Paying for your car rental with a credit card is one way to cut the cost of your next road trip or vacation. You hope you never need it, but most cards include car rental insurance, which can save you hundreds or thousands if your rental car is in an accident.
Note, though, what your credit card’s car rental insurance covers. Often, that’s secondary insurance, meaning your car insurance company pays first, then your credit card insurance coverage kicks in. The Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, though, are among a few cards that include primary coverage on car rentals.
Also, note that credit card benefits are always changing. Discover announced in December it will be cutting five card benefits starting in February 2018, and car rental insurance is one of those.
How else can you save on your next car rental? Let’s count the ways…
By stacking discounts from car rental loyalty programs, deals on car rental and other websites, and using a rewards credit card, your savings can add up.
Here’s how I and others save on car rentals:
Car rental loyalty programs
One of the easiest ways to save on car rentals is to sign up for loyalty programs.
Many people are familiar with airline and hotel loyalty programs, but don’t realize that several car rental agencies offer rewards for repeat customers, too. By sticking with one or two car rental companies, you can accrue points toward a future rental.
Avis has its Preferred Points program, Hertz has Hertz Gold Plus, and Enterprise has Enterprise Plus for Enterprise and Nationwide customers. Other car rental companies have loyalty programs, too.
And Avis just revamped Preferred Points in response to customer feedback.
Program members earn at least 100 points on every rental, and points can be used for rental days starting at 700 points, says Regina Mylan, vice president of customer engagement and loyalty for Avis Budget Group.
Some car rental companies offer programs that include perks and discounts, but not points that are redeemable for a future rental.
The Budget Fastbreak program, for example, provides expedited pickup service and access to special offers such as $25 Budget Bucks after two rentals. Similarly, the Alamo Insiders program gives customers a 5 percent discount and other exclusive offers.
Car rental websites add savings
Before you book, check car rental websites for any special deals or discounts.
Avis, for example, offered $5 per day rentals to move its cars from the Northeast to Florida after the mass evacuation from Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma.
Alamo’s website has a Deals area where visitors can check for discounts on select cars at specific destinations or offers such as a free one-car class upgrade and even last-minute specials.
Experts at Alamo also say it’s a good idea to rent your car as early as possible, especially at busy times like the holidays, to not only get the best price but to ensure the vehicle you want is available. This is also key in Europe where automatic transmission cars are few and far between.
If you’re a member of AAA, you can score additional savings by renting through Hertz, the agency’s car rental partner. Deals vary, but include both percentages and dollars off different types and lengths of rentals. USAA also offers its members car rental discounts with a special coupon code.
How you book a car rental can cut your costs
You can book a car rental directly with the company, through airline websites that earn frequent-flyer miles or via third-party aggregator sites such as Expedia and Priceline.
Comparison sites often are the least expensive option, but you won’t earn loyalty points with the car rental company.
Harry Maddox of Roswell, Georgia, who frequently travels for business, says he uses third-party car rental booking sites to save up to half off the cost of car rentals.
“I generally check rental car prices at two or three sites like Kayak, Orbitz or Expedia to get a general feel for the prices at my destination,” he says.
“I see what Priceline has to offer and use their Name Your Price to bid on the type of car I need. I start my bid at 50 percent less than what they are showing. It may take a couple of days, but I can usually save 40 to 50 percent on each rental.”
To keep track of fluctuations in pricing to see if you can get a better deal, use a service like AutoSlash, which will track current pricing for car rentals across your dates and destination and let you know if it finds a lower price. The service will track bookings completed directly with a car rental agency, or you can book through AutoSlash.
Earn rewards when you charge your car rental
Book your car rental with a rewards credit card to earn cash back or points to save on future travel.
“Always review the options or discounts your credit card offers for travel rewards,” says frequent traveler Ariana Pierce, founder and CEO of several companies, including Styleshoppe.com.
Cardholders often get a discount on car rentals with preferred partners.
For example, American Express cardholders can get $20 cash back on an Enterprise rental of $200 or more with Amex Offers.
Pierce notes that she gets 5 percent off car rentals at Alamo plus a free upgrade through Discover Deals. Discover Deals change frequently, but currently Budget, Avis, Enterprise, National, Dollar and Thrifty are among car rental agencies with discounts.
If you’re renting a car, you’ll be filling up while on the road and before returning your vehicle, and you will save a bit every time you do if your credit card often includes bonus cash back or points at gas stations.
For example, Chase Freedom cardholders can earn 5 percent at gas stations during the first quarter of 2018. Freedom cardholders can earn at least 5 cents off per gallon at Shell stations through all of 2018, too.
Similarly. Blue Cash Preferred American Express cardholders earn 3 percent cash back on purchases at gas stations.
Pierce also recommends the Citi ThankYou Premier card, which earns 3 points per dollar spent on travel, including car rentals. It comes with a $95 annual fee waived for the first year.
Chase Sapphire Reserve also offers 3 points per dollar spent on travel purchases, including car rentals, but comes with a $450 annual fee.
Additionally, airline cards such as the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus and Chase Rapid Rewards Premier Visa cards let you earn points not just on airline purchases, but with select car rental partners, which include most of the major car rental agencies. (Rapid Rewards members can earn up to 2,400 points on car rentals with the airline’s partners.)
Plan your next car rental to save
Before you rent a car, doing a bit of homework can add up to big savings. With loyalty programs, deals found on car rental websites and by checking third-party booking sites, you can cut your costs and maybe get a free upgrade.
And paying with your rewards card can earn you cash back or points or miles – and save you the cost of repairs if you’re in an accident in the rental car.
See related: Which cards are best for renting a car?, 9 tips for renting a car with a debit card