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  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default Rental Cars: Small Time Change, Big Price Difference

    I was searching around for rental car prices for a trip I'm taking this weekend, and saw something I've never seen before. The pick-up time made a huge difference in the price quote.

    I was looking on Hertz's website, for a rental from Thursday to Monday, and when I searched using their default time of 10am, it gave me a price of $45 a day for a compact car. I searched again, adjusted the pickup/drop-off time to 3 pm and the price fell all the way to $18!

    That's a 60% discount by changing the pickup time by 6 hours! Exploring further, I found the price dropped at noon, and then again at 3pm.

    I assume the reason is that after noon on Thursday, they shift into Weekend Rates, but its something to keep in mind when you're shopping for the best deal for a rental car.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default Timing is Everything

    I'm not even remotely knowledgeable on how car rental firms work their pricing structure and only vaguely aware of how airlines run theirs, but I do know that there is (almost) always a better deal out there somewhere and if you have the luxury of starting early on a price search and devote at east some time to it on a regular (preferably daily) basis you have a much better chance of finding a good, better, or even great deal. But if you find one - pounce! Case in point: My wife and I are planning on attending a family reunion in northern New Hampshire next year for a few days around the Fourth of July. That's a high travel season and so we weren't expecting to get terribly good deals. But for one afternoon, one airline offered an unbelievable deal: round trip between Phoenix and Albany NY for $150. Not only that but since we signed up for their branded credit card, we also got 30,000 bonus miles, two free passes to their airport lounge, and a $50 rebate on the tickets. I booked the deal immediately. When I checked back an hour later, the price of the ticket had jumped from $150 to $650! We had saved over a thousand dollars on our two round trip tickets!

    AZBuck

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Western/Central Massachusetts
    Posts
    1,703

    Default

    I've seen something like this before, but I thought it only applied to the dropoff time, such as if instead of having the car for 168 hours, you had it for 172, and there was an extra charge there.

    This is good information - thanks for sharing!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default riverboat gambling

    Buying airline tickets is like gambling. Sometimes you get a get a great hand, like the $150 ticket that normally goes for $500. The ones that I think are tough are when you're watching a fare that you expect to be around $300, and you see it drop to $280 - do you jump on it then, wait to see if it drops to $250 or risk it and see it maybe go up to $400. But once you do buy it, you're pretty much locked in

    What makes car rental different, and interesting, is that you aren't locked in when you make a reservation. Unless you are booking with a 3rd party site (like a hotwire or a european consolidator), you don't prepay or put down a deposit on a car rental reservation. That means you really can lock in the price any time it drops. I've even checked the price on the day I went to pick up a car and found the price had dropped by $5 a day, so I reserved that rate and cancelled my previous reservation.

    I always try to make sure I'm renting a car in 24 hour intervals. Once you go more than an hour or two beyond that, you typically end up paying for a full extra day.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,059

    Default That practice has gone on for at least a decade or two...

    10 years ago we used to rent vehicles for 10-day intervals and the thing I noticed was that 3:00 pm Fridays was ALWAYS the cheapest time to start the rental. Weekend rates are generally lower than weekday rates, but it's interesting to see that it still continues.

    Thanks for this interesting post.

    Mark

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default Other Considerations

    There are two or three other things to keep in mind when setting up a car rental. Especially on a 'fly-drive' vacation, where you pick up the car can make a huge difference. With states and municipalities hungry for revenue streams that do not depend on taxing their own citizens, travelers are a tempting target - they may not feel like they have options and they don't vote (at least not in local elections) - so there is a strong tendency to impose taxes on them. There can be room taxes on motels, sales taxes at restaurants, and others, but the biggest of all is taxes and 'convenience' or 'recovery' fees on car rentals. But not on all car rentals, that would affect locals who vote. Nope, just on rentals at airports. The difference between an airport rental and an 'off-site' rental can easily add up to $100 on occasion, making the cost and time of a cab ride to go get your car elsewhere well worth it. And often times, you can return the car to the airport location without penalty.

    The other major savings to be had have to do with (sometimes) which company you choose. We often tell people that all the major car rental firms, the top seven or eight anyway, all offer the same level of service and that is still true. But like the airlines, some now charge for services that used to be considered part of a standard rental. Two I've come across recently are one's spouse as a second driver, and geographic restrictions on 'unlimited' mileage. Many times that mileage is unlimited only if you stay in the state where you pick upp the car or a neighboring state. In doing a price search recently I was surprised to find that one of the 'majors', while it had the best nominal price for a week's rental, would charge me extra for taking the car into Canada (from upstate New York) and for allowing my wife to drive. The total charge for those two 'options' was close to $200, more than negating there supposed cheap price. By going with oen of the top two, I got both of those items for free.

    So, as with anything else, it pays to shop around, read the fine print, and know exactly what you're getting.

    AZBuck

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