The holiday season is one of the most special times of every year. The holidays bring together family and friends, give us some time to relax and unwind, and allow us to appreciate what really matters in our lives.
Traveling during the holidays, however, is not always relaxing. Instead, this part of the season is normally as stressful as it is expensive, but getting there is necessary in order to make the rest of the holiday magic possible.
Chief among holiday travel stress is the process of renting a car, which in some parts of the world is the only realistic way to get around. Understanding the car rental process and being prepared is key, which is why we’ve gathered some tips for you to use during the holiday season that we hope will bring some cheer back to your travels.
Before renting a car, it’s important to first determine what you’ll need, vehicle-wise, during your trip. This means assessing how many days you’ll need the car, how much luggage you’re bringing, how many people will be traveling with you in the car, how far you’ll need to drive at any given time, and how often you’ll need to drive the car.
Each of those variables is relevant to your rental car planning. For instance, a mid-size sedan may seem appealing by price, but if you have four kids traveling with you that won’t be realistic, no matter how badly you want to save money. You need a car that can seat safely all the people in your party as well as all their belongings, so be sure to assess how many seats and how much room you’ll need before committing to the most cost-effective car. Price won’t always be the most important element of renting.
A better way to save money is to determine how long you’ll actually need your rental car. For instance, if your flight lands late at night and your only plan for the rest of the evening is to go to the hotel and immediately fall asleep, then it may be worth taking a shuttle to the hotel and getting your rental car the next day. Even if you only use the rental car to drive the five minutes to the hotel, the dealership will still charge you for a full night’s use. This goes for returning the car too.
The process of renting a car is not the same at every dealership, and it doesn’t cost the same either. Each dealer — from national brands like Enterprise or Alamo to local dealers or even travel booking websites like Travelocity or Expedia — post different rates.
The only way to ensure you’re getting the best value is to research prices everywhere to ensure you’re getting the lowest rate for the type of car you intend to rent and the allotment of time in which you intend to keep the car.
This may sound time-consuming, but it’s not. If you have your plan for the trip in place, you should already know what kind of car to look for and for how long to book it. This makes researching prices simple, as you’re not comparing each dealer’s entire product line but instead just the costs relevant to your travel plan. Ask about special plans, rewards programs, and discounts. Taking the time to do your research can often save you hundreds of dollars.
However, it’s important to know that your rental car always costs more than is initially listed, and if you’re not thorough in inspecting hidden fees then you may end up paying too much.
Most rental car dealerships offer various forms of insurance, which makes sense considering you’re driving a car that you don’t own and that the dealership expects to continue profiting from after you’ve finished renting it. It may be a good idea to take the insurance; if you don’t and then get into an accident, even if it’s not your fault, it may cost you a lot of money out of pocket. Pinching pennies may be important when traveling, but this may not be one of those times.
Rental car companies will also offer you various prepaid options that may seem appealing, but usually are not cost effective. This is a great time to hold on to your money, as these prepaid options are usually overcharging you.
For instance, most companies will offer to fill the gas tank for you after you’ve returned the car. This seems convenient, but the rental dealership will often charge you 30-40 cents more per gallon than the gas station will. Thus, you’ll end up paying as much as $10 extra just to have someone pump some gas for you. Beware of this, and fill your own tank before returning your car.
Another prepaid option many dealerships offer is prepaid tolls. Again, this is a time to revert back to your travel game plan. If you know you’ll be passing through frequent tolls on your trip, it may be worth accepting a prepaid tolls deal with the rental company. This way you won’t have to keep stopping at tolls in the midst of heavy holiday traffic, nor will you have to constantly remember to keep cash on your person to pay the tolls. However, if research shows that your trip doesn’t involve tolls, or just a couple of tolls, it would be better not to accept this package. That’s why it’s important to plan in advance.
The last, but perhaps most important, tip when renting a car is to take time to acclimate yourself to your new ride. Don’t just hop in and peel out of the lot. Adjust the mirrors, the seat, the steering wheel, etc., to ensure you’re comfortable and ready to drive safely wherever you’re going.
Understand how fast the car accelerates, how sensitive the brakes are, and if you like to drive while listening to the radio, be sure to find a station you like before hitting the road.
If you follow all of these tips, you’ll have a safe, cost-effective and stress-free holiday season with your loved ones. And that’s really what the holidays are all about.