Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Travel: How to Rent a Car for Cheap via Priceline

This could be you.  Rolling in a Sebring.

When traveling, I'd rather spend money on fun stuff rather than renting a car.  So, for a few years now, we've been "naming our own price" on Priceline for car rentals when we go somewhere in the States and need a car.  Priceline has worked best for us (meaning the prices were the best) when we picked up and dropped off a car at an airport.

For our upcoming trip to California for Christmas, we rented an economy size car for seven days from December 18 to 25.  Using Priceline, we paid what some people pay for renting a car for one day.  See what we paid after the jump.

Priceline accepted our $13 per day bid on an economy car.  $13 per day!  That's like a fast food meal for two to rent a car.  After taxes and fees, the total for our seven-day car rental comes to $136.31, which is not much more than what it costs to rent a ZipCar in New York City just for one day.  OK, so the per-day rate ends up being $19.47 when you include the other fees, but still...Yay for savings.

I keep track of past prices for our car rentals, so I have some idea of where to start in terms of bids (well, I tag the email confirmations with words like "LAX car rental 2010 priceline," so I can reference the information in the future).  So, I saw that last year, Priceline accepted our $10 per day bid, but it wasn't a holiday period then.  We started our bid with $10 just to see if it would work (it didn't) and then we were able to rebid the same day by adding the compact size and increasing the bid.  We bid $12 per day on the compact size and our offer wasn't accepted.  So, we had to wait 24 hours in order to rebid, which we had the time to do.  Yesterday we bid $13 per day for an economy car and the bid was accepted. 

Here are a few tips:
  • Remember that car rentals are billed on a 24-hour cycle "days" and most car rental agencies have a 1- to 2-hour grace period before they charge you for another day.  Our flight gets in at 12:30 pm and we leave at 3:40 pm, so ideally we would have ordered the car from 1 pm on December 18 to 2 pm on December 25.  But why would we want to pay for a whole extra day when we just need it an hour extra?  So, you can play with the hours a little bit.
  • Car seats cost extra...anywhere from $2 to $10 per day.  If it's $10 per day, that's as much as the car rental costs us, so we'll definitely bring our own car seat.
  • Priceline isn't for everyone!  Some people don't like not knowing what car rental agency they'll end up with or they may not like the element of gambling on the price when renting a car.  We've bid for hotels and cars on Priceline many times, but we still get nervous when we click because the refund policies are much stricter and you're sort of locked in.  It's definitely been worth it for us, but I can see how some people would just want to know the price, pay a little extra for the convenience and ability to cancel the car, etc.  Everyone's different.
So, do you have another car rental cost savings strategy or tip you'd be willing to share?  Have you had any great experiences with other websites through which one can rent cars?  If so, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section!

Happy Driving!


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  5. Hello Kathy! Thanks for your guidance with a cheap rental car. These tips will surely be helpful for getting a good deal on Priceline. After reading all about the service by Priceline, I feel like it is really giving a good price of our money. While traveling to somewhere, everybody wants to save more and more money on rental fee and spend them in other things hence we all look for a good cheap rental car service. The rental price of $13 per day is too low for a day and also affordable to all. The one that I prefer is Santa barbara airport shuttle and it is fulfilling all my expectations.

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