Saturday, March 31, 2012

No Car Rental Reservation? No Biggie - How To Save Money Renting Cars Without Reservations

In the conventional world, renting cars requires a reservation, confirmation, and even a credit card. With as little as a pair of comfortable walking shoes, a laptop computer (or even a really good pda phone), and a bit of patience, its possible to save more money that you would have reserving online. And you don't even have to have any risk in doing so.
Car rental agencies want you to think they have very rigid price scales. "it costs this much to rent a car, period." Truth is they change the prices all the time. A trained eye and a bit of watching can spot the deals from the dunces. The technique I am about to tell you is basic, easy, and in no way violates any rules that the rental companies want to claim. so take notes and pay attention.
1. If you are planning a trip, go-ahead and book a reservation, the best deal you can find that has no cancellation penalties. Most car rental agencies do not have any cancellation penalties except during peak season and for specialty cars. If you are trapped due to an unexpected change in destination or you changed your mind on renting at the last second, skip this step.
2. Bring or wear your most comfortable walking shoes with you on this trip. Also, bring your laptop computer and a smile.
3. When you land, bust out your computer and hit or any other discount websites. most of these websites will not let you book any reservation within 2 hours of your expected pick up time, so you will have to be prepared for a possible last second delay (bring a book or plan for a light lunch or dinner at the airport, just in case). At the hotwire site, pick out a reservation for a rental car for the desired amount of time. Choose the car class just below you want if your asking for a normal sedan.
4. Hotwire, unlike Priceline, will give you the dollar amount of the best deal they can offer you right there. Use that as your baseline for your bargain hunt. At this point, if the hotwire price is more expensive, or relatively close to your reservation, it may be better to take the reservation price.
5. Take the reservation price, the hotwire estimate, and start going door to door, counter to counter for each and every agency. Your goal is to negotiate, smile, snivel, discount your way into a car for a price that is better than or equal to the best price you have. Car rental agencies report their walk up traffic statistics to the airport authority. The authority uses this data to determine which agencies will get on airport locations and the highest walk up traffic agencies are given the most prime locations. The authority gets a cut of all the business done at the airports and the best company in the best spot traditionally will give them the best revenue.
6. Don't give up, hit em all, play off one against the other. Statements like "national gave me an offer of 18 dollars a day, can you beat that?" are NOT taboo and are very effective in getting the agent to keep you in their company. After all, a walk up is a commission paid event. If you buy from them and you have no reservation, the agent gets a nice tidy check.
7. If your original reservation is the best option, nothing lost except for 15 min of time. Simply go pick up your reserved car and begin your trip. But if your reservation is left in the dust, call and cancel it, and get ready to accept an offer at another location. Notice I said "get ready to accept."
8. As a final attempt at a better car, say "Ill take that offer if you can give me the next car class up for the same price." People don't realize that this is perhaps the EASIEST thing for a car rental agent to do. Upgrades for free are almost always "personal" decisions by the agents. *note, this obviously does not work when the location is extremely busy or sold out. This works best when there is no one around and lots of cars to be had.
As you can see, there is an easy way to get better deals for rental cars even in the worst of circumstances. Some people simply give up and get "whatever" they can find. The truth is, if you plan for it, expect for it to happen, build your travel plans around attempting this, its not nearly as hard or tiring as it seems. The car rental agencies take advantage of traveler's mental status all the time. Be ready, be prepared, and save save save!
J.W. Parker
Insider Emeritus
J.W. spent many years as a manager of several car rental locations on the West Coast. His base knowledge has been applied to many car rental travel sites as an insider helping customers guide their way through the mess known as the Car Rental Industry. Although retired from the Rent-A-Car business, he still continues to monitor changes in the industry and help those who ask.
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