How to Save Money on Car Rentals: 7 Budget Tips

Few adventures are as liberating as a road trip. Having a vehicle gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace, going wherever the wind may take you.

We’ve rented cars over a dozen times in the US, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. They’ve given us freedom and helped us have more unique, authentic experiences.

Today, we’ll share how we’ve gotten the best deals on car rentals, which is more important than ever since domestic travel has skyrocketed with the pandemic, driving up rental costs considerably.

TIP # 1: Check for deals online first 

Start your search by comparing the main rental companies in your destination to see if any are having a sale. Usually, sales are advertised online so you won’t hear about them if you call for information. 

While you’re there, you can get an estimate from the website to ensure you know your total rental cost. Some of the major car rental companies are:

  • Hertz
  • Enterprise
  • Alamo
  • National
  • Budget

TIP # 2: Use a credit card with the rental insurance

Make sure you make your rental with a travel credit card that has car rental insurance included. This has saved us a bunch of money over the years, as there are tons of cards out there that have this option. 

If you’re an American, the best cards with rental insurance included are:

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Chase Ink Business Preferred
  • United Explorer Card

We use our Chase Sapphire Reserve card for personal rentals, and the Chase Ink Business is preferred for business.

Most cards include up to $75,000 in damages, which is going to cover the cost of almost any car you rent (unless you’re getting a luxury vehicle).

TIP # 3: Sign up for email promos

If you know that you’re going to be renting a car more than once during your trip (or if you know you’re going to be renting a car on a future trip), make sure you sign up for the car rental company’s newsletter. Most car rental companies send promos directly to their mailing lists. It’s a great way to save money for future rentals and get insider tips and deals.

For example, we commonly get promotions via email from Hertz for discounts of 50% off if you prepay, or pay just one peso on your first day of a multi-day rental.

TIP # 4: Decline the cheaper gas promo

Many car rental agencies offer to top off your tank when you return it for a lower price than the price of gas in the area.

This might sound like a good deal, but when you sign up for this promo you’re basically locking yourself into having to pay for a full tank of gas when you return the car. It’s a lot easier to fill your tank before returning the car to the agency than it is to try to burn off all the gas before you drop off the car. And if you don’t use up all your gas, you’re probably going to end up paying even more than you would have had you just filled it up before dropping off the car. 

Plus, many travel credit cards offer bonus points when buying gas (such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited, Wells Fargo Propel, and AmEx Everyday Preferred). By topping off your own tank you’ll be double-dipping on the points and saving money in the process.

TIP # 5: Record the car inspection

Make sure you record your car inspection when you pick it up. In the past, taking photos of the car was the best way to ensure you didn’t get billed for any pre-existing scratches or problems. Today, since we all have smartphones, take a video of the vehicle instead. That way, you’ll have proof you didn’t cause a specific issue should there be a dispute. This can save you thousands of dollars if the company tries to pull a fast one.

The car rental agency will likely take a video as well (if they didn’t already film one). If they are reputable and legitimate, they won’t mind you taking a video of the vehicle. Be sure to film any and all scratches and dings as well as glass cracks and marks on the tires. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

TIP # 6: Decline the insurance 

If you have a credit card like the ones we talked about previously then you might not have to buy the car agency’s insurance. Having coverage from your credit card will likely suffice.

The only caveat here is that, should you get into an accident, you may need to pay for damages before your credit card reimburses you. If you don’t have money available should this occur, stick with the car company’s insurance. 

That said, some car rental companies won’t rent you a car unless you buy their insurance so make sure you check on their website. Also, read the fine print for your credit card (or travel insurance) to ensure that you can decline the offered insurance without voiding your coverage.

TIP # 7: Avoid renting at the airport

Try to avoid renting cars at the airport. Often, rental companies have to pay more to have their agency at the airport. The cost of doing business at the airport is higher for them and those costs get passed down to you.

If the rental company has another branch that is not in the airport, take an Uber or a taxi to that location and rent a car there. Sometimes it doesn’t cost you anything to return the car to the airport location, but getting a car from the airport will be more expensive. Compare locations to make sure you get the best deal.


If you’re a travel hacker, make sure you pay for your car rental with a credit card that will give you travel points (or at the very least cashback). I don’t think we’ve paid for a flight in the last year because of travel points! 


Renting a car in a foreign country can be stressful. New driving rules, new signs to read and decipher on the go. It can be a challenge. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to break the bank. By following the tips above you’ll be able to save a ton of money on your next car rental — money you can spend enjoying your trip!

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