1) Book early
The simplest way to get the cheapest deal on car rental is to book in advance, particularly during peak travel periods, such as school summer holidays.
And while there’s no guarantee that booking early means you’ll get the exact car you’re after, if you leave it late you’ll be left with whatever the hire car company has available – and a family of four into a small two-seater just won’t go.
2) Get your timing right
Rental companies rent out their cars in 24-hour blocks, and also charge late fees. So return the car to keep costs down. Car hire companies usually charge rental fees in blocks of 24 hours, so if you’re picking up the car at midday, try and make sure that your drop-off is at midday or earlier. If you choose a later drop-off, you’ll be charged an extra day – even if it’s only an extra hour.
3) Be smart on size
Think practically and go for functional over fancy – that sporty soft-top might look the part, but is it really worth paying extra for? Then think about exactly what you need from a car in terms of size and spec, and don’t forget to factor in the fuel costs. If you’re going to be doing a lot of driving, pick a car that goes easy on the fuel.
4) Choose your driver
Work out if you’ll be able to get away with just one driver for the whole holiday as it could save you quite a bit of money. If you definitely want to share the driving, look out for special ‘free additional driver’ offers which can make a big difference to the cost.
5) Pack your own GPS and child seats
Renting a car seat can save you carrying your own, but rental companies charge a daily fee.If you need a child seat, consider taking your own from home to avoid paying extra to hire one from the rental company. Hire charges are usually added daily and can quickly mount up.
Most airlines will allow you to take some baby equipment free of charge. If you don’t have your own GPS, you can download free maps on your phone that don’t use data while you’re travelling.
6) Find your best value insurance
It might not make much sense to take out extra insurance when you’re trying to save money on car hire, but it’s worth thinking about. Find your happy balance: think about what you’re risking having to shell out if something goes wrong, versus what you want to pay upfront for protection.
Most deals come up with basic cover (which limits your liability), but if your rental car gets stolen or damaged, the hire company will charge you an excess, which could be as much as £3,000. Only the bodywork is usually covered by the basic cover, so you could be faced with a bill for thousands if something else gets damaged.
There are various options for insurance: you can buy extra insurance when you book the car or at the counter, buy separate excess insurance online, or leave it to chance. If you do decide on extra cover, you’ll have more choice online before your trip, rather than leaving it to when you get to the counter.
7) Check the fuel policy
Different rental companies offer different fuel policies. The most common is ‘full to full’, which means you pick the car up with a full tank and return it with a full tank. This is usually the cheapest option as you only pay for the fuel you use.
Some car rental companies use ‘full to empty’ policy where you don’t have to refill the tank. This can work out more expensive because they may charge service fees on top of the fuel price. And you could be stuck with the choice of returning the car with petrol still in the tank, or risk running on fumes for that final leg back to the airport…
So that’s it, you’re off, with more money in your pocket to enjoy your trip. Bon voyage!