Here is how you can save hundreds of dollars on a rental car

HOUSTON – If you’re planning a trip out of town that includes a flight, chances are you’ll need a rental car where ever you’re going.

We know rental cars are in high demand right now. Many rental car companies are running out in popular destination cities across the country. Even with the high demand, there are still a lot of ways to score big discounts on a rental car.

I plugged in the same details on several different rental car booking sites. The differences in quotes I got back were staggering. I could pay $699 from National Rental Car or $290 from OptimoRent for the same type of vehicle for the exact same number of days. That’s a savings of $376.

Tip: Reserve a car as soon as you know you’ll need one. Unlike airline tickets, if you don’t pre-pay, you can always cancel your reservation if you find a better deal before your trip.

Finding better deals

Start at a car booking site like Priceline, Expedia or Travelocity to get a base price for comparison.

We searched for a mid-size car from the Orlando (MCO) Airport from June 18 to June 23. Priceline spit out a quote for $491 that it said would get us a car from either National Rental Car, Hertz or Avis.

Then I went directly to those sites to see if any of them offered a better directly booking direct through their sites. They did not.

Auto Rentals

Next, we checked the website Auto Rentals. You just type in where you need the car, the dates you need it and hit search.

The site pulls up all of the rates for every size rental car from 30 different companies and booking sites. When you choose the car and company, you book directly through them. I was surprised that Auto Rentals found lower prices on Priceline than what I was able to get myself. It also pulled up quotes from a lower-tier, lesser-known set of car rental companies with significantly lower rates to book through Priceline. It was here that we found a $290 quote from Priceline for a Nissan Sentra from OptimoRent. Make sure you check reviews for any company you have never used before booking. OptimoRent has some bad reviews online, but not all discount car rental companies do. My family rented a full-size SUV from Fox Rent-A-Car in Denver a few years ago. The SUV we picked up definitely showed more wear and tear than most rentals, but it ran perfectly and met our needs for our vacation at a much lower price than the other rental car companies we checked.

Auto Slash

We put the same dates and location into the website Auto Slash. What makes this site different is that it looks for and applies discounts you can get for memberships and perks from credit cards you have. When we checked the boxes to confirm I had a AAA membership, USAA car insurance and a Mastercard, it emailed me several quotes. The original direct Priceline quote I received was $491, but Auto Slash directed me to a Priceline offer for $140 less. It was $351 for a full-size vehicle from Hertz.

Auto Slash only shows you offers that don’t require pre-payment. If you make the reservation, you can ask the site to continue to monitor rates and alert you if the price drops.

Don’t forget to factor in savings you can get from a cashback browser extension

If you have not already downloaded a cashback browser extension like Rakuten, do it. Since Rakuten will give me 5% cash back from Priceline, that $351 rate is actually $333.

You can use my referral code when you download Rakuten. When you make your first purchase and get cash back, we’ll both earn an extra $30.

Discount codes from unexpected places

Check with your university alumni group and your company’s human resources department for a corporate discount code you can use to save money. USAA offers its members up to 30% at some car rental companies. Did you know that you can book car rentals through some airlines, even if you’re not flying for your trip? If you are a frequent flyer member, you can get significant discounts. I went to United, signed in with my Mileage Plus number and searched for a car rental using the same dates and pick-up location. I got a quote for a full-size Chevy Malibu from Hertz for $440.

Alternative to traditional car rentals

If you’re flying out of IAH, you can make some money while you’re gone by renting your car to someone else through Avail. You drop off your car. They clean it and list it. If it gets rented, you pick up your car and your money when you get back.

Of course, you can also check Avail to rent a car at your destination. Prices are set by car owners and may or may not be competitive with the big rental car companies.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.