Renting a car today is expensive, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Knowing the cheapest way to rent a car will save you hundreds of dollars on your next trip.
From the cheapest rental companies to car sharing and secret discounts you have to ask for to get, you’ll never have to pay full price to rent a car again with these tips!
The Absolute Cheapest Way to Rent a Car
- Choose the cheapest rental brands and use price aggregators
- Consider car sharing, non-airport rental locations, and prepaying
- Use membership discounts, decline add-ons, and pick small cars
Taking a trip on a shoestring budget isn’t as easy as it once was, but there are all kinds of ways to cut back on traveling expenses and lower your overall costs.
Finding the cheapest way to rent a car is one of them. Since the average cost to rent a car is $50-$80/day, knowing little ways to cut the cost can make a major impact.
If you’re looking for the cheapest way to rent a car, you’re in the right place! We’ve uncovered 12 ways to make renting a car considerably cheaper than the usual $50-$80/day.
Some of them are obvious – like choosing smaller cars over larger SUVS and luxury sedans – but others are clever hacks that end up saving you as much as 35% off the base price.
From knowing the cheapest rental brands to use and ensuring you’re getting the lowest price with travel price aggregators to other options like car sharing and prepaying for your rental, there are lots of ways to save.
By skipping the most expensive rental car companies and knowing a few tips and tricks to get the best rental deal, you can save hundreds on your next trip!
12 Other Cheap Ways to Rent a Car
There are lots of ways to pare down your rental bill and make it a little more palatable. Let’s look at the most wallet-friendly ways to work your way into some wanderlust-worthy wheels!
1. Choose the Cheapest Rental Car Companies
The easiest way to save a little money on your rental is by starting with the cheapest brands among the best rental car companies. The cheapest brands charge almost $40 less per day than the more expensive brands.
Start your search with #1-rated Enterprise, a well-known and trusted rental car company with locations all over. You’ll pay around $35 at the lowest to $72 per day for a rental, depending on the car class and rental location.
Check out Hertz as well – it’s #2 on the list of the best rental car companies this year and offers reasonable rates around $40/day to $78/day for economy and compact cars.
While National Car Rental is one of the best companies in terms of locations, rewards, and ease of use, it’s much more expensive with economy cars starting at $72-$84/day.
2. Try Car Sharing on the Cheap
Car sharing is on the rise and presents a great opportunity to save money as one of the cheapest ways to rent a car. There are pros and cons to consider, but it’s worth your attention if you’re serious about saving money.
Car sharing involves renting a car short-term (usually for a day or two) from a private owner or a peer-to-peer (P2P) marketplace like Turo or Getaround.
It’s considerably cheaper (prices typically start at $25/day) than renting from a company, but since you’re dealing with a private owner, it’s not quite as secure or helpful in terms of additional insurance and liability protection.
You also won’t be able to return the car to any location like you can with rentals. Instead, you’ll need to arrange pickup and delivery with the owner of the car.
3. Ask About Discounts
Veterans, seniors, teachers, first responders, healthcare workers – tons of different classifications can nab you some noteworthy discounts on your next rental. All you need to do is ask and possibly show some proof!
Not all rental car companies will offer discounts like these, but it’s always worth checking! Here’s a list of the current discounts we were able to find with different rental companies.
- Military and veterans (5%-25% off): Save 5%-25% with different rental brands by showing your military ID or signing up with Veterans Advantage. Enterprise offers a 5% discount for military and government workers. Hertz offers 10% off for active duty and veteran members. Budget and Avis offer 25% off for veterans that are members of Veterans Advantage.
- Seniors (5%-20% off): Different rental brands have varying age requirements, but Hertz offers 20% off for drivers 50+, Sixt and Payless offer 5% off for drivers 50+, and Dollar Rent-A-Car takes 10% off for seniors.
- Teachers (5%-25% off): Educators, especially members of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, can get discounts from 5% off (Sixt) to 25% off (Hertz) on rental cars.
- First responders (5%-25% off): Hertz (25% off), Dollar Rent-A-Car (25% off), Thrifty (25% off), Alamo (unspecified discount), Sixt (5% off) and Fox (5% off) all offer discounts for first responders.
- Healthcare workers (5%-35% off): All healthcare workers can save 5% at Sixt. Nursing students can save 35% on rentals with Avis and Budget. Nursing union members get 5% off at Payless, 25% off at Hertz, Thrifty, and Dollar Rent-A-Car, and 35% off at Avis and Budget.
4. Check Travel Price Aggregators
Travel price aggregators check every airline and online travel agency to instantly bring you a list of the cheapest current prices on flights, hotels, and – you guessed it – rental cars.
We like Skyscanner best because it pulls the lowest possible rental price from all the top rental brands – Enterprise, Hertz, Budget, Avis, Sixt, and Europcar. That makes looking for the cheapest way to rent a car that much easier.
A quick look at Skyscanner found rentals as low as $15/day in Miami, Florida and $38/day in Los Angeles! You’ll enter your pickup location to see prices from different rental brands near you.
The best part about using this method to find the cheapest rentals is that Skyscanner shows you any potential hidden fees a rental company might charge (for an extra driver, different return location, etc.).
They also show you results with the best fuel policies (they call it their Fair Fuel Policy) and highlight whether you’ll need to fill the tank back up before you return the car.
5. Sign Up for Rewards
Almost every rental car company has a rewards program or membership program that lets frequent renters access special discounts, upgrades, and even free rentals.
When you earn enough points, you’ll be able to upgrade your car class for free, skip the line and get instant access to the rental keys, and even unlock free rental days to slash your overall rental cost.
This can be one of the cheapest ways to rent a car if you already rent quite often, but it won’t do much for you if you rarely rent cars and don’t plan to start renting more in the future.
- Enterprise: Enterprise Plus, Silver, Gold, and Platinum members can earn free rental days, car upgrades, fast check-in, access to more cars, and a direct customer service line. Every dollar spent equals one point. Enterprise Plus membership is free.
- Hertz: Hertz Gold Plus Rewards members can earn free rental days, car upgrades, fast check-in, and easy app access to points and rewards. Every dollar spent equals one point. Hertz Gold membership is free.
- National: National Car Rental Emerald Club members can earn free rental days, Emerald Aisle fast check-in, and Emerald Checkout for an easy experience. Enterprise rentals count toward your rewards, too! Every rental earns you 1 rental credit. Redeem 7 credits for a free rental day.
6. Decline the Add-Ons
Add-ons are the rental car industry’s bread and butter. It’s one way they can sneak in hidden fees and upgrade charges – many people don’t realize that many of the add-ons are pretty useless.
If you have car insurance on your personal vehicle, always decline the $20-$60/day extra insurance. Your current insurance should cover you in the rental and is likely far better than the supplemental plan you’ll be offered at the counter.
Don’t get taken by the offer to bring the rental back with an empty gas tank. It sounds convenient, but the average fuel price they use to calculate the added charge is almost always more than what you’ll pay to fill it up yourself.
While extras like child seats, satellite radio, GPS navigation, and prepaid tolls are also convenient, it’s much cheaper to bring your own (like carseats or GPS), pay the tolls yourself, or do without satellite radio.
7. Don’t Rent at the Airport
Airport locations are the most expensive way to rent a car, but the reverse is also true: Opting for one of the locations in town is the cheapest way to rent a car!
Rental companies pay extra to set up shop with their airport locations. Those costs get passed onto the customer and result in charges that can be 27% to almost 40% more than you’d pay at an in-town location.
It’s really convenient to be able to rent directly at the airport, but it’s going to cost a lot more and make your rental more expensive overall. Book in advance and pickup from a non-airport location for the best price.
8. Pick One Driver
Adding extra drivers can tack an additional $10-$15 per day onto your rental car bill. Since we’re talking about finding the cheapest way to rent a car, adding extra drivers is out.
Instead, pick one driver to conquer the highway and stick with it for the trip. A little caffeine, good snacks, and a killer playlist can make it much more bearable!
If having a single driver means you need to stop to rest in a hotel overnight instead of driving straight through, the cost could increase.
But for shorter trips or when you’re planning on breaking the drive into multiple days anyway, it’s an easy way to save money on your rental.
9. Use Your Memberships
You’re probably already a member of a few different organizations, clubs, and even retail loyalty programs. Did you know that these memberships can unlock special members-only rental car discounts for you?
The major ones – AAA and AARP – are surefire ways to save 5%-25% on a rental car with almost every rental car brand.
If you’re a member of organizations like Union Plus, Veterans Advantage, American Legion, the National Education Association, or the American Medical Association, you can also save 5%-25%.
Your Costco or Sam’s Club membership card and even your car insurance or home insurance company may offer special rental car discounts up to 25%, so be sure to check for your membership discount code.
10. Rent Economy or Compact Cars
You know that the bigger and more luxurious the rental car, the more it costs to rent it. But even mid-size cars are considerably more expensive than smaller economy or compact car classes!
Economy cars are very small and seat up to 3 people, like the Ford Fiesta or Kia Rio. Compact cars are slightly bigger to seat up to 5 people and are slightly more expensive, like the Nissan Versa or Kia Soul.
If you stick with the smallest car classes that can fit your crew and luggage, you’re guaranteed to pay the lowest base price.
And if you can stack your economy or compact choice with some of the other discount ideas here, you’ll really be on your way to a cheaper rental.
11. Check for Last-Minute Specials
Last-minute specials give rental car companies a way to rent out unbooked inventory to avoid letting cars sit on the lot. It’s not a great option for planned trips, but works perfectly for last-minute travel.
Companies like Avis, Budget, Alamo, and Sixt offer last-minute specials on rentals and sometimes offer weekend deals that slash your rental bill considerably.
The obvious downside here is that you won’t have as much car choice, may be forced to pick a larger/more expensive car class, and could find that there are no cars or last-minute deals available.
But it’s always worth checking with a few different rental companies or on sites like Skyscanner to see what last-minute deals pop up!
12. Book and Prepay in Advance
Most rental car companies offer some type of discount when you book and prepay in advance of the date you need the car. You can usually save around 10%-25% this way!
It won’t work for spontaneous, last-minute trips, but it’s a great way to save money on a planned trip or vacation when you know you’ll be renting a car and have the money now to pay upfront.
All the major rental car companies (and many of the smaller brands) offer what they call a Pay Now or prepaid discount. Here’s a look at what you can save with some of the most well-known rental brands:
- Enterprise: 10% off when you pre-pray
- Hertz: Up to 25% off when you pre-pay
- Alamo: 5% off when you pre-pay
- Avis: Up to 35% off when you pre-pay
- Budget: Up to 35% off when you pre-pay
- Dollar Rent-A-Car: Up to 25% off when you pre-pay
Just don’t book too far in advance. There’s a notable cost difference when you book a rental car well in advance (91 days, according to NerdWallet) versus 7 days before your trip (about 13% cheaper on average).
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve looked through our 12 tips on the cheapest way to rent a car, you’ve got a good sense of how you can access discounts and lower rates.
Keep these additional tips and considerations in mind for your next rental!
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate at the counter. It’s not foolproof and shouldn’t be your only plan, but it’s possible to negotiate a better rate on your rental car. The key is being prepared to walk away if an affordable rate can’t be agreed on. Sometimes, you’ll find that the clerk suddenly “finds” a better price or a secret discount to offer you! It’s always worth a try if online rates are well out of your budget.
- Flying could be cheaper. It’s possible that flying to your destination and using an Uber or taxi for transportation to and from the airport could be just as affordable – or even cheaper – than renting a car and driving with fuel costs. Check out our guide on how to find cheap flights to see if flying could be more cost effective.
- Consider shortening or moving your trip. It’s not ideal, but if you must rent a car and the discounts aren’t stacking up enough to make it affordable, you could always knock a day or two off your trip to make the rental cost lower. If your trip dates fall on busy rental days or times of year – weekdays, surprisingly, and the summer months – you could move your trip to get cheaper rates on rentals.
- Combine discounts to save more. If you’re a veteran with an AARP membership and prepaying for your rental, you can get a much better deal than using one of those discounts alone. Booking a rental online can limit your ability to stack discounts if you’re using codes, but you can always contact customer service or visit a location near you to see if there’s a way around it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Check out the most frequently asked questions on the cheapest way to rent a car below. There’s a lot of great info here!
How do I find the cheapest price for a rental car?
The best way to ensure you're getting the cheapest price for a rental car is checking a travel price aggregator like Skyscanner to see the lowest current prices from hundreds of rental car brands.
Declining add-ons, choosing the smallest cars, and using membership discounts or prepaying are other ways to get the cheapest price for a rental car.
Is Costco the cheapest way to rent a car?
No. Costco Travel is a travel price aggregator that checks the current rental rates from different rental car companies. In our test, it found much higher prices than Skyscanner, another travel price aggregator.
For example, the cheapest rental Costco found was a $79/day economy car from Alamo. Skyscanner found much cheaper rentals, including a $49/day economy car from Trip.com.
Is it cheaper to rent a car one way or round trip?
Renting a car one-way is usually more expensive since you'll have to pay a drop fee to return the rental car to a different location. Round-trip rentals are cheaper since you won't pay a drop charge.
Is Turo car rental legit?
Turo is a car sharing marketplace that connects travelers with private car owners willing to rent the car out short-term. It is a legitimate company that offers insurance add-ons, vetted cars that are mechanically sound, and 24/7 roadside assistance for renters.
What day of the week is best to rent a car?
Saturday and Sunday are the best days of the week to rent a car, as most people are already off traveling once the weekend hits and rental inventory tends to be well-stocked.
Business travel tends to take place during the workweek as well, so you won't be competing with business travelers for a rental car when you rent on Saturday or Sunday.
So, What’s the Cheapest Way to Rent a Car?
The cheapest way to rent a car isn’t a single action, trick, or method. Instead, the cheapest way to rent a car is by using a combination of the 12 tips in this guide.
Start with the cheapest rental car companies – Enterprise and Hertz top the list – and look into car sharing services for other cheap rental options.
Start adding in membership discounts, sign up for rewards, check a travel price aggregator to see the lowest prices, and say no to pricey add-ons.
Make sure you’re renting from a non-airport location (up to 40% cheaper than airport locations) and choose the smallest car size possible.
Book your rental in advance for the prepay discount, but make sure to do it no more than 7 days in advance. And if it’s a spontaneous trip, always check for last-minute discounts.
There are lots of ways to make renting a car cheaper when you do a little research ahead of time. We hope this guide helps you dig up the best possible price for your next rental!