Best car rental deals are a must since you know I'm always after first class dirt cheap -- I'm not settling for less! I take one more step than most people to book my car -- but it pays off. Here's how.
Before you even start booking, though, we need to assess your situation. Are you a business traveler who is in a rental car a few days a week? If so, I add in yet one more step -- so then I have a three step process.
Are you just doing an occasional road trip and are just trying to get the best car rental deals you can? Then the two step process will work for you.
Let's take the business traveler scenario first. While I realize I need to do a whole section of tricks for the business traveler, I'll just make it short and sweet here.
Whether you are the chief cook and bottle washer for your business or you're on an expense account, that "account" word still applies no matter what. At some point, you have to be held accountable for getting the best rental car deals you possibly can.
For the business traveler, it's going to take some initial research, so roll up your sleeves for Step One.
If you've already rented cars from all the rental car companies that are available where you travel, make notes on the pros and cons of each. What did you like? What didn't you like?
If you haven't, you'll either need to ask around or set up some criteria that are important to you and compare. I think all business travelers could agree on some core "must haves" and "wants". For instance:
-if you have to fly then drive like I did, you'll want to know that you have free transportation from the airport to the car and vice versa.
-you'll also want to know how long that free shuttle takes, how far away from the airport is the car. That information could make or break you when you're trying to catch flights.
-you'll want to know if they have a loyalty program, and compare "benes" -- you're looking for "get me in my car of choice asap for the least amount of money" benes.
For instance, National had it set up where I could walk to the car of my choice in the row with the loyalty member signs, get in, drive to the booth, they "check me out" in that car and I'm off.
Then I loved that someone was out waiting for me when I drove in with their little receipt machines so I'm -- zip -- on the shuttle and off to catch my flight. No waiting in line at the counter. Do you have any idea how awesome that is when you're on several flights, in several cars and several hotels a week!?
-you'll want to know which are the "no games" car rental choices. You definitely don't have time for "bait and switch" or "ka-ching, ka-ching" games when you're just trying to find the best car rental deals and you have a flight to catch or a tight client meeting schedule.
I've also found it depends on the location. Budget can be great in say Houston, but then Budget in Vancouver will nickel and dime you to death -- and tell you that these add-ons to their quote are not optional.
BBzzzttt! I will never return to a place that doesn't allow me to be out the door for the original quote. I'll even call and ask the "out-the-door" price, ask their name, ask for an email stating that, and ask if they'll be working when I'm scheduled to come.
-you'll also want to know if they're going to tack on hundreds (I'm exaggerating for some airports, but not really for others) of " mandatory airport taxes" or "surcharge this and surcharge that" fees (Yes, Budget - Denver, are your ears burning -- cause I'm talking 'bout cha! At least, last time -- and it will be the last time -- I was there.
I don't have time to come see if you've changed your ways). Amazing how if you check the car rental place next door, they don't have them!
One easier way to get this research done is hire an expert! These days, you can book everything online, which you would think makes travel agents obsolete, but one of my secrets was that I always used a travel agent to help me book all of my business travel.
Even though we were a team and I stayed on top of things because I'm the one held accountable, Gisele's expertise and determination were invaluable and saved me untold hours and countless dollars.
Her fee was miniscule in the scheme of things. After my last vacation, in fact, I swore I was going to never book even my personal vacations by myself again. Gisele has since moved on but I'm back on the hunt for a stellar travel agent!
So, this is step one for the business traveler. You're going to want to figure out your "faves" -- maybe two or three you believe, from your research, will give you the best car rental deals, and join their loyalty programs.
Now, at step two, we'll pull in the occasional road tripper. And business travelers, just because you did initial research and joined a couple loyalty programs doesn't mean you skip step two and three!
You can never step in the same river even once -- things are always changing! You researched your core best car rental deals, but you always want to keep those places on their toes by broadening your net each and every time you book. Same for our road tripper. Y
ou may have had a good experience with a place on your last vacation. Never let them rest on their laurels, hold their fingers to the fire, and search out the very best deal each and every time.
Your faves do have an advantage -- but only if they stay competitive because you're always after the very best car rental deals!
If you have a travel agent, include them in step two along with Kayak to find your best car rental deals, or your favorite "quote grabber," to find your best car rental deals. I like Kayak.
I'll try new ones that come along, but so far, I keep going back to Kayak. You're going to do a search in Kayak for the best deal as step two and check with your travel agent to see if they can beat it with anything they know of.
Pick your best quote and then it's time for step three.
Step three in finding the best car rental deals is to go directly to the best quote's company website to actually book the reservation. The reason I don't book through any online middle guy is I'm going straight to the horse's mouth for:
1) accountability - if I book through an online middle guy and something puts a wrench in my travel plans, I'm $@#%*& (I caved once and regretted it. I was on the way to my aunt's funeral, hastily booked through Orbitz, then all the roads literally flooded out just after Olympia in a freak storm, and I had to turn around and go back home! I had a he(( of a time unraveling that mess!)
2) best price - I know there are no added fees if I book directly.
3) direct deals - the car rental company can make me deals no online middle guy is authorized to do. 80% is showing up, right?!
So, there you have it. In order to get the best car rental deals for business travelers and road trippers:
Step One: Research, then join two or three car rental loyalty programs (optional for the road tripper, but go ahead if it floats your boat!)
Step Two: Cast a wide net online (and with your travel agent if you have one) to find the best quote.
Step Three: Always, always, always -- book directly with the car rental company