How to find cheap car rental rates? (2024)

cheap car rental rates

Finding cheap car rental rates online has become easier than ever thanks to global aggregators and low cost rent a car companies.

Renting a car can give you freedom and flexibility when you’re traveling, and it can be an awesome holiday experience.

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I’ve been traveling on my own for almost three decades now. And trust me, I’ve rented many cars along the way! Especially here, in Spain, to travel extensively around the country.

After many adventures and experiences, I can give you some great car rental advice to help you find the best prices and save money on your next road trip around Spain.

Book your car in advance

The best way to get cheap car rental rates is booking as early as you can. Last minute rentals and high season bookings will usually cost you much more.

Car rental prices fluctuate like airline fares – if you miss it you might not find it anymore. So if you find a great rate book it immediately!

Do your homework: use comparison sites

I know. It’s very time consuming but in the end you’ll get a reward. Actually, it’s the best way to find cheap car rental rates.

You have 2 options to fulfill this task.

Option #1. Spend endless hours finding the best rental car on your own.

The first one is a classic:

  1. Grab a piece of paper, a pen and go to the websites of your favorite car rental companies.
  2. Select the city, dates, time and type of vehicle.
  3. Check the websites one by one.
  4. Write down all the quotes you get and pick the lowest one.

Option #2. Use my favorite broker and let them work for you!

The second one is using a booking site or a car rental search engine. They usually gather the rates of a lot of companies and get a commission if you book with them. They are very useful because they compare the rate of several companies for you.

After many years traveling by car both around Spain and abroad, I find that this is the best method in terms of price and availability. And for the past few years, I’ve been using the same exact broker.

Since I started using them I have never had to worry about anything other than driving safely.

Save your time and use my favorite car rental website!

Always compare rates with the provider

After getting an overview of your options on my favorite aggregator site, don’t book anything yet.

Go to the rental car company’s site of the best offer you found and compare those rates with the rates on the aggregator site.

In some cases, there may be a special discount or deal available on the official site that’s not available anywhere else.

Look up discount car rental rates

There are many ways to get a rental car coupon or a rental car discount code.

  • If you’re a member of a program (e.g. frequent flyer, hotel chain, etc.) or an association, subscribe to their newsletter because they generally include great offers. You can contact the program or association as well.
  • Cheap car rental rates coupons can also be found at the companies’ websites.
  • You can also check specialized coupon & discount code websites.

Always book the cheapest economy car

Assuming you don’t need something bigger for a large family group, you’ll always get the best price if you book the cheapest car option available. Despite most websites will encourage you over and over to upgrade for a fee, don’t do it.

Oftentimes, there won’t be any economy cars available when you arrive at the rental counter to pick up your car, so you’ll end up with an upgrade anyway. And you won’t pay for it!

The worst-case scenario is that you end up with an economy car, which can actually prove quite practical especially if you plan to visit destinations with old and narrow city streets.

Oh, and those cars cost less to refuel…

Read carefully about the charging methods

Find out the company’s pricing policy. Some rental companies use calendar days while others apply a 24-hour pricing.

If the company uses calendar days, it will charge you a full day no matter the time of the day you pick up and drop off the car. For example, if your pick up is May 15th at 9:00 and your return is May 17th at 9:00 you are charged for 3 days. If your return is May 17th at 13:00 you still pay for 3 days.

If the rent a car company applies a 24-hour pricing, you pay per hour without noticing it. Using the example above, if your return is at a different time you’ll be charged an extra day. So, if your return is May 17th at 13:00 you pay for 4 days.

You can try to ask the car rental agency if it’s possible to keep it a few extra hours for free. Nevertheless, don’t take it for granted. Low cost companies might say yes, and then try to charge you for them.

Compare weekly vs. weekday vs. weekend car rental rates

There’s no rule of thumb regarding the duration of your car rental period that will ensure a cheaper rate:

  • Sometimes it’s cheaper to rent for only the days you need the car.
  • Sometimes it’s cheaper to rent for a week even if you only need a car for a few days.

So be sure to check both before you confirm your booking. And make sure the rental car company won’t charge a fee if you return the car early.

Also keep in mind that because business travelers frequently rent cars, and business trips are predominantly over weekdays, weekend rentals are often less expensive than weekday rentals.

If your travel dates are flexible, consider shifting your schedule to rent a car over a weekend – it might save you some money.

Look at renting a car away from the airport

Unless you arrive to an airport of a destination that you don’t plan to visit and you need the car right way, avoid picking up the car at the airport.

With very few exceptions (e.g. big cities that aren’t ideal for driving in anyway), renting a car at the airport is nearly always more expensive than renting a car from another location of the same company’s rental offices.

Compare the rental rates and associated fees to see which is cheaper. And don’t forget to factor in the cost and time involved with getting to the rental office (the one that’s not at the airport).

Include one driver only in your booking

The cost of renting a car includes one driver.

You can always add another driver (or more), but there’s generally a daily fee for each additional driver. As long as it makes sense and is safe to do so, leaving only one person in charge of all the driving will save you lots of money.

And remember, most car rental agencies charge an additional or higher fee for drivers under 25 years old.

Beware gas policy charges

A common car rental strategy is to give you a full tank of fuel that you must pay for upfront, but you’re told to return it empty. There’s no refund for unused fuel.

The amount firms charge upfront for fuel can be considerably more per liter than local prices. Therefore, if you opt for pick up full, return full, make sure the tank is full when you return it. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay an incredibly high charge to top up the remaining fuel needed.

The best companies offer ‘full to full’ or ‘part-full and return as you found it’ policies, meaning you’ll only pay for the fuel you use. This is because you either get it full and return it full, or return it with the same amount of fuel as when you picked it up.

Get a manual transmission rental car

In Spain, automatic transmission rental cars are more rare, and you’ve guessed it, more expensive.

If you know how to drive a manual transmission (stickshift) car, you can save quite a bit.

But if you don’t know how to drive a stickshift, don’t try to learn on a rental car!

Skip any upgrade

In addition to the vehicle upgrades you’ll be tempted with during the booking process, there are a lot of extras and add-ons you could choose – all of which will result in a much more expensive rental car.

Pay attention to what you’re being offered and, when possible, just reject the proposal.

Look for hidden costs

For instance, cleaning fees charged at the end of the hire period. Sometimes these can be applied for minor differences in the state of the car between picking it up and returning it.

Sometimes companies try to convince you to keep the car for a longer period because you’ll get a lower per day price. Bear in mind that if you take any extra (better insurance coverage, additional driver, etc.) you need to add up all those costs to make the final bill.

A large percentage of the rentals occur from Monday to Friday due to business travel. Car rental companies may offer you better rates during weekends.

However, make sure you ask to the staff what a “weekend” is. Discounts may start on Thursday afternoon instead of the morning, and end on Monday instead of Sunday.

Cancel and book a new rental car when prices drop

Booking a car without paying (or with a free cancellation policy) means you can keep checking rental rates, and if you find a better deal, you can cancel the original rental and book the cheaper one.

The best way to improve your odds of a price drop is to book your rental early (ideally as soon as you book your flight). Even if rental rates are high, you’re still in a win-win situation:

  • If rates go up, you’ve already booked your car at a lower fare.
  • If rates go down, you can cancel for free and book again at a cheaper price.

That being said, pay attention to any deadlines for canceling the original booking or you may be stuck paying a cancellation fee.

This article is part of a complete tutorial about car rental in Spain where you can read all the information you need to organize your road trip around the country.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Best way to travel across Spain: road trip or train?
2. Full guide on traveling to Spain by car
3. 10 epic Spain road trips to do on your own
4. How to book your rental car online
5. How to find cheap car rental rates?
6. 8 essential rental car tips to get the best deal
7. Drive in Spain with an international driver’s licence
8. Guide for getting around Spain: rental car
9. 6 essential tips for driving in Spain
10. Guide to car parking in Spain: tips, costs, and regulations

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