How to book cheap car rentals

Here are some simple tips and hacks on how to book cheap car rentals.

First off, join every major car rental company loyalty programs. They are free to join. There are three main benefits. The first is that all your information is in their database so it is very fast to book future rentals.

The second benefit and more important, is that you will save hours of standing in line at the car rental counter.

The third benefit are the specials and discount emails you will receive.

All of the major car rental companies fast track loyalty members. They either have a separate line for loyalty members with your paperwork already prepared or will have your contract and keys on a display board by the counter or in the garage where the cars are parked. Many times I have disembarked the plane and have been sitting in my car within 10 minutes.

I always book my cheap car rentals as soon as I have booked my airline tickets. In many cases this is 9-10 months prior to leaving. I do a search on Expedia to get an idea of the prices being offered then book the lowest cost car. As a loyalty member you generally get a one level upgrade so I always book a compact car. 

A few years ago, I started booking most of my rental cars through my Costco membership. You are guaranteed a one category upgrade.  It is considerably cheaper than other third party booking agencies like Expedia. But, most third party booking agencies are cheaper than booking directly through the car rental company. 

The great thing about car rental bookings is that you can cancel the reservation at any time which leads to this strategy. I continue to watch car rentals for deals. Often, at some point between booking and flying away, there will be a better deal than when you booked. 

I book the new price and then cancel my first booking. It is important to book first and then cancel not the other way around as the deals can disappear in minutes. You could cancel and then not be able to get the new deal and end up paying more than your first booking.

The longer you book a car rental, the lower your per day cost will be. By the day you might pay $40, by the week $30, by the month $20. In Europe you can lease a car if you rent for two months and pay $15 a day. 

Using these tips, I have rented cars for as little as $8 a day in Las Vegas. I have been given a $200 a day Escalade for the price of a compact. Generally I book a compact and get the choice of a premium model. 

The worldwide pandemic affected North American car rentals in a major way. When car rental traffic declined by over 80%, the car rental companies sold off their fleets to reduce their negative cash flow. 

As travel began to increase the car rental companies encountered another problem. There were no vehicles to buy to rebuild their fleets. The shortage of vehicle computer boards to automobile manufacturers forced a huge reduction in new vehicles being manufactured. 

How does that affect the budget traveller? Car rental prices went from $40 a day to $400 or more per day. The simple law of supply and demand. I had a nephew visit who paid $1800 for a three day rental. I recently did a car rental search on different days at the Calgary airport and there where no cars to rent for any amount of money.

Fortunately, car rental rates in Europe have not changed much. Several different groups of my friends just came back from Europe where they rented cars in Romania, Germany and Italy and did not notice a difference in rental rates.

Patrick Robertson is a travel writer and an expert in planning independent travel and finding budget travel deals. Visit my Tool page at for powerful planning tools. Like me on Facebook at