Q: Peter, we are planning a trip to California via St. Louis. We need to rent a car in Nashville and drop it off in St. Louis. How can we get a good rate on a one-way car rental? We were quoted $500. In the past, we've had return-to-origin rentals from Nashville for about $150 for the same number of days.
–Don Downing, Jacksonville, Fla.
A: Unfortunately, Dan, one-way rentals aren't necessarily cheaper than return-to-origin rentals, as you've discovered. In fact, depending on where you pick up and drop off the car, and depending on which car-rental company you use, it could actually be significantly more expensive this way.
That said, searches on CarRentals.com, a rate-comparison site, and on Kayak.com, a general travel-search engine, show weekly rates of about $350 (that includes taxes) from Hertz. You can also find the same offer on Hertz.com.
Another car-rental comparison site is BreezeNet, which Priceline.com now owns. This is usually a good way to search multiple car-rental agencies, but the trouble is, it doesn't let you perform one-way rental searches for non-airport locations at this time.
Why does this matter? Well, a sure way to jack up your rental-car rates is to start from an airport location. Renting from an airport location often results in higher daily rates, and almost always in additional airport fees.
However, dropping off a car at an airport location usually does not usually affect the price, so feel comfortable selecting an airport location as your drop-off point if that is convenient.
Remember, before booking, make sure you know whether or not the company you've selected will charge a drop-off fee. Many major rental companies (like Hertz) no longer charge this fee. Instead, they simply make your daily rental cost much higher if you're planning a one-way rental.