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Saving Money on Rental Cars

Here are ten ideas to save you money when you book your family car rental.

1. Check every car rental agency available. A good place to start your search is on your destination’s airport website. You’ll usually find a ground transportation link that includes a list of car rental agencies both at and away from the airport. Rates will most likely differ widely among companies, so be sure to check each one.

2. Check rates online. You may get a better rate over the phone (it certainly doesn’t hurt to try) but often the cheapest rates are found on the company’s website. Most sites have a section called “special offers” or “discounts”; be sure to check them out since available discounts may not automatically calculate through the regular booking engine.

3. Consider paying in advance. Many rental companies will give you a discounted rate if you pay for the rental in advance, instead of when you arrive. Check the fine print carefully to make sure you’re comfortable with the cancellation policies.

4. An offsite rental can save you money. Rental companies away from the airport can be a good way to save money as long as you don’t mind using a shuttle bus or taxi to get to the lot.

5. Consider all possible discounts. If you’re a AAA member, have a senior citizen traveling with you, or own the right type of credit card you may get a discount. And be flexible: recently we got a great rate on a minivan rental just by signing up for an American Express card.

6. Reserve early. You’ll generally get a better price (and have more time to shop around) if you reserve early.

7. Reserve the smallest car possible. If you don’t mind taking a risk, try reserving a compact car even if you’d prefer something larger. Smaller rental companies often run out of these and will be forced to upgrade you on the spot to something roomier. If not, try asking for a free upgrade anyway.

8. Rent by the week. Even if you only need the car for five days, it may be cheaper to pay the weekly rate rather than the daily since companies often offer discounts on rentals of seven days or more. Be sure you won’t get stuck with an early return fee, however.

9. Bring your own car seats. They are pricey to rent, especially if you need more than one. You can check them along with your luggage (put them in a large duffel bag to protect them). A bonus is that your child will have a familiar seat that you know is safe.

10. Don’t opt in for prepaid gas. Unless you know for sure that you’ll use an entire tank of gas, this option may end up costing you more than filling up the tank yourself, especially if “convenience fees” are tacked on.

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