It’s convenient to have a car to get around when you’re out of town, whether for business or pleasure. But taxis or ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft can be unreliable or expensive, especially if you need to get somewhere during peak traffic times. It may be simpler and more economical to hire a rental car.
Fortunately, the Internet and mobile digital technology make that easy! That’s why we’ve compiled this list of 8 of the best car rental sites and apps. As an added bonus, we’ve added a few tips on how to avoid breaking the bank when renting a car.
So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get rolling with the best 8 sites and apps for car rentals. If you need some tips on saving money, be sure to jump down to our 5 tips for saving money on rental cars.
Priceline leads off our list with its blend of choice and flexibility. In addition to rental cars, it allows you to book flights, hotels, cruises, or even entire vacation packages! But what makes it arguably the best car rental site is its signature “Name Your Own Price” system. Submit a rate for your car rental that fits your budget, and Priceline will work to match you with a company that will accept your rate. Be aware, however, that you won’t know what company you’re renting from, or what kind of car you’ll get, until after you book.
If you need help booking a rental car on Priceline normally, without using the “Name Your Own Price” system, we have a lesson on that here.
Orbitz is another popular choice for booking travel accommodations, including car rentals. Its claim to fame is its high standard of customer service and satisfaction. It also has a program called “Orbucks” that lets you earn rewards by booking with them – or by finding better deals on competitor websites!
Another well-established name in the online travel industry, Expedia has connections to many of the biggest travel accommodation companies, including those that rent out cars. Book your accommodations separately, or bundle them to get a bit of a deal. And if you find a better price on the same booking elsewhere, tell Expedia and they’ll refund you – plus a little extra!
Our Expedia course will walk you through the basics of using the website, including booking a rental car.
Hotwire works similarly to Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” feature. It sells off unsold travel accommodations – including car rentals – from companies looking to avoid losses. That means you can often get a great deal on Hotwire, especially if you’re booking something last-minute. However, you may not be told much about what rental company is offering the deal, or what kind of car you’ll end up with.
Kayak is a bit of an outlier on this list, but it’s still among the best car rental sites. While it doesn’t have functions for directly booking a rental car, it does let you track and compare rates on hundreds of websites that can rent you a car. This lets you make your car rental at the right time and for the right price. Kayak does this for many other types of travel accommodations, as well.
Visit our Kayak course if you want to learn more about how Kayak works.
Formerly known as RelayRides, Turo has often been called “the Airbnb of car rentals.” That’s because it’s the best car rental website and app for renting cars from people in the neighborhood who just happen to not be using them at the time! This can get you rates up to 30% lower than most big car rental places on economy cars. Of course, if you’d like a truck for a little more muscle, or a novelty car to cruise around in style, Turo can usually arrange that, too!
Zipcar is the best car rental app if you occasionally need to drive, but don’t want or need to be renting cars repeatedly. Here’s how it works: you sign up and choose your membership option, and you get a “Zipcard” in the mail. Then, reserve a car near you, find it, and unlock it with your Zipcard. Then drive it for however long you need to! When you’re done, take it back to where you found it and lock it with your Zipcard or the Zipcar app. And no need to worry about gas or insurance – Zipcar has those covered!
Enterprise is one of the most established names when it comes to renting a car in America, so it probably wouldn’t hurt to give them a try. They might not be the cheapest option in town, but you’re likely to get great service, including their free pick-up feature.
5 hot tips for saving money when using car rental services
1. Don’t pick up your rental car at the airport.
We know that if you’re catching a flight to wherever you want to go, it’s tempting to want to have a car ready for you as soon as you land at the airport. It’s going to cost you, though. Rental car companies pay extra taxes and fees to operate at airports, and they almost always pass those costs on to customers.
Instead, see if you can find a car rental company that has a location close to the airport. Then choose that location as your pick-up point when you book your car. It will likely save you around 20% or more off your rental.
2. Look for discount coupons and deals, even in unexpected places.
Online coupon sites, like Retail Me Not, sometimes have promotional codes that you can use towards rental car bookings. You can also get some deals if you’re an A.A.A. member. But there are other places where you can save money on rental cars that you might not expect.
For instance, if you have a membership to Costco wholesale stores, they have an entire division dedicated to getting you deals on travel accommodations, including rental cars. American Express credit cards and the American Airlines “AAdvantage” program are other surprising examples where membership can get you a break on your car rental, at least under certain conditions.
3. Plan ahead before agreeing to prepaid fuel.
Many rental car companies will offer a prepaid “insurance fuel” plan so you don’t have to worry about returning a car with a near-full tank of gas. Before you accept it, use an app to compare fuel prices at gas stations in the area, and see how competitive the rental car company’s rates are.
Also consider how much you’ll be driving in general. If you won’t be going all that far, it may be cheaper to skip the prepaid fuel package and just top up at a nearby gas station before you turn the car in. On the other hand, if you need to be driving a lot or are going long distances, it may be better to get “insurance fuel” so you can get away with turning in a car in that’s running on fumes.
4. Find cheaper alternatives for the extras, or avoid them altogether.
Car rental companies will likely try to sell you several add-ons for your car, which can really jack up the price of your rental. If you can, do without them; if not, look for cheaper options that do the same thing. Satellite radio? Skip it. GPS navigator? Use a free smartphone app like Waze or Google Maps; even a good old-fashioned paper map will do, for less cost. Toll transponders? You can usually find them for cheaper at local grocery stores and pharmacies.
Also, you may not need additional insurance beyond what your credit card policy, travel insurance, or personal car insurance provides. Bring your proof of insurance, or buy a cheap stand-alone policy from the likes of InsureMyRentalCar.com. In addition, you can avoid things like extra driver fees under certain conditions, such as if you can prove the additional drivers are co-workers using your employer’s account or are immediate family members.
5. Bundle up when using sites that offer multiple accommodations.
You may have noticed that some of the sites and apps we’ve listed allow you to reserve more than just rental cars. You can book airplane flights, hotel rooms, tourist activities, etc. in addition. You can sometimes get better rates on your accommodations if you book them all at once, so test it out if you have the time!
Well, that’s our list of the best digital tools, tips, and tricks for getting a rental car when you need one. For more guides and advice related to using digital technology to help you travel, explore the rest of our Flights & Hotels section. Also have a gander at our Vacation Rentals section for alternatives to hotels that can save you money and give you a unique experience!