Choosing a rental car is by far the most painful part of organising a holiday, and I always leave it to last.
Despite price comparison sites, there is a lack of standardisation in the way car hire companies present prices and additional fees – which makes the process incredibly confusing and very tricky to identify the best deal.
But, if like me you enjoy a road trip, it has to be done. So here are my top tips for finding a good car hire deal and avoid hidden fee surprises.
Avoid airline ‘special offers’
For starters, do not book through airlines who claim to give you, their favourite customer, a super price with so many % off. These so called ‘offers’ are usually based on their highest fees and you end up overpaying big time. I couldn’t believe it when my dad was charged nearly £100 per day for his hired car he had booked through easyJet when he came to visit me in the UK.
Start with price comparison sites
Price comparison sites are a good starting point, as they give you a good idea of the price ranges you’re dealing with. I tend to start with rentalcars.com, holidayautos.com and expedia.co.uk. Usually you can rule at least one or two of them out very quickly. The handy thing about price comparison sites is that they provide a decent overview of the companies available and help narrow the search down to a couple of favourites.
Check the terms and fees
Carefully check the small print. Each provider charges different fees for insurance and extras, which can greatly impact your overall price. You’ll be surprised how much these fees vary from provider to provider! Some offer a low rental price, but then charge considerable amounts for additional drivers or baby seats. It all depends on what you need, but sometimes it works out cheaper to pay a slightly higher rental price with someone who charges very little for extras.
Consider whether to hire a car seat
If you need a baby / child seat, think about whether to hire one or bring your own. It depends on the fees your airline charges to bring a car seat, how concerned you are about the state of the seat (they get thrown about a bit on a plane!) and whether you want to carry it with you throughout your entire trip! For more complex trips with multiple stops I usually hire the seat with the car and so far it always worked well.
Delete your cookies
If you’ve searched for a while and prices are creeping up, try deleting cookies on your computer – sometimes, websites try to put pressure on people they know have been searching for car hire by steadily increasing the prices.
Get a quote from the car hire company directly. Comparison websites are great, and more often than not they offer better prices than going directly to the company. However, especially when booking for a longer trip, it’s worth checking, just in case they have any special offers on.
Plan your mileage
Have a think about your route and how many miles you’re planning to drive. You can save money by hiring a car with limited mileage. Before you do though, be certain the limit included is sufficient, as costs for additional miles driven usually are significant.
Earn additional cashback
You can earn decent cashback with car rentals, by using sites like Quidco or Topcashback. Offers vary greatly each day, but it’s not unusual to get 10% – 15% cashback, simply by accessing car rental through cash back sites.
Don’t be afraid to go local. We gravitate towards brands we’re familiar with as we place a certain amount of trust in them, but it’s worth considering local companies. Usually the cars provided are no different to those of the better known agencies, and often at much lower costs. If booking with a local agency you’ve never dealt with before, I’d always recommend researching reviews on Tripadvisor or similar sites.
Check your car
On pick up, take the time to check your car. Make sure you’ve noted down any scratches or other damages before you drive off. Most times it’s absolutely fine and nobody really looks at the car when you return it, but you never know. Also, remember to check the child lock to ensure the kids travel safe.
Bring the right documents
Finally, check which documents are required for driving in your destination country and to pick up your car from the hire companies. UK Drivers now have to show a validation code, although so far I haven’t experienced a company requesting to see it. Outside Europe, it is often advised, sometimes mandatory, to carry an International Driving Permit. If you hold a UK license, you can simply apply for the IDP through the AA or the Post Office. If like me, you’re a UK resident with a non-UK license you can also apply through the AA but need to use a slightly different form, which you can contact them for.