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Travelling to meet up with family for the holidays, an out-of-state work trip, getting around while your car is in the shop: you need a rental for all of those situations, and more. You shouldn’t have to pay a small fortune and deal with a crummy rental company just to get the freedom of four wheels back into your hands, which is why we’ve gone through the six best car rental companies for you to choose. Our comprehensive buying guide will show you all the tips and tricks on saving money on your rental, getting the most for your money, and being treated like the valuable paying customer you are.
The Best Car Rental Company
Our top pick should come as no surprise, because time and time again, Enterprise Rent-A-Car has proven to be the most effective and affordable car rental service in the United States, the U.K. and Canada. They boast over 6,000 locations, self-service kiosks, and a team of customer service representatives that plenty of other companies could learn from.
Enterprise typically has a wide selection of four-door cars and five-seater SUVs in stock. It can get a bit dodgy if you’re travelling with the family and need a minivan, but calling ahead of time should resolve this issue. They’ll be revered by many of us who have used them for their keen ability to handle complex issues. You’re paying good money for your rental; the last thing you should be met with is a rep who can’t solve your problem for you.
Last but not least, their packages for unlimited mileage, out-of-state travel and multi-renter pricing gives us something to be thankful for. It should be noted as an honorable mention that their airport shuttle service is also extremely courteous and usually on-time to bring you from the terminal to your car rental in as little time as possible.
- Professional, respectful customer service representatives
- Historically low rates at airport locations
- Inexpensive vehicle upgrade package options
- Self-service kiosks in many locations for faster pick-up
- Top-notch airport shuttle services to the car’s location
Hertz is a larger company than Enterprise, with more locations and vehicles in their stock, but they still fell a few notches short of the coveted number one spot. Outside of the race on this list, Hertz is a fantastic company to rent a car from. Not only do you get a wide selection on compact cars, but you’re also going to get a quicker drop-off option when your trip is all said and done. Hertz offers airport shuttle services, and boasts a well-rounded customer service team that really makes you feel like a valued customer.
But the proof is in the pudding. When the niceties and lobby chat are all said and done, you’re behind the wheel of a car that’s repeatedly tested for performance, and always reliable. Hertz also has an entire list of consistent coupons and discounts available on their site, so you don’t have to hunt around for deals quite as often. You can even transfer the rewards points you earn and give them to your father or brother if they need to rent a car and need a helping hand.
- Receive or transfer reward points to other Hertz members
- Wide selection of discounts and coupons readily available
- Good selection of low-cost four-door cars
- Nearly 10,000 locations across the globe
- Fast drop-off options available
National Car Rental has a lot to compete with (just look at our top two picks), especially since they only have 1,500 locations across the globe. That means they have to step it up and offer a unique service, one that has distinct benefits over their competition. They hit the nail on the head, and you get to benefit from it. Their loyalty program is fairly basic, but beyond that, they already offer some of the lowest daily rental prices across the nation. Their online configuration lets you get a bit more intimate with the vehicle you’re looking to rent.
Customer service isn’t a simple job, but it’s one that requires flawless execution. National Car Rental runs into more logistics problems than Enterprise or Hertz, but their expertly-trained staff is ready for problem management, and always ensures that you’ll get the best possible experience with them. Even if you find negative reviews for NCR online, you’ll still find that just about everyone can agree on the quality of their customer service team. As an added bonus, they’re also a lot less strict about cancellation windows, and far more forgiving than larger rental companies.
- Over 1,500 locations globally
- Numerous promotions that give you multiple free rental days
- Top-notch customer service team
- Some of the lowest prices nationwide
- Better cancellation windows than most competitors
Alamo is the underdog in this competition. They offer excellent service, but their locations are limited: there’s only two-hundred and fifty locations across the United States. If you ask us, that’s two-hundred and fifty chances to be apart of their customer base. They take pride in positivity, and extend that ideal to their customer service team, which comes out in every thing they do. Alamo has a lot to keep up with: they’re up against Hertz and Enterprise, a brand that most people trust and understand.
That’s why they give you advanced perks if you side with their service. While their loyalty program is fairly basic, you get an automatic 5% discount for booking your car online, and daily rates that rival nationwide averages. Just about all of their locations are near airports, but if you happen to rent from a standalone location, they’ll use their shuttle service to pick you up from nearby and bring you to the office to rent your vehicle. That’s a huge bonus when you obviously don’t have a vehicle to get there on your own.
- Online check-in option from your phone saves you time
- Immediate discount for renting your car online
- Competitive rates against the national average
- Pick-up service, even if you’re not at an airport location
Budget is a hybrid type of car rental service. You can rent trucks, you can rent compact cars, but they also have a wide variety of SUVs and minivans available on their website. Budget’s team is dedicated to customer service, but they also put as many options as possible on their online booking platform so you won’t have to spend time talking to representative in store. For a smaller rental service, budget has an impressive and responsive site that makes it far easier to book your car than even we thought possible.
Apart from their selection, you get a 10% discount for extended (monthly) rentals. Discounts are also available for veterans, as well as AARP members and many other programs that have partnered with Budget. For us, it comes down to the simple things: good car, reasonable price, great customer service. Budget hits every target, all for an average of 8% lower costs than the national average.
- Extensive discounts (Military, AARP, etc.)
- Lower rates for paying upfront during an online booking
- 10% discount for monthly rentals
- Wide variety of vehicle types, not just compact cars
Last but not least, we have Avis. We initially expected them to rank higher when we started going through our list, but even so, they are still poised as an excellent service for renting a car. If you’re going to grab a week-long rental, Avis offers some of the best deals. It’s their one-day rates that aren’t too competitive with the rest of our list, but they make up for it elsewhere. If you’re a loyalty member and you upgrade to Preferred Plus, you’ll receive complimentary upgrades.
Avis also has a decent amount of locations, as well as a very low cost to add an additional driver. If you’re travelling with your spouse or sibling, they’ll be able to drive the vehicle as well for as little as an additional $13 at sign-in. Avis also offers pick-up services both both their standalone and airport locations, so you’ll never be left without a set of wheels. No more expensive cab rides to get to the rental place.
- Some of the best weekly rates in the country
- Free upgrades with Preferred Plus membership
- Over 1,900 locations nationwide
- Pick-up services available
- Low additional driver fee
Best Car Rental Company FAQ
They’re the best of the best, but there’s still more to know before you pick up the phone or rent a car online. In fact, renting online has become the number one choice thanks to no-hassle pricing and a myriad of benefits and discounts that are available to most car renters. Let’s go over the best car rental prices, the best car rental deals, and get you on the road before the day is done.
How We Chose the Best Car Rental Company
There are so many factors that go into what makes a car rental company truly worth your time and money, but we’ve summarized them in five simple cumulative points.. If a rental company doesn’t hit all these marks, it doesn’t mean they’re terrible, just that they may not fit your specific needs.
- Customer Service
It’s no secret that car rentals aren’t cheap, but as much as cost comes into play, how you’re treated ranks very high. Brands like Enterprise and Hertz have long-standing testaments of good faith towards their customer service and managerial staff, minimizing mistakes, clerical errors, and treating you with the respect you deserve. None of these large brands come without a few war stories, but you’re going to find that everywhere. If you’re wondering how they’re going to treat you, call them up and speak to a representative and ask a few questions. You’ll get an immediate feel for how they handle business.
- Online Access
Look at the calendar: it’s time that every business had an online presence. Each of the brands we reviewed have a website, but that doesn’t mean they’re the most accessible. The easier the online access to customer support, rates and local information, as well as clear and concise booking, the better the service will be.
- Location Opening Times
Nobody wants to cab from the airport to the hotel, then back to the airport or standalone rental place the next day. There are some individually-operated locations that run 24/7, but they’re few and far between. Longer service hours give you a better window of pick-up and drop-off times.
- Loyalty Programs
Just about every major rental place has a loyalty program or rewards system. You rack up points towards discounts and free rentals, depending on how often you use the service. It’s not about if they have it, it’s about how good the program actually is. Look for additional benefits, vehicle upgrades and coupons off of local services that might come with a rewards program.
- Versatility (Number of Locations)
When you get into a loyalty program or you’re travelling to and from multiple locations all over the country, you want consistency. You want to use the same program that you’ve been using, which means they need a ton of operating locations. Most of these businesses are franchises, meaning independent operators and investors buy into these companies and run their own locations, following strict company guidelines. Rental car service locations are always cropping up, and some services have email alerts to let you know when one appears in an area that you’re interested in.
How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car?
The average nationwide price to rent a car in the United States, is roughly $80.00 per day. That’s for a standard four-door sedan-style car, before taxes, insurance and fees. Some companies will run $49 or $59 specials during the holidays, but keep in mind that’s only on their asking price to rent the car. Keep in mind that airport prices are completely different, which we’ll cover in a minute.
Upgrading to a minivan or luxury vehicle will run you a much higher cost. Since these cars take more funding and time to maintenance, rental companies tend to charge a higher rate. For a minivan, you can expect to pay an additional $20-$30 per day.
If you’re renting a car from an airport location, you can expect to see a ton of low prices that span for days of use (including weekends). For instance, a quick search can result in finding $19 daily rentals For many companies, they’ll have a standard amount of basic cars in stock to rent, but luxury vehicles may require you to call for a special request.
One last thing to take into account is your age. While it sucks, drivers under the age of twenty-five will run into increased costs. There’s no getting around it, even if you got your license when you were sixteen, did driver’s education and have a spotless record, insurance companies will upcharge you immensely due to data. Some reports have stated that drivers under the age of twenty-five are twice as likely to total a car, and it means that you’ll see inflated pricing from the insurance the car rental company uses.
Some companies upcharge their rental cost when you input your age as well. While you need to be 100% transparent and honest about your identity and age when renting a car online, you can refresh the page and check the cost differences between the two age range categories to see if this company is seriously upselling their cars.
So how much does it really cost to rent a car? The answer seems pretty arbitrary: it depends on state taxes, the company “sticker price” for renting the car, insurance, and location. Personally, when some of us at the Car Bibles team need to rent a car, we just account for double the rental cost when you wrap fees and taxes into it, when the car rental cost isn’t on a special promotion.
Things to do and Avoid When Renting a Car
There’s do’s and don’ts when it comes to anything that involves spending your money. Follow these simple tips, and you’ll be ready for anything.
- Do Browse Online
If you walk into a location tomorrow, you might receive different prices than what you see online. There might be a “walk-in special” for a lower cost, but this is usually as trap to have them upsell you on an upgraded model. Look online for what they have at that specific location, so you know what to turn down when you actually go in to pick it up, or to browse the selection they have on the lot. If you’re slightly meek when you talk, salesman can identify that and try to drive the point home that upgraded vehicles are upgraded experiences.
- Don’t Return the Car Late
If you ever actually read the entire packet that you’re signing, they’ll nab you on as many late fees as they possibly can. Make no mistake, car rental companies rely on late fees like banks rely on overdraft fees. They will charge you for the late fee, even if you roll in thirty seconds past the mark. Don’t think that because you were chummy with the sales guy that they’ll wave a magic wand for you.
- Do Write Down the Mileage
Some car rental companies have a very high mileage rate on the vehicle. If you’re getting charged for taking this out of the city, make sure you know exactly what you’re getting charged for. Even if it’s a non-intentional clerical error, you don’t want to pay more on the final bill than you were supposed to. If you’re putting this on your credit card, you might wait a few days before checking your statement and not find the issue in time for it to be corrected.
- Don’t Settle on the First Place You Find
We chose Enterprise as the top car rental company on this list, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be the best for everyone’s specific needs. The worst thing you can do is assume you found a great deal with the first place you looked at. There are other deals out there, some that may surprise you, so while we’ve gone through the aspects of these great companies and brought them out into the light for you, don’t be afraid to test each and every one of them.
- Do Get the Full Insurance
There’s no sponsorship to say “Get the full insurance,” we just know plenty of gents who’ve screwed themselves over by not doing it. At most, you end up paying less than an hour’s wage for most insurance policies for the duration of your rental. Don’t skimp out on it, unless your personal car coverage is fantastic enough to include rentals (most don’t, but some crazy high car insurance companies do offer that).
- Don’t Rent the GPS
Your phone is as good as any Tom-Tom GPS system can be. If it’s not integrated into the dashboard, you don’t need it. Consider packing a car phone mount and bringing it with you, such as one that can clip onto the vent fan. We’ve seen some companies upcharge an extra $19 per day for a GPS system. That’s absurd, and your phone will more than cover what you need.
Tips for Renting a Car Online
We’ve been over some do’s and don’ts, but those mostly pertained to rental items, late fees and such, and very little to do with the actual online rental process. Although renting a car online is a much simpler way to do it, you still run into a few snags here and there. There are our top tips for renting a car online, and avoiding all the hassle that comes with entering the fray without knowledge by your side.
- Check Your Credit Card Rewards
Do you get bonuses for flights and car rentals? Read the full extent of your credit card benefits. If you’re going to join the car rental loyalty program and get some points on your credit card, then why not? You’ll be on your way to free rentals in no time.
- Join a Loyalty Program
Capitalizing on that last point, if you find yourself renting a car more than once per year, it could benefit you to join a loyalty program. Points for free rentals, expedited service, and some programs also offer up to a half-hour of free late time. No more getting clocked for being four minutes late off the lot.
- Research Local Gas Prices
They’re going to get you to try and prepay for gas. Nine times out of ten, it’s reallty not worth it, and you’ll end up paying more per gallon on average. However, depending on where you’re travelling, this could be completely false. Even if you assume the prepay gas plan is going to be more expensive, it’s never hurt to check it out with a resource like GasBuddy. If you can shave a few bucks off your total gas use, by all means do it.
- Search for Coupons
You can find discounts when you look on sites like Groupon or special offers on recently-posted YouTube videos. We’ll be the first to say that these special offers are usually far and few between, and usually come with restrictions. For example, if you rent a car and stay at a specific hotel brand, you can receive a minor discount. Just ust some common sense when approaching joint package deals, especially if you’ll be spending an extra $40+ per night on this different hotel chain. Make sure that it fits what you want to do during your visit, and isn’t going to run your wallet into the ground.
- Check Ahead for Airport Parking Fees
This information might be on the airport’s official site, but if you’re going to try and rent from the airport spot to get some lower fees, you don’t want to find out that the airport parking fees are astronomically high.
Best Car Rental Company FAQ:
What Are the Benefits to Looking Online?
A: Looking online removes an entire element of the traditional car rental experience: sales pitches. Some of us are good at resisting the tactics of salesmen, but they’re trained in this sort of thing, have years of experience under their belt. Their job is to upsell you on additional features, and you’re effectively taking that out of the equation. Here are a few other excellent reasons to book online instead of in-store.
- Wider Selection
When you book online, you can sometimes get access to vehicles that aren’t currently on their lot. Whether there’s another location of the same franchise that’s nearby, or you’re getting forecast information as to what vehicles will be available when you book, your options will be wide open.
- Quicker Process
We’re not tearing down customer service representatives, but sometimes there’s too many folks looking to rent a car and not enough help. We’ve all waited for ten or fifteen minutes in a car rental location, but with booking online, you don’t have to do that. Apart from that, most companies now have an expedited key pick-up option, so you can book, drop by to get the keys, and be out the door that much faster.
- Take Advantage of Deals
Some deals are exclusively online. Why? Car rental companies want more automated, online interaction to reduce their wage costs, and streamline their service to earn more money. In short, they’re going to offer more deals through email marketing, on-site events, and additional coupon options online like we spoke about earlier.
- No Rush
You can read the terms and conditions, you can inspect every element of the insurance policy you might be signing up for. In short, you’re getting more control without having to sign something you don’t fully understand. It’s always possible you’ll end up talking to an employee who doesn’t know the terms as well as you do, or run into a charge that shouldn’t have occurred, per the agreement you signed. It pays to be informed ahead of time.
Keep in mind that just because booking online is a faster, and in many cases more simple way, going into the store isn’t completely out of the question. You can ask about discounts, test a vehicle before you book, and talk to a customer service representative who can expedite the process for you.
Q: What is Unlimited Mileage?
A: You’re free to go where the road takes you, without worrying about the odometer. Unlimited mileage is ideal for leisure trips, where it’ll be nearly impossible to determine exact where you’re going for the whole trip. Part of a vacation is about being spontaneous and trying out a new area, and being chained to a mileage limit can be frustrating.
This is more of a cost up-front, but if you can reasonably see yourself using over the amount of miles included with your rental, it’s worth getting. If you want to head out for a late night snack, check out a few local shops that weren’t on your agenda, etc., you shouldn’t have restrictions impeding on your vacation.
Q: Can I Take Rental Cars Out of State?
A: You can, but there are special conditions. First of all, check with the specific rental company first and foremost. Large car rental companies often have locations in cities and towns close to state borders, and therefore need to accommodate to drivers who may be moving out of state, or travelling just over the lines for a work-related venture.
There may be entirely different terms and conditions including gas mileage prices, unlimited mileage exclusions, and there will definitely be a very skewed insurance policy. Since different states have different minimums on insurance coverage for privately owned vehicles, rental companies need to adhere to those, as well as the state that they’re located in. It turns into a whole messy situations.
If you’re going to head over state lines, look up their terms and conditions and FAQ page to see if they have stipulations. Don’t be afraid to use an online chat feature or call and speak with a manager or representative to have them explain the policy to you as well, just so you know if it’s worth your time investigating.
Q: Car I Request Special Equipment?
A: Yes, you absolutely can. Thanks to certain state legislature, rental companies have to accommodate with child safety seats and specially-optimized vehicles for people with physical disabilities. You just have to be very specific and call ahead, because if the rental company is in a state where they’re required to carry this special equipment, they usually only carry the minimum.
Depending on the size of the establishment, they may only have two vans wheelchair access, for example. Those could both be rented out during the time you’re expecting to visit, but the location is still upholding their obligation to the law. It’s always best to check with them before you book.
Special equipment could also be a GPS system or full toll payment packages for local tolls. Most of these rental companies categorize special equipment as anything that doesn’t come with their standard car rental package.
Q: Car Someone Else Drive my Rental Car?
A: Yes, but this has to be in writing. While it may sound ridiculous, there are some customers over the age of twenty-five who would rent a car for their son or daughter, who would be under twenty-five, and not inform the rental company. One accident later and the renter was not the one behind the car, but a driver who isn’t covered by the insurance is. It’s a stretch, but so long as you let the rental company know what’s going on and get it in writing, there should be no problem.
That’s why we recommend getting the insurance that you need while you’re renting out the vehicle. It protects you, it can protect your passenger or spouse who will also be using the car, but it might also come with a slight price hike. You want your car rental company to be transparent with you, so do the same to them, and you’ll run into far fewer issues.
Our Top Pick
Enterprise, time and time again, has led a led by example through their customer service. A lot of customers have a negative disposition before they even walk into the rental office, which can be extremely difficult for both you and the representative you’ll be speaking with. Despite the difficulties that most car rental companies face, Enterprise has a fantastic track record for quality customer service and problem-solving.
If you call them about something being incorrect on your final statement, whether it’s an odometer reading or something of the sort, they’re quick to apologize and work out the situation. Does that mean it will always work out in your favor? No, but they are respectful and professional about everything. There are a few poor stories online about their customer service, just keep in mind that they have over 6,000 global car rental locations and more than half-a-million cars in tow. There’s bound to be mistakes, but Enterprise is quick to make it right.