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10 Tips for Stretching Your Car Rental Dollars

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    Reserve well in advance

    Don’t wait till the last minute. But once you’ve made your car rental reservation, it doesn’t hurt to keep checking for a better deal. You may find one, but if you use sites like Hotwire.com or Priceline.com, you’re locking into a nonadjustable, nonrefundable reservation.

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    Choose the right car

    If all you need is a compact, reserve one and save on fuel. If there’s no compact on the lot when you arrive, the clerk will probably offer you a discounted upgrade. You can say no. Most companies will upgrade you for free if they don’t have the car you reserved. 

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    Compare rates

    Shop sites like CarRentals.com and CarRentalExpress.com, as well as smaller companies such as Payless and Advantage. AutoSlash.com will do some of the work for you — taking your information, searching the Internet for the best deals and rebooking you automatically at lower rates.

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    Consider paying up front

    Many car rental companies offer good discounts if you pay when you reserve. Just be sure you’ve shopped around a little and your plans are firm, because with this option you can’t cancel without paying a penalty. And be certain you’re not making a nonrefundable reservation.

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    Search out online discounts and coupons

    Look on sites such as Promotionalcodes.com and CouponWinner.com. Or Google the name of the rental company with the words “coupon code” typed in after it. Be creative. You can often use a coupon code and a discount code together.

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    Use your memberships for discounts

    Many organizations (AAA, AARP, Costco) offer car rental discounts. Also, rental companies have clubs (free to join) with loyalty programs that get you lots of perks, including the convenience of having your car waiting for you with the keys in it — no standing in line at a counter. Consider joining more than one club.

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    Avoid picking up at the airport

    You can save a lot of money on the car you want if you take a cab or even public transportation to a site outside the airport. Many rental companies also offer shuttles from the airport.

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    Be smart about fuel options

    You’re safest agreeing to fill the gas tank yourself right before you return the car. Consider prepaying for a full tank if you anticipate getting back low on gas. Whatever you do, don’t agree to let the rental company fill the tank after you return the car; with service charges, you could end up spending close to $9 a gallon.

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    Don’t pay for extras

    Chances are you can forgo purchasing car insurance from the rental agency; be familiar with your policy and also with what coverage your credit cards may offer. If you have a smartphone, you can do without GPS. And don’t pay for satellite radio unless you can’t live without it. Instead, load up your smartphone with your own music and podcasts, then plug the phone into the car’s auxiliary jack. 

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    Look into package deals

    If you’re flying or staying in a hotel, you can often save money by booking your car rental as part of a package.

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