How to Get Cheap(er) Car Rentals

by Michael on Oct 12, 2012 · 1 comment

Photo of Man Handing Over Car Keys

If you’re anything like me (and I know you are) then you like to save money, especially when you can do so without settling for less.

One of my favorite ways to save money on travel is to rent cars (when necessary) through travel discounters like Priceline or Hotwire.

Priceline, as you’re likely aware, has made their name by allowing you to “Name Your Own Price” on just about anything needed for travel — flights, hotels, rental cars, etc.

If your bid is successful, you get the deal (credit card info is requested up front), at which point they also divulge the identify of the provider (this info isn’t disclosed up front). If not, you’ve only lost a few minutes.

Hotwire is similar, at least to the extent that you don’t know who the service provider is until after you book the deal. The key difference is that, with Hotwire, you do get to see the asking price up front.

So how do you use these services to get the best deal? Here’s my strategy…

My car rental strategy

I start by checking Kayak or another major travel site to get the lay of the land. I then head over to Hotwire to look for any “Hot Deals”. These are their special, non-refundable deals. They’re not always available but, when they are, the prices are quite good — considerably better than what you can get on the open market.

From there I go to Priceline and place a bid. Assuming there’s a Hot Deal at Hotwire, I shoot for 10-20% less on Priceline. At worst, they’ll reject it and I can go back over to Hotwire and book the Hot Deal. I’m successful about half the time.

Of course, you can re-bid on Priceline if your offer is rejected (as many are) buy you’ll either have to wait 24 hours or you’ll have to fundamentally change your request (e.g., different dates, car type, or location). That’s too much hassle so I just give them one chance and then head back to Hotwire.

Here are a couple of real-life examples.

Hitting up Hotwire

My wife is heading out of town to visit friends. For her trip, she needs a car so I used the strategy above. For a variety of reasons, she’s interested in a mid-sized SUV. The best price on the open market was a weekly rate of $158.94 (or $31.79/day).

On Hotwire, we could get the same car for $26.95/day. Nice. But is that the best possible deal? I next hopped over to Priceline and submitted a bid.

I offered $22/day (about 18% below the Hotwire price) and was promptly rejected. I thus went back to Hotwire for a savings of roughly $5/day (plus tax) vs. renting directly from an agency. She wound up with a car from Hertz.

Profiting from Priceline

I’ll be heading out of town for a business trip at the end of next week. For this trip, I’ll need to rent a minivan. In this case, the best available rate on the open market was a whopping $136.29/day. Unimpressed, I headed over to Hotwire.

Once there, I discovered a Hot Rate of $56.95/day. Wow! That’s a savings of $79.34 (plus tax) straight off the top. But could I do even better with Priceline? I decided to try. Can’t hurt, right?

This time around, I bid $50/day (a little over 12% below the Hotwire price) and they accepted. That saved me an extra $6.95/day bringing my total savings to $86.29/day (plus tax). I wound up a car from Alamo.

Not bad for a few minutes work, huh?

P.S. If you click through the Hotwire or Priceline links in this article before booking, I’ll get a small commission. It won’t cost you anything extra and it helps keep this site running.


1 Edward Antrobus October 13, 2012 at 11:32 pm

I’ve rented a car twice. I didn’t do anything special besides comparison shopping either time but both times wound up getting a free upgrade from compact to mid-size. If you rent from Budget, see if you can spot someone who is obviously new working the counter. We were offered an upgrade just because our clerk was in training on her very first day on the job.

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