Booking your holiday car hire can seem pretty cheap and easy, but there are a number of catches which can leave you paying a lot more than you expected. Check out our top tips on how to get the best deal on your car hire without any nasty shocks when you reach the rental desk.
Book now, amend later
Think you’ve found the right car but not completely sure? A lot of booking sites will recommend that you “save for later”. Be careful though – often this doesn’t actually lock in the price, and the original quote has rocketed up by the time you actually book. Instead, book straight away through a broker that offers free amendments and cancellations, letting you change your booking if you change your plans.
Just take care to review the cancellation policy – often you need to cancel or amend within a set time frame to avoid incurring any fees. Set a reminder in your calendar for the last day that you can make changes to your booking without cost.
Your first instinct when booking a car will be to check out the big brands that you see at the airport rental desk. However, if you go straight to them, you’re probably not getting the best offer.
Just like with flights and broadband deals, it’s always best to check out a comparison site too. Brokers and comparison sites pull in prices from hundreds of brands, from international suppliers to local ones, and give you the best deals. Some, like easyCar.com, offer a best-price guarantee – something that the suppliers themselves are unlikely to offer.
More flexibility means better rates
If your journey dates are flexible, you can often sacrifice a little convenience for a better deal. Just like with flights, slightly less convenient pickup days (weekdays) or times (early morning or late night) can really drive down the cost of a rental.
Most car hire companies do full-day rentals, meaning that a 25-hour rental costs as much as a 48-hour rental. So adjust your times to get the best value out of your rental.
One thing to be aware of with this tactic – make sure there are no “Outside Office Hours” fees, as this can easily cancel out the savings made by picking up at a less popular time.
Deposit protection for peace of mind
Deposits on your car hire can rise to over £1,000 – a lot of money to be putting at risk during your rental. Most of us prefer to protect our deposit, which can be done in two ways:
- Purchase additional insurance at the desk. This can cost over £30 a day and often comes to more than the rental itself.
- Purchase insurance or excess protection in advance. If you book this with a broker, you’ll still have to put down a deposit at the desk, but the broker will reimburse anything taken out of the deposit in line with the policy that you bought. This usually costs around half that of insurance at the desk.
Some particularly aggressive employees at the rental desk will claim that purchasing additional insurance at the time of pickup is the only way that you’re allowed to take the car off the lot. This is almost always untrue – refer to your rental voucher if they demand this, and remind them that willfully misleading customers to buy unnecessary insurance products can result in pretty hefty fines for the company they represent!
Don’t let a delayed flight affect your car hire
Provide flight details if you’re renting from an airport – this is passed on to the rental supplier so they can respond accordingly in case of a flight delay. This stops them from assuming that you’re a no-show and renting out the car to somebody else while you’re at 30,000 feet.
Location, location, location
Look out for the rental depot location – some booking sites present the pick up location at the nearest known landmark, when they may be some way away. This especially applies to airport rentals, where the pickup location can be a long and grueling shuttle bus journey away from the airport itself.
All booking sites these days provide the precise pickup location somewhere on the page – track it down before you book.
Know your rights
In the UK, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) have worked hard to ensure that car hire suppliers are transparent on what’s included and what’s not – rental features such as fuel and mileage policy and additional charges such as one-way fees need to be highlighted on the listing.
If you get additional charges lumped on at any point after your booking, take a look at this page to see if they’re breaking consumer protection law.
Avoid complicated fuel policies
Many people don’t even think about fuel policies when they book their rental car – surely every supplier does the only logical and fair thing of offering a car full of fuel and expecting the car to be full on return?
Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are some suppliers who instead offer a “full-to-empty” policy. What this means is that you prepay for a full tank, so have to return the car as close to empty as possible to get your money’s worth. In theory, this is fine – some people prefer the convenience of not having to fill up at the end of the rental – but in practice, it’s often an opportunity for the supplier to get a bit more money out of you. If you’re thinking of booking a car with a “full-to-empty” fuel policy (sometimes known as “prepay”), check the Ts&Cs for the following:
- At what price is the full tank of fuel being charged? Does the company commit to charging a similar amount to what it would cost you to refuel yourself?
- Is there a “refueling fee” – which is almost always mandatory – in the list of additional fees?
- Do you get a refund on any unused fuel? If not, think about whether you’ll definitely be driving enough to get through a full tank.
Check the reviews – but take them with a pinch of salt
Read customer reviews with a pinch of salt – different customers use car hire for different reasons and have different expectations for them. The best comparison sites provide review categories which will allow you to consider reviews which are most relevant to you.
Think we’ve missed anything? Let us know in the comments section below!