Over the years I've learnt that having an awareness of some of the concealed costs, which rental companies steer unsuspecting customers towards, can really help to save you money on car rental bookings. Below I'll outline some of the most important aspects of a booking which, in my opinion, provide the greatest opportunities for savings.
To seasoned car renters, some of this may not seem like "ground breaking" information. However, I'm fairly certain that for many of you out there who consider yourselves to be regular travellers will find this very useful.
1. Surcharges on "premium location" pickups
What many people fail to take into account is that car rental companies actually charge considerably more for convenient pick-up points, such as airports. These "premium locations" are generally associated with a higher rental cost. So you're better off in many cases simply using public transport instead to get you into town and then picking up your rental vehicle from there. You'll be surprised at what the price differences can be.
2. The "refilling with a full tank" trap
Often, car rental companies will offer you the option of returning the vehicle with a full tank. This is generally a bad idea though and you're better off filling it up yourself. Reason being that if you chose to purchase a full tank upfront with the promise of returning the car with whatever fuel was left, you won't get any credit for the remainder. That money simply goes straight to the rental company.
Also, if you let them fill it up for you, there's normally a "convenience" premium that you'll be paying extra for. So it's not just the cost of the actual fuel that you need to take into account. Thus, the best approach is to fill up the tank yourself by finding a service station as near to the drop-off point as possible. Don't forget to hold onto your receipt either, as it's not uncommon for there to be discrepancies around proving that you did in fact fill the tank upon the car's return.
3. Wallet-stomping insurance costs
I'm sure many of you have been in the situation where you've found a very reasonable looking car rental deal online, only to be slapped with ridiculously expensive insurance costs just before paying. Some rental companies charge over $40 per day to reduce liability to a few hundred dollars. However, it's a very risky business not to take out any cover at all, as the rental companies don't tend to hold back the punches if they've come after you for any damages to a vehicle.
A good starting point to avoid paying their sky-high insurance fees is to check both your private car insurance as well as your credit card member benefits, as sometimes they will cover rental cars as well. A good alternative, as recommended by consumer watchdog Choice, is to take out domestic travel insurance that covers rental car excess. Don't forget though, often these policies will exclude things like damage to the tyres, windscreens, the roof, the interior of the vehicle as well as the underbody.
4. Hidden costs of delivering to a different destination
Another tip to reducing your car rental costs is to avoid one-way trips where you drop the car off at a different location from where it was collected. This is due to the fact that companies will once again often charge a premium for the "convenience" of dropping a car off somewhere else.
One way to avoid paying the higher fees is to call up a local rental office ahead of time and to find out if they need any cars delivered to your intended destination. Often they'll be happy to waive the one-way fee if you can drive the car to another office for them.
5. Additional driver = additional charges
If you're planning on doing a long trip, then you'll probably want to share the driving. What rental companies tend to do though is to charge you for an extra driver, even though it makes no difference to them (sometimes as much as $13 extra per day).
One way to potentially avoid paying this fee is to call the company up beforehand and ask whether it will cost more if your husband/wife/significant other half also wants to drive. In some cases, they will waive the fee if you join their frequent-renter program which is generally free and quick to do. These memberships also come with other perks including free upgrades, bypassing queues at checkin desks, as well as receiving special promotional discounts on future rentals.