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Let’s face it: renting a car can be an unpleasant experience when traveling, and often an expensive one. You may have especially experienced this recently as travel restarted after the pandemic shut things down for a while.
Choosing a company, finding them after landing, ensuring you get what you paid for…and what about all those insurance options?
While these are a few hurdles to navigate, car rentals don’t have to be a nightmare – especially when you find an awesome price! Here, we will discuss some of the best ways to find the best and cheapest rental deals, often around the $10 a day mark.
As with any travel planning, you should always do your research to make sure you understand what you are booking and aren’t set for any surprises. If that’s why you’re here, read on to see how to enjoy the experience of a self-driving road trip for as little as possible.
- Best Tools to Find Cheap Rental Cars
- 1. Kayak
- 2. Skyscanner
- 3. Expedia
- 4. Booking.com
- 5. Priceline
- Best Car Rental Companies for Low Prices
- 1. Sixt
- 2. Dollar
- 3. Enterprise
- 4. Avis
- 5. Nu Car Rentals
- Alternative Rental Car Methods for Cheapest Rates: Car Sharing
- 1. Turo
- 2. Zipcar
- Some Tips for Renting Cars
- Book in Advance Whenever Possible
- Compare With Booking Direct
- Forgo Extras & Use Your Own Insurance
- Inspect the Car Meticulously Before Leaving Car Rental Locations
- Return it On Time
Best Tools to Find Cheap Rental Cars
Whether you are headed to a familiar destination or plan to visit somewhere new and obscure, you probably won’t be aware of which rental vehicle agencies operate at your place of arrival.
Therefore, it is useful to take advantage of a car rental search engine that can show you each option available to you, thanks to just a single search.
Rather than visiting each agency’s website, performing a search for your dates, reviewing their offers, and keeping track of them all, the search engine will take care of it all at once.
You can usually even see the potential types of cars, their comfort features, cancellation policies, and more; and you can often make a booking right on the site if you choose to.
With this tool, you’ve already bypassed one of the first potential headaches of renting a car! Let’s take a look at some of travelers’ favorite car rental search engines, in no particular order.
Kayak is a name you certainly may have heard before in your travel planning endeavors – and it’s one of our all-time favorites. Well-known for flight searching as well as hotel booking, you can also use Kayak to rent a car.
The first thing you’ll notice about searching for rental cars on Kayak is a nice function that will be welcomed by frequent renters: the ability to search an entire city or area, and not just individual car rental locations.
You can be specific or vague depending on your plans. Enter a three-letter airport code if you know exactly where you will land, or enter the name of the city if you would like to see all of the options in the area. In this way, you can find the cheapest deal in town if you are a bit flexible on pickup.
For one-way rentals, you can also choose from the beginning of your search to drop off somewhere else. Once again, you can choose specific car rental locations or entire cities.
This is great for someone who may have to put up with a potential one-way fee but can minimize the total bill by experimenting with various return locations.
Your search will return a wide array of options, which can be narrowed down with various filters: vehicle type, price range, specific agencies, passenger capacity, and more. By default, Kayak will show you rental deals in their recommended order based on the best price, rental agency reputation, and previous reviews and popularity.
But, you can also elect to see the list based on the cheapest options or the closest to your search location. For those with more location flexibility, you can also use the map to see where the best deals are located, and even move the map to search further away automatically.
Of course, many things influence prices, and you may have to be a bit patient and creative to find a great price like that.
Try to be a bit flexible with your pick-up and drop-off locations and rental dates, as these can be major factors. For example, airport locations often impose ‘airport surcharges’, and it may be worth your while to take an Uber or bus to get to a downtown location.
On the other hand, you should also use caution when considering prices until you see the final total. While Kayak is generally good about displaying the final price, you may get into a situation where the booking provider displays a base rate, but later adds taxes, fees, and other annoying items.
Remember that Kayak is showing you prices from many booking providers, and you may get redirected to them when you go to book.
Skyscanner is just like Kayak in that it aggregates all providers into a single search, saving you a ton of time and effort in finding your price.
Just switch to the Car Rental tab from their homepage. Once again, you can easily search airports, train stations, and entire cities for your rental; as well as choose a one-way ride to a different drop-off location.
One great feature on Skyscanner was particularly useful for me during my younger years of travel: the box to un-tick if you are under 25 years of age (or more than 75).
Yes, young adult travelers are probably quite familiar with the dreaded underage driver fee. Rental companies sadly see this age group as riskier, and therefore charge fees to compensate for that risk.
While there aren’t many (legit) ways to avoid this fee, at least Skyscanner allows you to search the prices of rental cars with that fee in mind.
This way, there is no surprise to an underage driver’s budget when you finally get to the checkout page and see a double or even triple-digit fee added to your total; or even worse, finding it at the pick-up counter!
Your search will lead you to results sorted by price, which is super helpful for travelers looking to find that $10-a-day mark. Keep in mind that the rates displayed are the total for the whole rental, so divide by your number of days to get your daily rate.
You can do the usual sorting and filtering, see inclusions and cancellation policies, and view the ratings of the provider. If you are ready to book, keep in mind that Skyscanner is a marketplace of providers and not a travel agency.
Just the same as searching for flights on their site, clicking to reserve will redirect you to a third-party online travel agency, who will be the one selling you the reservation. Always do your research to be sure that you are making a transaction with a reputable and trustworthy business.
See Related: Skyscanner vs Hopper: What’s the Difference?
Like our previous sites, Expedia is not only great for searching for your flights and hotels but also to rent a car. You will easily find this tap upon your arrival at their homepage.
Expedia differs from Kayak and Skyscanner in that finding a great deal will always lead you to book directly with them, not any other third party.
Expedia is an online travel agency that can take your reservation and payment directly. They will pass on the information and possible payment to the rental car agency that you will rent from.
Therefore, you will be dealing with the terms and conditions not only of the rental provider but also Expedia. While Expedia is generally a reputable and well-established company, it is worth keeping this in mind and doing your research.
One advantage of searching with Expedia (and another age-related one!) is the option to include AARP discounted rates for those who have this membership. While younger drivers may have to suffer from underage fees, older drivers may just find themselves with a discount!
Expedia will display your search results with all of the usual filters and sorting available. Extra helpful is that you can see the price difference by setting different filters even before selecting them.
For example, if you want to limit your search to SUVs and not see any other vehicle types, you can see the lowest price available without even clicking that filter.
Lastly, Expedia offers the option of signing up with your email address, which allows you not only to manage your bookings more easily but also to earn loyalty points. This could be very useful for someone planning more travels and could potentially use Expedia again!
If you are looking for car rentals for $10, or at least as cheap as possible, Expedia is surely worth a try. You can find deals at this price if you are determined and somewhat flexible.
See Related: Top Car Rental Search Engines
Notice a pattern here? Booking.com is a favorite of travelers (especially Viatravelers) searching for flights, hotels, and more. That includes rental cars as well.
Once again, you’ll be able to search the availability of all providers at your destination airport or city.
Booking.com also searches based on the driver’s age, helping to prepare for potential underage or overage fees. However, the range is shorter here, and you will need to uncheck the box if you are under 30 or over 65.
This could prove helpful, as every rental car agency has a different age policy. A search on booking.com will make sure those fees are reflected even if ‘underage’ means a higher than usual age to certain companies.
If you choose to search over a whole city or area, Booking.com will first display results based on a map, next to a list with the cheapest actual car rental locations.
This is great for renters who are looking for the lowest-priced daily car rentals. If using this function, you will select the pickup location (such as an airport or specific neighborhood) before seeing the vehicle results.
Another great aspect of using Booking.com is the type of rental companies that they generally partner with.
Looking at search results, you will notice many of the big-name rental agencies like Hertz, Thrifty, Alamo, Dollar, and others.
Many customers appreciate renting with a familiar brand, and some feel safer from the many potential problems that can occur during a rental. While this may or may not be everyone’s experience, it’s one thing that I like when searching with Booking.com.
Just like Expedia, Booking.com is a travel agency and you will book directly with them, rather than be redirected to a third party as with Kayak and Skyscanner.
The site will offer you various extra’s available based on your rentals such as insurance, extra driver fees, fuel options, and more.
See Related: Booking.com Review: Is Safe to Use?
Last but not least, Priceline is a site similar to Expedia and Booking.com. You may have already used Priceline to book flights or hotels, as it is one of the more well-established online travel websites.
You’ll easily find the rental car tab on Priceline’s homepage, and you’ll be able to search based on flexible locations.
Priceline will present you with the option of searching cars along with hotels as a bundled package, which could potentially save you some money. If that’s of interest to you, be sure to research the components of the package separately as well to be sure that it’s a good deal.
Once you perform your search, you’ll be able to uncheck a box if you are under 25 or also if you want the drop-off location to be somewhere else. You can sort and filter and see what impact that would have on the price beforehand as well.
Priceline is intent on advertising prepaid rates. The lowest prices that you see are generally for cars that require payment at the time of reservation. Doing this can land you a nice discount, however, be mindful of the risks as well.
Canceled or very delayed flights are not uncommon, and you’ll want to be sure you are protected in case of an unforeseen problem.
That said, a search also clearly presents the price to pay at the time of pickup, and it’s usually not very much more.
I like the simplicity of this option. I don’t have to pay anyone now, I don’t have to worry about the possibility of canceling, and I can just take care of it all when I arrive on-site!
On the same note of simplicity, travelers appreciate the straightforward reservation process on Priceline.
Checkout varies based on which rental car company you have chosen, but I have found that Priceline rarely offers (or hard-sells) add-ons like insurance and fuel options.
Most of the time, it’s just a matter of entering your personal information and getting your confirmation email.
See related: 8 Rental Cars That You Can Take Out of State
Best Car Rental Companies for Low Prices
Now that we’ve had a look at the best search engines to find the lowest car rental prices at your destination, let’s take a look at some of the companies you might find yourself taking the actual keys from at the rental counter.
While online travel agencies can often score you an amazing deal, many travelers prefer to reserve directly. This is a good travel choice, as often the prices you find on those search engines will be the same as you’ll find if you rent a car with the company directly. Booking direct can simplify the rental process and save some headaches if things go wrong.
Maybe I’m a bit biased because I am most often renting cars in Europe, where Sixt has a huge presence. However, they are also growing rapidly in the US and across the rest of the world. You may very well find Sixt to be an option to rent a car wherever you search.
Sixt is considered a big name and well-known brand, especially in Europe. They can be found in most major cities as well as a lot of minor ones in their main markets.
Sixt has a user-friendly app, which I especially like to use for searching and booking. Inclusions and exclusions will be clear, with options to add what you need, such as unlimited mileage or extra insurance.
The terms and conditions are also not equivalent to a rocket science manual, so you will easily be able to see things like the ability to cross country borders or not.
I have found deals on Sixt for under $10 per day, which is awesome. My tip is to experiment with the length of rental: if you need a ride for six days, adding a seventh can lower the total price!
Dollar is another big name and recognizable brand, and one familiar to travelers from the states. Dollar has a huge domestic and international presence, and you should find them just about anywhere you want to visit.
Dollar is owned by the Hertz group, which includes Hertz and Thrifty as well. Hertz tends to be on the higher end, with prices reflecting; while Thrifty is a low-cost version. I find Dollar to be somewhere in between, with good service and prices comparable to the low-cost model.
Dollar’s website is very user-friendly and will display clearly what’s included, what’s not, and what you can expect from each vehicle type.
They also usually have a wide range available, from mini models up to trucks and passenger vans.
I especially like booking with Dollar because rentals almost always include unlimited mileage, and they often don’t impose a higher price to pay at pickup.
Who wants to be distracted from their vacation while trying to do the math of your miles, anyway?
Finding daily rental car prices for $10 is becoming harder and harder thanks to the conditions the pandemic brought on to the industry, but Dollar is one to try to score a deal at.
One of the brands most recognizable to travelers, Enterprise car rental locations can be found nearly anywhere you might need to rent a car across the country.
Enterprise’s rates tend to be competitive and their cars are well-cared for. Often, you may see that some level of collision insurance is included in the price without having to purchase an add-on.
That provides some nice reassurance to the driver in case of an accident, on top of what any decent travel credit card should offer.
Enterprise has a loyalty program that anyone renting with them should sign up for. If you are paying for your rental, you may as well earn points for it, which can accumulate for discounts and status in the future!
While you may be looking for that lowest-priced deal, before you check out, Enterprise will show you the charge to upgrade by one category if there is availability.
Sometimes, this offer is worth considering, as it can be as little as $1 extra per day for extra space and luxury in your car. The lowest price is great, but a good deal for more comfort is even better!
To finish off the largest rental agencies in the US, we have Avis, which is one of the two companies under the Avis-Budget Group.
Like the other two giants, Avis and Budget are different brands, but often offer the same (or very similar) prices. They don’t differentiate themselves between low-cost and full-service, and both are reputable.
One interesting quirk of searching for your car on Avis is the order in which your results will display. The cheapest cars are not always at the top of the list.
So, don’t leave the site if the first thing you see is a full-sized SUV for over $100 a day! Scrolling down or clicking sort by price will show you more affordable vehicles.
Very often, Avis offers a large discount for paying in advance. Again, this is something to consider if you don’t mind paying at the time of booking.
Their cancellation policies can be flexible as well, even if you pre-paid, but make sure you understand what applies before getting your credit card out.
Adding Avis to your search could help find that $10 a day rental car rate, or at least get close to it.
5. Nu Car Rentals
Here’s one you may not have seen before: Nu Car Rentals. Nu is a smaller brand, but they do have a pretty significant presence in major markets.
Nu’s business model consolidates smaller, independent rental car agencies that agree to operate under their brand. You can think of it as a sort of franchise arrangement. The independent agency agrees to particular standards of their vehicles and customer service to take advantage of renting for Nu.
The big advantage of Nu can be some really low prices. Indeed, you may find deals much closer to that $10 a day mark than you find at the big brands. That’s thanks to the low-cost model Nu operates.
You will want to keep track of what is and what is not included, as you would with any low-cost travel provider.
You may also find vehicles to not always be as new or in as good condition as the big brands, but many renters are fine with this as long as the car runs.
One word of caution that is worth mentioning with Nu is some traveler experiences.
While you will see plenty of great reviews, some have reported dealing with very difficult customer service in case of problems, and even bigger headaches if you have an accident. Low prices are tempting with this company, so balance that temptation with your research.
See related: Do You Need a Car in Los Angeles? 5 Things to Know
Alternative Rental Car Methods for Cheapest Rates: Car Sharing
We’ve covered a few of the major car rental search engines as well as some of the agencies themselves, but there are a few more ways to cheaply rent a car for your trip. These alternatives are the newest method in the market, attempting to make car renting accessible to everyone and everywhere at a low price.
You might have heard of this one, as Turo has proven to be the biggest player in the alternative car rental market, or what they call ‘car sharing’.
The easiest way to describe Turo is that it’s like an Airbnb or Uber for car rentals. Rather than going to an agency’s desk, you will be connected to average people who have signed up to rent out their vehicle. The website and app are the marketplaces simply connecting you to these ‘hosts’.
Searching on Turo, you can center your pickup location around anywhere. There is no pickup or dropoff agency, just a location that both you and the host agree to hand the keys over at.
Hosts can agree to anything from a single-day car rental to long-term arrangements.
Your results will vary much more than searching a traditional rental agency’s site. You will find cars very new to very old, in great shape to not-so-great, and from base models to luxurious exotics.
Feel free to limit your search to Lamborghinis and Ferraris, but don’t expect that $10 a day price!
That said, you can certainly find some serious deals on Turo.
As mentioned before, many renters are perfectly happy to sacrifice a few model years for a lower price; myself included. And an independent host may have little to no fixed costs to cover, as compared to a renting giant.
As you would with Airbnb or Uber, take a look at the host’s ratings and renter reviews before making a decision. With any luck, you could have a great alternative rental experience and find a great deal.
Similar to Turo in that they consider themselves a car-sharing platform, Zipcar works a bit differently. It’s owned by the Avis-Budget Group but does not operate like its sister companies.
You will need to sign up for Zipcar first, which involves uploading your driver’s license. There is a small monthly subscription fee to sign up for, depending on the package you choose. The higher the level of subscription you choose, the lower your rates and other perks are.
The rates of your rental will depend on the location you are signed up for. Zipcar is unique in that they rent by the hour, day, or week, and there is no minimum length.
This is especially interesting for people who need a very short-term rental; e.g. a day excursion from New York City to visit Jersey Shore for a few hours, or to go from a city to a drive through some national parks.
For day-to-day car rentals, the rates become less appealing as compared to the other options we’ve mentioned. Even if you just need a single-day car rental, it might be worth searching for others.
Vehicle pickup and dropoff are performed at designated Zipcar parking places around the city that you rent from. This is the car’s ‘home location’ where you must return it as well. Interestingly, the Zipcar experience is completely based on the app: you never take the keys out of the vehicle, you use the app to start and end trips, record mileage, fuel, and more. They even provide a gas card to use to fill up!
Used properly, Zipcar is an interesting alternative for frequent travelers with unique rental needs. Be sure that you fall into this category before signing up for any recurring monthly subscriptions.
See related: Do You Need A Rental Car in New Orleans?
Some Tips for Renting Cars
Now that we’ve seen at least 12 ways to rent cars for as little as $10 a day, let’s go over some of our top tips for making sure your trip goes well, from reservation to return.
Book in Advance Whenever Possible
Same-day car rentals can be some of the most expensive. Sometimes, searching for a car online using one of the sites we’ve covered here won’t even return results, meaning you’d have to go to the agency to inquire in person. This can drive up your rate exponentially.
Rental cars are always best reserved at least a few weeks in advance, and preferably more. Most sites rent based on inventory, and inventory will only decrease as time goes on. Avoiding same-day rentals is an easy way to avoid the highest rates.
Compare With Booking Direct
We touched on this before, but it’s a tip worth mentioning again, as it applies to almost any travel purchase. Online travel agencies often advertise awesome prices, but they are often not the only ones offering those prices.
Much of the time, searching the same dates and criteria on the agency’s website will return the same prices. Booking directly will uncomplicate much of the process on both ends of the transaction, and make life easier in case you run into issues before, during, or after you rent.
Of course, sites like Booking.com and Expedia at times do have a better price. In that case, it’s certainly worth considering, as long as you’ve done your research!
Forgo Extras & Use Your Own Insurance
Especially in Europe, but increasingly in the US, you will be pressured to purchase additional services such as insurance for the rental from the time of booking until the time you drive away. This can be one of the most unpleasant experiences of renting a vehicle.
Before you agree to any insurance purchased at the counter, be sure you understand exactly what you are buying. It often doesn’t cover the most basic expenses, even if they make that hard to understand.
For example, it isn’t uncommon for an expensive ‘full’ insurance package to exclude damage to tires, wheels, glass, and the interior. Good luck having an accident that doesn’t affect one of those!
Besides, if you are using any major travel credit card, you are very likely to have auto rental insurance included as a benefit of the card.
This, too, can be hard to understand, so research your card before traveling. In case of the unexpected, this can be a real lifesaver that you didn’t even have to pay extra for.
Inspect the Car Meticulously Before Leaving Car Rental Locations
Remember that you are responsible for any damage that occurs during the rental period. Therefore, if the vehicle is already damaged, you will want to make sure that it’s accounted for before you take possession.
Generally, the rental company only cares about scratches and dents more than an inch in size. Walk around the whole body slowly, inspecting every part of it.
Bend down and look under the bumpers, where previous drivers may have hit the road. Don’t skip the interior either.
Inform the company of anything you find, and have it recorded formally. I, personally, will take pictures of the car and any damage both at pickup and at dropoff. There’s no reason to risk several thousand dollars when we’re trying to save money on our road trips.
Return it On Time
This should be an easy one, but some people are not good with deadlines! Rentals are almost always based on 24-hour periods. Take note of what time you picked the vehicle up, and what date and time you are expected to return it.
Even a minor delay of 30 minutes can lead to a late fee, or worse: another single-day rental charge. Further, make sure your return receipt displays the proper time that you handed the car over.
Keep the 24-hour policy in mind especially if you just need a single-day car rental. Although you may only need a car for a few hours, it’s better to be safe than sorry and reserve a full 24 hours for the same price.
If you are returning after hours and using a key drop box, make note of the exact date and time you were there, and take a photo for proof.
- About the Author
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Woodrow is a travel writer who wants to do and see just about everything. He’s been to 40+ countries, all 50 US states plus Puerto Rico and the USVI, and is currently living in France and exploring Europe. Woodrow is an expert in travel hacking, finding bargain flights, and coined the term “upgrade engineering” referring to his talent to upgrade simple hotel room bookings into suite stays. Woodrow loves SCUBA diving, fishing, and all things aviation.