Feel like you got taken for a ride last time you rented a car? Next time, try these tips:
- Compare. Car rental prices vary greatly from city to city due to demand and increasingly prevalent (and hefty) local taxes and fees. Determine the "going rate" by checking online travel sites, such as Travelocity.com, Expedia.com and Orbitz.com, which compare rates from a variety of companies.
- Check last-minute rates. Traveling in less than a week? Sometimes car rental companies sell distressed inventory at deep discounts on sites like Hotwire.com. Once you've checked the Hotwire price, try your luck and bid even lower on Priceline.com. If you can't find a decent last-minute deal, try Rentalcars.com, a listing of last-minute deals available on major car rental company Web sites.
- Add in fees. Since taxes and fees can increase your rate by up to 50 percent in some cities, be sure you're comparing apples to apples when getting rate quotes online or by phone. Some car rental reservationists and online sites quote just the base rate, conveniently leaving off the extra taxes or fees until after you've turned over your credit card number. Others include these fees in their rate quotes. Always ask.
- Decline, decline, decline. Once you've snagged your great rate, don't let counter agents scare you into paying for extras you don't need. Check your credit card or automobile insurance policy agreements, and you'll likely find you're protected when driving a rental car and can decline the sales pitches for products like collision damage waivers. (Red flags should appear when you hear acronyms like "CDW," "LDW" or "PEC.") Also, it's less expensive to fill up the tank before you return the car, so decline the money-losing "prepay your gas now, and bring the car back empty" come-ons.
Christopher McGinnis, travel correspondent for CNN Headline News, is the author of The Unofficial Business Travelers' Pocket Guide.