Renting the right car can not only save you money, it can add comfort, convenience, and safety to your trips. Here are some good ideas.
- Book wisely
Arriving at a car rental counter and plunking down your credit card in front of the attendant is not the best way to get good value. It’s actually the worst. You’ll save time and money if you call your travel providers direct or book your reservations on the Internet.
- Use frequent renter programs
Like airlines and hotels, major car rental companies track their customers’ rental histories and offer preferential service to loyal customers. Most of the major companies offer frequent renter programs that earn you upgrades and free rental days.
- Become a preferred renter
Most major car rental companies also offer preferred renter programs or clubs (one example is the Hertz #1 Club). When you belong to one of these clubs, you get preferential treatment, which allows you to bypass the rental counter. While many of these programs come with a price tag, most programs will waive the fee if you write or call the car rental company and ask them to waive it. They will do it because the car rental industry is very competitive, and they want your business.
- Maximize your clout
Select at least two different companies for your car rental business. The first is your primary provider; this is where you will put most of your business so you can earn the highest level of preferential service. The second company is your hedge against regional market variations. As in the hotel industry, rates and availability in the car rental industry can vary from place to place; on occasion, one company’s rates will be grossly out of whack. By working two loyalty programs, you won’t get caught paying inflated prices when your objective is to minimize your business expenses.
- Getting the best rate
You have to be persistent, and you have to call the car rental companies directly — sometimes several times. It is not uncommon to speak with one rental agent and be offered one rate and then call back a few minutes later and get another rate. If you’re renting for three or more days, ask if a weekly rate is available. Often car rental companies offer cheaper weekly rates for as few as three days.
- Getting upgraded
When making your reservation ask the agent to document your record for an upgrade based on availability. This will greatly increase your odds of being upgraded when you pick up your car. Another strategy is to call the on-site manager in advance of your arrival, introduce yourself as a loyal, preferred customer, and ask if she can help you nail down that upgrade. It has been my experience that most on-site managers are very accommodating.
- Work the discounts
Car rental companies offer myriad discounts, ranging from corporate discounts to those affiliated with airlines and hotels. I have found that AAA and American Express often have special rates with car rental agencies; check your monthly airline mileage statement for special offers available from you airline’s car rental partners. Also be sure to check the Car Rental Company’s Web site for special deals or promotions; there are often discounts for booking online. Finally, individual rental locations will occasionally offer their own specials and promotions, so you should ask at the counter if they have anything for you. Just remember to mention your status as a preferred business customer.
- Check the mileage
Most rental companies offer unlimited mileage for typical business rentals. However, be certain to verify their policy before renting as exceeding mileage requirements can rack up the cost of your rental.
- Think small, then think big
Start with the rental companies smallest car and then find out the rate for the next level car. Very often you can move from a sub-compact to a full size car for only $2 to $3 dollars a day adding comfort and safety to your travels.
- Go smokeless
You will increase your odds for getting a newer, cleaner car if you insist on having a non-smoking car. You will also increase your chances for an upgrade because if a non-smoking car is unavailable in the class of service you booked (and it might be, since non-smoking cars are in high demand); you will be upgraded to accommodate your non-smoking needs.
Joel Widzer Psy.D., is an expert on consumer loyalty and frequent flier programs. He is the author of The Penny Pincher’s Passport to Luxury Travel and a contributor to MSNBC. His consulting firm www.jetready.com advises travelers and businesses on a range of issues from maximizing their travel programs to managing travel fatigue. He can be reached at 714-544-2855.