Car rental sites

We’re going back to the States for a couple of weeks and will need to rent a car. It’s been years since I have done that.

Are there good sites to rent cars from or it is cheaper to go just go with the rental company directly?

Any thing to look for or avoid?

When I rent a car for a trip, I usually get it through a travel site like Expedia when I book my flight. Sometimes you can get a little better deal when you package air/hotel/car. Airlines might offer the same kind of packaging if you book a flight directly with them. I don’t think you would save much, if anything, by going direct to a rental agency vs. a travel site.

I believe there are low-cost options that might not be available on such sites, like Rent-A-Wreck.

If you care about adding miles to your airline frequent flyer account, find out which car rental companies will give you miles for that airline.

What you pay will probably not be the price quoted when you make the reservation. Especially if you are picking the car up at an airport, there will be all kinds of taxes and fees tacked on. Since you are coming from abroad and presumably do not have U.S. car insurance you may also need to get the rental company’s damage waiver insurance (although I believe it is also available through third parties).

What you get with going directly to a booking site is that if/when there are problems you only have to deal with the actual company. If you purchase through a broker/3rd party/discounter then a lot of times you’ll have to deal with the 3rd party to resolve differences.

What’s always worked well for me is to find a good deal through the discounter site i.e. kayak/orbitz, etc. then search for that specific info on the actual site. i.e. Orbitz shows a good price for a sedan through Hertz. Now go to the Hertz site and rent the car. You should find the same price. I always have anyway.

Good luck.

I’ve booked several cars over the last few months and Costco tends to offer a little bit cheaper rates and adds a second driver for free. But they only work with Alamo, Avis, Budget, and Enterprise. A site like orbitz or expedia will include a wider range of rental agencies, including Hertz and some lower-tier ones like Fox. I usually cast the wider net first, and then if a rate looks good for one of the Costco partners, I go over there.

Note: You must be a Costco member.

Not sure if the OP still has a US driver’s license or just a DL from another country.

I found that many companies will quote one rate on their own website if you say you have a US license and a different rate if you say you have a foreign DL. Sometimes the foreign DL rate is cheaper, sometimes the US license rate is.

Just one more variable to check.

What airport are you flying into? Many USA airports have solved the off-airport versus on airport dilemma by creating a separate area for all the major rental car companies. Are you flying from Tokyo? If so, I hope you won’t consider renting a car on arrival day even if you’re familiar with driving on the right.

Obviously, find out what insurance you’ll need, this will be expensive but necessary buying it from the car rental company. Some companies might still have rates for foreign travelers that include the insurance.

I’d book directly through the car rental company website although I don’t know what type of packages are available for visitors who book USA trips from abroad.

Car rental taxes are insane, so be sure to allow room for those in the budget. A car advertised for $25 per day can easily reach $50 or much higher with all the added taxes and fees that are assessed in the USA. Also, most of the time the cost of insurance or prepaid fuel will also be taxed at an exorbitant rate.

Expect USA immigration to be a pain and allow plenty of time and patience.

My tried and true is Priceline’s Name Your Own Price and I rarely pay more than $30/day for a car from a major company. I’ve even booked one at less than $30 from the arrival gate at the airport, so it’s not like it’s much cheaper in advance.
Definitely use a credit, rather than debit, card to book it. Many credit card companies have additional traveler protection you may be entitled to in a worst case scenario.

Plus it is very difficult to rent a car on a debit card anyway these days. A credit card company can force charges onto a credit card even if it is at the credit limit.

It’s been years since I rented a car, so my info may be out of date, but back when I was a frequent renter, I learned to always reserve in advance, never rent from the counter, and never rent directly from a low-volume, out-of-the-way location. Even if you call a location and ask for their rates, when you arrive there, the rate will be double what you were quoted with no excuses. Buyer Beware seems to be their Modus Operandi.

Probably no longer relevant, but the only time my credit card account was ever stolen was at a rental car counter in Chicago’s O’Hare, from some clerk pocketing the carbon copies.

I worked in car rental reservations back in the 1990s and yes, the rates for reserving in advance, even if it was 30 seconds in advance were always far better than the walk up rate. At the firm I worked for, the clerks at the rental counter didn’t even have access to any other rates or any of the discounts.

I don’t think anyone has to worry about carbon copies these days. But, a traveler to the USA should be aware that it is still common for most restaurants and some bars to take your card away while they process the charge and that’s when any potential fraud can happen. Thankfully, it was pretty minor. Once was an overinflated tip at a restaurant and one was someone else’s tab being added to mine at a bar.

And “advance” might be a euphemism. When I was just learning the ropes, I called up a rental counter and asked about rates from across town. When I arrived at the counter an hour later, the rates were double. I declined, went to a phone booth across the room (before cellphones, y’know), called the same counter, and got a half-price rate, which I reserved. Returning to the counter, I rented the car. The clerks didn’t seem to recognize me, but maybe I wasn’t the first person to do that.

I wonder if you were automatically redirected to the central 800 number, that’s how my old firm used to operate in the early 1980s. If you hit one on the phone tree for reservations, you’d be directed to the 800 number and the reservation agents had access to all the rates, which were always substantially lower than the walk up rates that the counter agents could offer.

This is an important thing to bear in mind, and it’s why I now avoid booking with an aggregator site if I can at all help it. I’ve had some bad experiences with rescheduling cancelled airline tickets that I had bought through Travelocity, and I now book directly, after using an aggregator or two to compare prices.

One other drawback about aggregators is that they can do weird things to your name when they transmit it from their site to the actual company. For example, I have a suffix on my name, I’ve had them transmit the suffix as my last name as well as combine my last name with my suffix without a space. It’s a minor inconvenience with hotel reservations but a huge pain the in the butt with air tickets since the last name doesn’t match my passport and it throws off the automated kiosk.

Do not have my US license anymore.

Thank you for your information, here and other posts.

I actually live in Taiwan now, so I’m driving on the same side of the road. Even when I lived in Japan, I got really good at switching going back, as I would go back to the States several times a year for business. The only real difficulty would be always turning on the wipers when I went to make a turn, as they are on opposite sides.

My mother is also flying into town and we’ll rent as her with the primary driver and me as an additional driver. We’re checking to make sure that her car insurance would cover me. Otherwise we’ll have to add the comprehensive insurance which is expensive.

Yeah, there always is that. We haven’t had many problems, and this is our third trip back as a family. Only my wife isn’t a US citizen, and they generally don’t hassle people with families from Japan or Taiwan.

Whenever I deal with immigration, I generally wear something more than T-shirts, shorts and flipflops. Most people have subconscious biases, and I’d be surprised if immigration people were different. Looking more middle class generally helps.

Apparently this has been discontinued (WaPo article) as of April this year.

I rented a car for two weeks recently (in TX) and was surprised to find that the significantly best rate was through the airline website. I purchased my tickets directly (Southwest, that is the usual case for them), and when I tried their website for the car, I saved $200 on a two week rental over other websites or the rental company website (and I am a “member” of their “club” and get a discount).

I hadn’t tried that before and was surprised.

Might be a good thing.

To test I just put in a two week rental (July 15-29) for an economy car out of San Francisco airport into the Budget car rental site. Was almost $200 cheaper overall when I said I was a Taiwan resident ($420) vs a US resident ($616) for a pay at the counter rate. :eek: Not such a huge difference if you prepay a non-refundable rental at time of booking.

Of course it could go the other way and be more costly with an overseas license, depending on rental details.

Well, shit. :mad:

Costco allows you to cancel for free, so one thing you can do is reserve early and check back later to see if the rate has gone down. If it has, you can reserve at the new rate and cancel the old one. I think they even encourage this on their site.
I don’t know if you can do the same on the company site or on aggregator sites.