Renting a car while on vacation

Check out some do’s and don’ts to help it go as smooth as possible.

You’re standing in line to pick up your rental car. You’re exhausted from the trip. You feel pressured by people waiting behind you. And you have a tired and cranky family in tow. This is not the time to make important decisions.

That’s why it’s best to do your car rental research ahead of time, and take the decision-making out of the process. Things will go smoother and, more than likely, you’ll save money. Some big do’s and don’ts:


Shop at aggregate sites. Check out discount sites to review all your options.

Book with a flight. Packages are often cheaper than separate bookings. Plus, booking through a loyalty program racks up points. Compare!

Look for promo codes. Found the right deal? Google [car company] + [promo code]. You could save even more!

Avoid surcharges. Read the fine print and conditions: charges for a second driver; taxes; mileage cap, etc.

Be flexible. If you can pick up and drop off your car outside the airport, you’ll pay less. Similarly, compare prices at different pick-up and return times. These can fluctuate significantly with demand.

Don’t pay twice for insurance. Check out the coverage your credit card and/or existing insurer already offer. If you rent often, ask your insurer or credit card company to add rental insurance to your policy. It’s likely cheaper.

Pay ahead. Often a significant discount and the rate is locked in. But read the cancellation policy carefully.

Bring your own GPS and child seat. Even buying an entry-level GPS before leaving home will pay for itself. Similarly, bring your baby or child seat as checked luggage — all cheaper than renting with the car.

Check for car damage. Inspect the car exterior, preferably with their rep. Note any damage, take phone pictures and let them know. You could be charged at the end, and it’s their word against yours.

Read reviews. Check out online user reviews and ratings.

Fuel up. Opt to return the car with a full tank of gas.

Ask and ye shall receive…maybe. Ask for a bigger car at the counter. When inventory is available, you’ll often get it at no extra cost.


Book the first seemingly good price you see. Shop around and read the conditions (charges for second driver, taxes, etc.), so you’re comparing apples to apples. Be suspicious of too-good-to-be-true deals.

Drive without proper collision and liability insurance. A lot can happen.

Pay ahead without knowing the cancellation policy. If the penalties are too high, find another company.

Drive away without having inspected the vehicle and noted any damage. You might get charged for a pre-existing scratch or dent.

Safe driving!