Q: Is “less” ever “more” when it comes to travel expenses?
A: Sometimes, and you aren’t going to be happy when it happens to you.
“You need to let us have your car for at least three days” the owner of the auto repair shop that I’ve used for years told me.
Aside from the repair bill estimate, which wasn’t good news, being without a car for that length of time meant I’d be under “house arrest” for half a week or more.
So to prevent myself from contracting “cabin fever” I arranged to rent a car for five days.
And that’s when I got good news: I’d get the discounted weekly rate from the car rental company even though I wouldn’t have the car for seven consecutive days.
Then came more good news: The shop finished the work on my car in a day and a half, so I walked two blocks to a bus stop, rode to the local transit hub, changed buses, and picked up my car at mid-afternoon.
But I got not unexpected bad news when I returned the rental car less than 48 hours after I had drove off in it: I wasn’t entitled to that weekly rate ($35/day) because I brought the car back too soon. So I had to pay the daily rate of $70! The good news is that I did end up paying $20 or so less than if I had used the car for the full five days as I had originally requested.
Rental Car Rate Change
Presumably a rental car company would be better off if customers always rented for a full-week. That would mean that the company employees would only have to check in/check out, inspect, wash, and service each vehicle once each week. But if customers brought the cars back after less than a week, all of that work would have to been done more frequently.
Probably in a bid to attract folks traveling on business, who might be in town only Sunday/Monday through Friday, the company gives those folks the lower weekly rate, prorated over five days. Leisure travelers, of course, would get that same per-day price break.
Take this rate scheme into account when you are planning a trip. Let’s assume that you are going on a 10-day trip and plan to rent a car for all of those days. You’ll probably pay the weekly rate for the first seven days, and then the higher (perhaps double) daily rate for the next three days (which by itself would nearly equal the cost of a full seven-day rental).
To save money, figure out if it would cheaper for you to take airport shuttles, buses or light rail systems to your hotel, and get around town by foot, bus, taxi, or using a ride-sharing service, for least three of those days. Don’t forget to factor in parking fees that your hotel will charge.
If during those ten days you plan to spend time in two or more cities where you’ll need a rental car, see if you can do without a car at the beginning and end of your trip, and rent it only for seven days (or maybe even just five) during the middle of the trip. If so, you’ll end up paying the lower weekly rate for five to seven days instead of the much higher daily rate.
However, if you are picking up the car in one city and dropping it off in another, check to see if there is a drop-off fee. Sometimes the drop-off fee is a fixed amount, but at other times you’ll be charged the higher per-day rate for seven consecutive days instead of the weekly rate.
Another car rental saving tip: If you pick up your rental car at the airport you may be charged fees and taxes that won’t be imposed if you get the car from a downtown or neighborhood location. Those extra fees can sometimes double the cost of renting a car.
Hotels Take A Page Out Of Car Rental Rate Book
It’s not just car rental companies that boost rates when you reserve for a week, but cut your trip short. Hotels may do it, to0.
For a recently completed trip I initially reserved a hotel room for seven nights at $199/night. But then I accepted an offer to stay for free during the first two nights I would be in town.
Bad news: When I changed my hotel reservation from seven to five nights, the rate I was charged an additional $70/night, raising the total cost from $199 to $269/night! The hotel obviously had taken a page out of the car rental companies rate manuals.
Good news: By accepting the free lodging for those first two nights, I still paid $300 less than I would have if I had bunked in the hotel for an entire week.