how I saved over $100 on my car rental

by | Jan 22, 2009 | Travel

So, I am planning a trip to San Francisco for the NTEN nonprofit conference and although I found plane tickets and a hotel for a reasonable price (not a steal, mind you, this is San Francisco we are talking about), I was having a heck of time nailing down a good rental car rate. I wanted to pick the car up at the airport and drop it off downtown, thereby eliminating an extra trip for each of us on BART to and from SFO.

I started looking on but they don’t let you search by non-airport locations, so that extra factor will never be included in the quotes. I choose the cheapest airport option and went directly to the rental car website to try my luck with their system. We originally considered taking advantage of the Alamo $10 a day on the weekends deal* that is going on right now but you need to keep the car on a Saturday night. Parking at my hotel was $49 a night, so that option was, well, not an option. I was coming up with quotes around $179 for two days which I probably don’t have to tell you is ridiculous. But Enterprise, Alamo and National were all in this range (or higher)… simply because I wanted to drop the car off at a different location.

I decided to book at Alamo just so I would be sure to get something, wait a few weeks and try again. This is a beauty of rental car reservations! You can book and cancel up to the day of the rental in most cases, so there is no penalty for looking around. Be aware that Alamo (and others as well) has started a pre-pay option where you “save 15%” for paying upfront. This effectively eliminates your ability to change your mind when you see a better deal later, so I wouldn’t recommend it. Hotels? Sure. Rental cars? Nope.

Yesterday, I had some time in between projects, so I did another search on Kayak and found that Dollar’s rate had dropped to the lowest quote for an airport pick up and drop off. I went directly to their website and was able to modify the drop off location to three blocks away from my hotel. This time, the price was much more reasonable… $76.

That’s $103 less than my original reservation!

My advice is to always keep looking. You never know when a good deal is going to come up, so prepaying for a U.S. car reservation almost never makes sense.

* We have used this deal twice already, in San Diego and Chicago. It’s awesome.

Our Itinerary

2024 Trips

San Diego, CA (Jan)
Sarasota, FL (Feb)
Madrid, Spain (Mar)
Valencia, Spain (Mar+Apr)
Palma, Mallorca (Apr)
Croatia (May)
Faroe Islands (Aug)
London, UK (Sept)
Bari, Italy (Sept)
Rome, Italy (Oct)
Frankfurt, Germany (Oct)

2022 Trips

Florida (Feb)
NC Mountains (Apr)
Washington DC (Apr)
Valencia, Spain (May)
Hilton Head, SC (May)
Pacific NW (Jun)
Long Island (Jul)
Florida (Sept)
Chicago (Sept)
Poland (Sept)
NC Mountains (Nov)
Euro Xmas Markets (Dec)