggested upgrade.” You show up at the rental counter with your confirmation in hand, and the rep offers to upgrade you to a bigger car for “just a little more” money. (Alternatively, sometimes they will look at your family and claim the car you reserved isn’t going to be big enough for all of you and your luggage. Then they offer an “upgrade” for a few dollars more per day.)
This is a scam, pure and simple. 99% of the time, if you turn down the “upgrade,” it will turn out they don’t actually have any cars left in the category you reserved. They know this, and they know they are going have to upgrade you into a larger vehicle without additional charge. But first they’ll try to get you to pay for the upgrade. Don’t let them.
Why do they do this? Because rental car counter agents earn financial incentives for “upselling” you! It’s a good reason to avoid going to the counter. Before you rent, sign up for the rental car company’s frequent renter program, especially if it allows you to skip the line and the sales pitch.
When you pick up your rental car, most companies will offer you the option of prepaying for a full tank of gas, often at a temptingly low per-gallon rate. The pitch is that this is “convenient” and will “save you money.”
Well, it may be convenient, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. When I’m in Orlando I usually drive across Walt Disney World several times a day and visit multiple off-site locations — and after 5 days, I’ll still have a half-tank of gas left.
Even if you’re able to use a whole tank of gas during your trip, to make the prepaid tank worthwhile you’d have to return the car on fumes. Personally that would make me very nervous! Prepaid gas is just another “extra” that earns commission for rental car counter agents.
(Click here to see information about good places to buy gas near Walt Disney World.)
If you go through the express lane (SunPass lane) on a toll road in Florida while driving a rental car, be prepared for major surcharges from the rental car company.
I first learned about this from MouseSavers.com readers Ericka and Joe, who rented with Budget for an Orlando vacation. “Posted on the inside of the car (but never disclosed by any employees) was a new service available to the renters. You can use the built-in toll transponder in the car. The way it works is that you go through the fast toll lane and they charge your credit card for the tolls [plus a big daily fee]. A guy in line in front of us warned us about it. The ‘disclosure’ in the car was a static cling that was on the back window of the car. The cling was clear, so I wouldn’t have ever noticed it if I hadn’t been looking.”
If you use this “service” at most major agencies, there is typically a service charge of $2.95 per day for each day of your rental regardless of whether you use the car (or toll booth) that day, plus the actual cost of tolls. In short, using the transponder even once, for a 50 cent toll, could result in your toll turning into a $15.25 charge on a 5-day or longer rental; the service fee at most agencies maxes out at $14.75 per rental month, plus the cost of tolls.
By far the worst deal on this “service” is at Dollar and Thrifty, where you pay $7.95 per day for the entire rental, up to a maximum of $41.99 per week. Tolls are included in that fee, but bear in mind that the total cost of the tolls you’re likely to pay for a one-way trip between Orlando International Airport and Disney World is about $3-$4, and those tolls are likely to be the only ones you’ll need to pay during your entire vacation. Unlike other rental car companies, at Dollar and Thrifty you have to opt into their wildly overpriced Pass24 transponder service at the time of rental. They will push you to add this feature, because their counter agents are compensated to “upsell” you on this highly lucrative add-on.
- To read a summary of the fees charged by the various rental car companies, click here.
The rental car transponder service is not a good deal. The SunPass lane does not save you more than a minute or two on the toll roads you will encounter around Orlando. Right now the rental car toll transponder is a totally unnecessary fee that you can easily avoid. In the Orlando area (including the toll roads between Orlando International Airport and Disney World, and between Orlando and Tampa Bay/Busch Gardens) you can still pay cash for tolls by stopping at a toll booth. There are plans to eliminate the cash lanes eventually, but that hasn’t happened yet in the Orlando area and it’s doubtful it will happen before 2014, if then. Currently the only toll roads with no cash lanes are in South Florida, between Milepost 0 in Florida City and Milepost 47 at the Miami-Dade/Broward County line; Miami-Dade Expressway Authority’s State Road 924, State Road 874 and State Road 878; and Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority’s Selmon Expressway.
So unless you have a specific special offer for prepaid tolls on your rental and you’re sure it’s a good deal, go through the cash lane at the toll booths and use cash for your tolls. Be sure to have a dollar or two in quarters. Many of the exits and entrances to the toll roads are unattended and require you to toss coins into a collection point in order to pay the toll.
- Click here for the best/easiest routes between the MCO airport and Disney World, and info on cash tolls.
Thanks to Clement P, Munro R and Lee D for info.
If you need safety seats or booster seats for your kids, be sure to check with the car rental agency about whether there is an extra charge for them, since that can add a substantial amount to your costs. Some, but not all, rental minivans include integrated child safety seats.
It definitely pays to shop around if you need car seats with your rental. MouseSavers.com reader Cathy D reports, “We have a 3 and 1 year old so we need two car seats. Most car rental companies charge between $7 and $10 a day per seat. National also charges $7 a day but they have a maximum rate of $49 per car seat per rental. Other companies like Budget would charge me the daily rental rate for the entire period. For a two week stay, it’s a $100 savings combined for the 2 seats.”
Of course you can take your own car seats along, which is the safest option but can be a hassle.
Note that when using the third-party rental sources below, you probably won’t qualify for the benefits associated with any frequent renter programs you may belong to, such as National’s Emerald Aisle or the Alamo Insiders program.
- Travelocity has a page devoted to its current rental car deals, and it’s a good place to compare rates, since it lists all the major (and many minor) rental car companies.
- Expedia is a great site to compare deals on the rental car companies, and sometimes has special rate offers.
- Hotwire offers an interesting service. You pick your dates and pickup/drop-off location and times, and they tell you the best deal available — often well below the going rate. However, you won’t know exactly which car rental agency you’re getting until after you’ve accepted the deal. Some people have done well with getting bargains through this service.
- Priceline offers rental cars through its “Name Your Own Price” option, and it’s possible to get a very good daily rate if you’ve done your homework and know how much to bid. Keep in mind that you cannot pick the rental agency (in Orlando, it’s usually Alamo or Budget, sometimes Hertz) and once you place your bid, it’s no refunds, no exchanges. MouseSavers.com Marjan N warns, “If you try the name your own price option and enter SFB (Sanford International) as the pick-up/drop-off airport, you may actually get a match for MCO (Orlando International),” so be sure to look at your reservation carefully!
- CheapTickets.com sometimes offers great rental car deals, in addition to discount airfares.
- If you need both airfare and a rental car, there are some good resources for booking a cheap vacation package that includes both. Note that most of them offer the best deals fairly last-minute (typically 2 weeks to 4 months in advance). If you are booking really late (3 weeks or less before your departure date) these are especially worthwhile, because sometimes you can buy an entire package (airfare and rental car) for LESS than it would cost to book a last-minute airfare alone! Click here to learn more about the best places to find deals on these packages.