First Person: Saving on a Rental Car

Yahoo Contributor Network

This year's family vacation has us retracing the Historic Route 66 from Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier in Southern California. This ambitious road trip means covering nearly 5000 miles of American roads which we most definitely don't plan on doing in one of our vintage Volkswagens. To save wear and tear on our cars plus avoid the strong possibility of a breakdown, we decided to rent a car instead.

Renting a car is very expensive with an average sized rental car running over $1200 a month. To save money, we shopped around for bargains and made some concessions to stay within our budget. Here are a few of the tips we used to save money on a month's rental.

Joined an auto club

A $65 membership to AAA is well worth the money for anyone who plans on taking a road trip. Not only do members get free roadside assistance, an AAA membership means free maps and travel guides plus savings of 10-20% on popular hotels, restaurants, and other services such as car rentals through Hertz. I compared car rental prices online through Expedia and Orbitz to discover that the AAA discount rate at Hertz was $140 less per month than the cheapest competitor.

Booked on-line

Did you know that you can save money by booking car rentals on-line than by telephone? I didn't realize this myself until calling a couple of car rental sites to verify mileage restrictions. Booking on-line also gives you easy access to discount codes for even more savings.

Downsized the car

For a 5000 mile road trip, fuel economy is very important. While initially we were looking at a mid sized car for our vacation, the 19 mpg rating meant that we would use nearly 263 gallons of gas for the trip. Downsizing the car to a Ford compact that got 39 miles to the gallon would drop our fuel consumption to 128 gallons, saving us nearly $500 in gas costs alone. Downsizing the car also saved us an additional $200 in rental costs.

Called our insurance agent

Rental car agencies are full of add-ons, including a very pricey insurance policy that costs $25 (or more) a day. While this doesn't seem like much, over the course of a month we'd be paying nearly $750 in insurance. To save money here, I simply called my insurance agent to double check that our existing insurance policy covered rental cars. It did.

A point worth noting is that the advertised prices seen on internet travel sites are a bit misleading since they do not include concession and facility fees which can easily increase the rental rate by 15-25%. When comparing prices, take the time to go to the agencies website and get a quote for the entire cost. You'll discover like I did that a few discount rental agencies charge more in fees which makes them less of a bargain then they seem in their ads.

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More by this contributor:

How to plan a thrifty vacation.

How to save money while planning a road trip.

Credit card safety tips for travelers.

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