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February 20, 2017

Uncommon Way to Save on Rental Cars

Filed under: Autos,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:17 am

A friend recently called MrConsumer to complain about high rental car rates in Florida, which used to be available at giveaway prices for years. Not anymore. He was seeing rates in the $500-range for two weeks in St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida. Yikes!

He then saw one rate at Budget for $458 — a bargain by comparison — and grabbed it.

PIE reservation

Some bargain.

MrConsumer went to checking around to see if he could find a lower rate. What infrequent travelers may not know is that there are coupon codes and rental car group discounts available if you know where to look. You’ll find these codes and coupons at places like warehouse clubs (no membership required generally to reserve, but you may be asked for a membership number at the rental counter), at membership clubs like and AAA, and through various other organizations.


Budget coupon

Using those codes only yielded prices in the low $400s. To save a lot more, you have to use a technique that rental car companies don’t advertise.


Instead of picking up the car at the airport, get it at an in-town location. You can still drop it off at the airport on the way home for convenience and not pay any airport fees.

Going through the pricing exercise again, selecting Clearwater, FL instead of PIE (the airport) as the pickup location, yields dramatic savings.

downtown prices

$291 instead of $458! Of course, you have to get downtown from the airport. But, in this case, it is under three miles away and less than a $10 taxi ride.

These techniques won’t work in all cases, but as you shop for a car rental, give it a try. And don’t forget to keep checking back to see if prices have dropped. In most cases, you can cancel the old reservation without penalty and just make a new one at the lower price.

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  1. >You can still drop it off at the airport on the way home for convenience and not pay any airport fees.

    Don’t they charge a fee for not dropping off the car at the pickup location?

    Edgar replies: In my experience, you escape all the junk airport fees. And remember, this is the same city and not a one-way rental where you drop off the car far from the place you got it.

    Comment by Tundey — February 20, 2017 @ 7:51 am
  2. When I have used coupons or codes when using them for car rental or motel room, I have always gotten the worst car they rent out and the motel rooms that are only for coupon guests [if that is what they call coupon people]

    Comment by Karen — February 20, 2017 @ 9:20 am
  3. I haven’t rented a Florida car in a long time, but I used to be in the travel industry. The airports are aware of the technique of travelers picking up a car from a non-airport location to avoid the HUGE fees the local airport authorities or CVB authorities impose on car rentals. In some cases, if you are an out-of-state renter, even if you pick up the car from, let’s say, a downtown location, they will STILL hit you with the airport fees. Unfair? Of course it is. I’d be interested to hear people’s recent experiences with this.

    Comment by Richard — February 20, 2017 @ 5:00 pm
  4. This technique varies by city and rental car company, but is generally valid. I’ve taken this approach, sometimes combination taxi to remote location & AAA discount.

    In some cities, like SFO, the airport fees exceed the charge for the rental. Most (not all) of the fees are pass-through charges analogous to airline terminal fees or the 9/11 fee. They are charged by the airport or city to pay for the fancy monorails or bus service to a rental car terminal. Other fees pay for building sports stadiums and the like.

    Another approach is to doing the rental car’s loyalty program, usually for free. They often have discounts that are better than AAA.

    Comment by Marc Davis — February 21, 2017 @ 7:48 am
  5. I believe that in-town car rental sites have a daily (total rental period) mileage allowance and then charge for every mile above it whereas airport rentals offer unlimited mileage. If you will be putting on considerable miles, be sure to verify this before selecting where to rent.

    Comment by D Ropp — February 27, 2017 @ 1:33 pm
  6. Just did this over Xmas. If you cab it to the rental place for pickup, you avoid the issue on the front end. And often the rental place will drop you off back at the airport or at a nearby hotel that has a free van TO the airport.

    It’s worth the effort. I saved over $200 at a NYC airport this way.

    Comment by RR West — March 6, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

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