Cool Ideas

Save on Rental Cars and Transportation

by Stephanie Nelson

Whether you are traveling for business or leisure travel, you will need to make arrangements for getting around once you get to your destination. Because prices of ground transportation can vary dramatically, it is worth doing a little research before your trip to save the most on transportation.

First, take some time to understand what your transportation needs will be during your trip. If you are visiting a downtown city location, you may not need to rent a car at all. You may be able to walk everywhere you need to go, or take short cab rides. If you familiarize yourself with local public transportation options like buses or trains, you can save money and avoid the hassle of driving and looking for parking spots. For example, I recently took a trip to Chicago and opted to take the $2 train ride from the airport to my hotel rather than the $35 cab ride. Because I only needed to be downtown, I didn't need a car while I was there. By taking a few minutes to read the train schedule to find the right train, I saved $66. The train station was right by my hotel, so it was convenient as well.

However, if you plan to do sightseeing by car or need to get to several locations across a big city, there are easy ways to save money on rental cars if you know where to look.

Save on Rental Car costs:

Use a travel search engine to find the lowest-priced car rental agency, and then check the rental car site directly to find special promotions or coupons.

Nonrefundable reservation savings: If you are willing to pay for your car rental on a nonrefundable basis, you will save dramatically using a site like or that allow you to name your own price. These sites allow you to select the specific location where you need to rent the car, the dates you need it and the car size you require. The drawback is that you cannot select the specific rental car company and your reservation is prepaid and nonrefundable. Your credit card is charged if your bid is accepted, and then you will see which company you rented from after you have paid for your rental. However, if you are sure of your travel plans, using these sites can save you a great deal of money. I used to rent cars during two recent trips and was very pleased with the quality and price. These are my savings examples:

  • I went to Boston and needed a rental car for three days. The lowest refundable rate I could find with a search engine was $52 a day. I decided to bid $20 per day on Priceline and got a nonrefundable reservation from the same company that had quoted the refundable rate of $52. This strategy saved me $92 before taxes.

  • I went to Detroit and needed a car for two days. I bid $20 a day on Priceline and happened to get a Hertz car (which had a $72 a day refundable rate on the Hertz site). Although I reserved a smaller mid-size car, that size was not available when I arrived so I got a nice mid-size SUV for the $20 a day price. I saved $104 before taxes by using

    Because the savings of the nonrefundable car rentals was so high, I knew that if I ended up canceling one out of several trips, I would still be ahead. However, if you are not comfortable with the idea of using nonrefundable reservations, try these tricks to find the lowest-priced refundable rates:

Check rental car companies' prices through partner airline sites or These rates are generally lower than going to the rental car site directly.

Call the rental car company's toll-free number to see if they offer special AAA, Entertainment or AARP rates (if you qualify). Some rental car sites will let you select these rate options online.

If you are staying at a hotel with airport transportation, check to see if you can turn your car in the night before you fly out and use the airport shuttle to get to the airport. This strategy may save you a full day rental charge.

Always fill the rental car's gas tank yourself. Unless you plan to do a lot of driving, opting to pre-pay for a full tank of gas when you rent the car will cost far more.

Check your airline mileage statements for rental car coupons.

Check the direct mail coupon packets you receive at home for rental car coupons.

Use a search engine to look for rental car coupon codes and use them to book online.

Check coupon code websites for rental car offers.

Stephanie Nelson has shared her savings tips on ABC News' Good Morning America, Good Housekeeping Magazine and hundreds of local radio and TV stations. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at Copyright 2006 Stephanie Nelson.