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August 23, 2010

Last Minute Car Renters Benefit from Hidden Price Drops

Filed under: Autos,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 4:51 am

Unlike airlines that charge customers higher fares the closer to the departure date you make your reservation, some car rental firms actually lower the price as the rental date draws nearer.  They don’t advertise that fact, they just do it quietly.

Example: MrConsumer helped a friend book a 12-day rental starting on August 22 from Logan airport in Boston. At the end of July — approximately three weeks in advance — the total rate including taxes was in the high $400s for Alamo — and that was using a coupon and a group discount.

Exactly two weeks before the start date of the rental, just for the fun of it, MrConsumer checked prices again at Alamo on a new reservation, using a better coupon — $40 off a 10-day rental.  Between the coupon and a new price reduction, the exact same rental dropped to $420.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Not bad, a savings of about $60.

Checking prices again exactly one week before the rental was scheduled to begin revealed another price drop of close to $100. It was now down to $337.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Wow, that’s a total savings of almost $150 compared to the price that would have been charged on the earliest reservation. 

And, checking the rates one day later, the price dropped to $317.

Now, on August 17, just five days before the rental, the price dropped again:

*MOUSE PRINT:

We are now under $300 for the rental, an almost $200 savings compared to the price quoted at the end of July.

It can’t get any lower, can it?

*MOUSE PRINT:

Wow.. as of Wednesday, August 18 — just four days before the rental — the price dropped over $30 to $267. Will the discounts ever end?

Two days before the car rental was scheduled to begin, the price dropped one last time, albeit by only $7.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Just to finish the price history of the rental, the day before the actual rental, the price jumped up to $414.91.  And on the day of the rental itself, the price was $434.68.  Amazingly, the highest price Alamo offered was the first one — for the reservation made over three weeks before the actual rental date. The total savings for MrConsumer’s friend amounted to over $220 by making weekly, and then daily checks of prices as the rental date drew near.

Surprisingly, in this case, it was substantially cheaper renting at the airport than from an in-town location. (The opposite is usually true.) Compounding the problem of high rates is that string of junk fees and taxes that boosts the price substantially, no matter how low the published rate is per day.

Because no one knows if prices are going to go up or down in any particular case, or with any particular car rental firm,  it is still wise to book early (using all the discounts and coupons you can find), but check again repeatedly  as the rental date approaches.  If you find a lower price, book the new reservation, then cancel the old one.

• • •

6 Comments

  1. Did you check at the same time of the day? If not what is the best time to check for rates for car rentals?

    Edgar replies: Linda, I usually checked online first thing in the morning.

    Comment by Linda — August 23, 2010 @ 7:53 am
  2. I noticed something similar w/ Enterprise for an upcoming rental on the 27th. While researching it, I saw the price drop ~$20 after a few days. I kept thinking that I might have given it different information the first time and that would account for the discrepancy, so I booked right away. I just checked this out and managed to knock ~$46 off the price since I originally booked on the 5th. Very nice!

    Comment by Ron — August 23, 2010 @ 8:52 am
  3. cruises do the same thing. As a veteran cruiser I book way in advance to get the stateroom of my choice but periodically check the price and rebook if the price goes down. I have even had Princess cruisline call ME to tell me the price had dropped and they are crediting or refunding the excess amount. Now that is customer service.

    Comment by myra italiano — August 23, 2010 @ 8:54 am
  4. Every year we go to Texas and fly into Hobby and fly out from San Antonio. The usual charge is an additional $87 for one way. Cost is generally in the $600-800 range three months prior to departure. Booked the other day for $336 for a week including the return charge. Happens every year. Probably upgrade me for free.

    Another savings potential is renting off airport and downtown. Trip to Portland Oregon a few years back the difference was $50. LRV right from airport to downtown and when I needed the car it was dropped off at the hotel so I even saved an extra day and another $30.

    Now does the credit card insurance really protect you so you don’t need the very expensive insurance? Sure does. I hit a deer a few years back in Bandera TX. $2,000 in damage. My own insurance picked it up and the credit card picked up the $500 deductible.

    Comment by Rick — August 23, 2010 @ 10:55 am
  5. If you think the ‘junk’ fees are high in this example, try booking a car in Hawaii. You can add 50% to the posted daily rate to get the amount you will actually be billed. And by the way, the ‘rack rate’ for three weeks (mid-size car) in Hawaii for Jan. is over $2700. Perhaps they just don’t want visitors any more?

    Comment by Richard Carlborg — August 23, 2010 @ 1:16 pm
  6. The findings of this article is the exact premise of AutoSlash.com, a website that tracks the price of car rentals, and even automatically re-books you if and when prices drop. The site launched earlier this year and has saved thousands of customers money in its first few months of operation. In some cases, we’ve dropped the rate of some folks 5+ times over the course of a month or so. While prices don’t drop for everyone, it happens often enough that it’s *very* worthwhile to track rates.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I am one of the founders of AutoSlash.com.

    Comment by Jonathan Weinberg — September 8, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

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