Whether your car’s broken down the night before a family holiday (typical!), your Aunt Muriel’s flown in unannounced (again!), or you’re just a ‘spontaneous road trip’ kind of person (the best kind!), there are many reasons why you might need to find a car rental at the last minute. The problem, is that car companies can usually sense desperation. And when you turn up to the counter with that slightly wild look in your eye, asking if they have anything, anything at all available for today, you can start to look a little like a talking dollar sign to a commission-driven sales assistant. Gulp.
But never fear! We got you, Last-Minute Larry. For all the less organized or simply unluckier drivers among us, here are our top 10 tips for finding the perfect automobile at a moment’s notice – and still getting a good deal!
Even at the last minute, the best car rental deals are still to be found online. Going in to the rental company to book in person is almost always more expensive (often considerably more, Larry!) If you’re already in the store, managers know you’re likely to accept the price they offer, whereas online, hundreds of companies are competing for your business, so you should still be able to find a better rate. In general, prices will increase the nearer you get to the pick-up date, so book as soon as you can to secure the best possible price.
Use Third-party Comparison Sites
Rather than limiting yourself to checking out one or two car rental companies’ prices on their own websites, use a third-party comparison site to check hundreds of companies at once, and find you the best deals. These sites will instantly compare deals from all the top car hire companies, showing you the best prices available to your last-minute self. Here are some of our favorites:
- Expedia: Expedia is possibly the biggest name in travel price comparison, and along with flights, hotels and excursions, you can use this site to find great last-minute car rental deals. The detailed search function allows you to search by location, date and time, and filter the results by car type and car rental company.
- CheapTickets: This site is part of the Expedia group, so the layout and search function are very similar to the above. However, for some unknown reason, the prices shown do vary between the two, so it’s worth checking both, to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal.
- RentalCars: As the name suggests, this site specializes in rental cars. This means it offers a much broader range than some of the other general travel comparison sites – they claim to work with over 900 car hire companies. They also have the most advanced search options, allowing you to filter by everything from damage excess to whether you can be met at the airport (great if you’ve always wanted someone to be waiting at Arrivals holding a sign with your name on!)
- Skyscanner: Not just for flights, Skyscanner also allows you to search for car rental deals, and will list them in price order, from lowest to highest. The results are displayed alongside an interactive map, allowing you to easily see the locations and prices of the listed rentals, and make a snappy-but-informed decision about which one is best for you.
- Priceline: This site is great if you’re operating within a strict budget. Priceline’s ‘Name Your Price’ tool allows you to input your car rental requirements, and then set the maximum amount you’re willing to pay. Companies are then able to see your bid, and choose whether or not to accept it. You have to wait 24 hours between bids, so this one’s only a good idea if you still have at least a couple of days before your pick-up date.
Related Post: Best Car Rental Companies
If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for at this late stage, consider what factors you might be willing to compromise on. If you wanted an SUV, but there are only Economy cars available, could you accept that instead (and save yourself a few pennies along the way?) Many car rental companies prefer drivers that are aged over 25, and will either not accept, or charge a premium for, a younger driver. If you’re in this situation, is there anyone older who could do the driving in your place? In return for your stellar company, awesome Spotify playlists and on-point navigating skills, of course.
Alter Your Pick-off and Drop-off Locations
If you’re struggling to find a good deal with your chosen pick-off and drop-off locations, try altering them (within reason). For example, picking up a rental car from the company’s office can often be considerably cheaper than from the airport, and Aunt Muriel could always get a bus or Uber to the office from the airport. It’ll be an extra little adventure for her. Many companies will also charge a premium for returning the car to a different location than where it was collected, so if this was your initial plan, consider whether you have the flexibility to instead return it to its original location.
Change Your Pick-up and Drop-off Times
It may also be worth adjusting your pick up and drop off times, as this can make a difference both to what cars are available, and the price. Most car rental companies rent their cars out in 24 hour periods, meaning that you will be charged the same price for a rental of 25 hours as one of 48 hours. It also means that, whilst they may not have any cars available at 9am, they could have one available at 11am, after it has been returned by the previous day’s renter.
Minimize Additional Costs
Renting a car at the last minute can be pricier than in advance, so try to keep any other additional costs to a minimum. Choose a rental car with a ‘Full to Full’ fuel policy, meaning that, as long you fill up the car just before you return it, you won’t be charged any additional re-fuelling fees. Resist adding any other extras that are ‘nice to have’ but that you can do without, such as extra drivers or GPS navigation – just use your phone, or go old-school with a paper map (yes, they do still exist!)
Even if you’re desperate and there’s nothing else available, it’s not worth giving your money to a dodgy company. Check the reviews of the company before booking anything, especially if you haven’t heard of them before. Occasionally, car rental companies have hidden charges that aren’t made clear until you’re stood in front of them in the office – by which time, it’s too late for you to find an alternative, and you begrudgingly have to pay up in order to get the car. The good news, is that this is the kind of thing disgruntled customers are very likely to write a review about – so make sure to look out for them before committing your own hard-earned cash.
Use Cashback Sites and Coupon Codes
Just because you’re shopping at the last minute, doesn’t mean you can’t make use of discounts. Once you’ve found the car rental deal you want, search for coupon codes for that company on sites such as Savings.com, and check if you can get cashback through sites like TopCashback and Ebates. Many companies also offer discounts or other incentives in return for signing up to their email newsletters, so keep an eye out for these offers on site.
Resist Adding Insurance You Don’t Need
We know you’re in a rush, but don’t let yourself by pressured into paying for expensive insurance you don’t actually need at the rental office counter. Instead, make time before collecting the car to check your current insurance policy, as you may well already be covered for a rental vehicle. If not, or if you want additional cover, buy online rather than at the counter, as – like with the car itself – you can shop around, and not be coerced into accepting only option the car hire company has available.
There’s always a possibility when booking a rental car online at short notice that you may arrive at the rental office to be told they’ve oversold or don’t have a car available for you. If this happens, and you have a confirmed reservation, stand your ground – it’s the company’s responsibility to fulfil their end of the agreement and find you a suitable alternative, even if that means upgrading you to a better car for free (which wouldn’t be so terrible!)
So, there you have it – our top 10 tips for finding a last-minute car rental deal. The key things to remember are that, even though it’s short notice, still shop around and compare prices to get the best deal, check for discounts, and don’t feel pressured into over-paying for services you don’t really need. Keep these tips in mind, and next time you need an automobile at the last minute, you’ll be on the road in no time!
- How to Rent a Car – wikiHow
- The truth about rental car insurance: Do you need it or not? – howstuffworks