When it comes to renting a car, there are a few things to consider. It's important to know what kind of car you need, what type of insurance you need, and whether or not you should book in advance. Generally speaking, if you're renting an average car like a compact, it's best to do a quick review of the vehicle to document any existing dents, scratches, or other cosmetic defects. Liability insurance is usually not included on credit cards, so you'll want to add it with the car rental company or use your own if you have one.
Car rental companies will competitively price cars to increase demand, but when demand is high, they can raise prices accordingly. If you know you'll be renting during a busy period when prices are likely to be the highest, it's worth booking six to twelve months in advance. Paying your rent in advance either through the rental company's website or through one of the opaque booking sites can offer you a discount on the standard rate. The best time to book a car is six to twelve months in advance if you're traveling with a large group during the high season, but it's OK to book closer to your rental date if you're traveling out of season. Rental companies want to rent as many cars as possible, just like hotels want to rent as many rooms as possible. To protect themselves, car rental companies must make excessive reservations in order to get close to renting most of the available vehicles.
When making a reservation, you can choose to provide your contact information and pay for the vehicle at the counter when you pick it up. Sites like Priceline and Hotwire sometimes offer what are known as “opaque offers” which offer a bigger discount in exchange for not disclosing the rental company until after payment has been made. You can show up with a confirmed reservation only to discover that there are no cars available in the class you booked. After two rentals, my membership paid off on its own with the amount I saved through their travel portal, says Kelsey Sheehy, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. When booking online, you'll sometimes see two prices - one for “Pay Later” and one for “Pay Now”.
Even at Dollar which had the smallest difference, it was more expensive to book three months in advance. Generally speaking, discounts offered by opaque sites tend to be more aggressive than those offered by the rental companies themselves but there are also more restrictions so make sure your plans are 100% firm. As a result, some travelers book one-way rentals for trips such as driving along the California coast or taking a cross-country road trip.