8 Tips to Get that Sporty Rental Car

For many parts of the world, it still makes sense to rent a car to get around. I’ve taken road trips across New Zealand, Australia, France, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Brazil as well as the US and Canada and there are so many places that are only accessible by car.

I rented this exact car once because I developed a relationship with my local Hertz Local Edition office. The best part was parking it in downtown Palo Alto and having a kid pass by telling his friend “THAT’s Bumblebee”


Here are a few tips to get the best model and value for your money.

1. Have card, will travel - Make sure your credit card offers insurance, particularly PRIMARY insurance



United might not be known for being the most luxurious airline, but it does have a great credit card for primary car insurance


Getting scrapes and fender benders is part of driving, but you don’t want it to happen while you’re trying to squeeze through an alley in Cordoba, or trying to navigate a tricky roundabout. If you can, try to rent the car with a credit card that offers insurance. Most offer some protection after your current car insurance runs out (note that they kick in automatically if you don’t have a car and hence don’t buy insurance in the US). The best coverage are the cards that offer primary coverage, so your rates won’t go up after a scrape up in St. Tropez. Both the United Explorer card and Diners Club cards tend to offer this type of benefit, but read through yours to see if you have some extra features.

2. Check out the new kids on the block

car2go logo

It’s worth noting that services like Zipcar and GoCar (Pacific Northwest and Western Canada), Silvercar (Dallas, Austin, San Francisco, Los Angeles) BMW Drive Now (Germany and San Francisco) are changing the game when it comes to renting a car. While daily rates are higher, they offer hourly rentals which can be perfect for a trip to a beach or to a park just outside the city limits. Drive Now even offers one way rentals, so you aren’t paying for the car at your destination.

3. Get status, match it, or use corporate program agreements

Don’t expect too much from status, but some corporations offer it to their employees for free

Many rental agencies offer frequent customer programs that can be reasonably lucrative if you rent more than 10 times a year. Avis and Hertz both offer services that give you better service just for signing up. Perks often include free upgrades and access to fast track “see name on board, get in car, drive off lot” options that can make it much more seamless to rent.

Once you have status, be on the lookout for matches to other programs. They come around once in a blue moon, but it’s a great way to prolong perks for that next trip.

Lastly, check your company’s travel portal. Many firms have negotiated special rates or perks that can apply even when the employee is on leisure travel. To guarantee such good rates, the company agrees to pay for a minimum of rental days, so helping them reach their quota is a win-win.


4. Use locations that aren’t at the airport to avoid extra taxes and fees

That aiport fence is all that separates you from saving quite a bit on concession fees. Got to pay for those fences y’know.

Many people get sticker shock when they click through to the final page to find that nearly $100 has been added to their rental for “Airport recovery fees”. Sadly most airports are businesses themselves and charge tenants for any fees they can think of. These get passed on to you (see the huge controversy over using private car services like Uber and Lyft at major airports - drivers are getting fined and even arrested!)

However, the car companies at some airports are smarter than that and have locations just off the airport property. It can often save a ton of money to take a cab or hotel shuttle to one of these convenient locations, marvel at the lack of line and walk away with a great car.

What’s even better is that these locations will often let you return the car directly to the airport, since it’s seen as “within the city” for billing reasons and not a one-way. Be sure to double check when you rent, but I’ve saved hundreds of dollars and gotten free airport transfers by using this trick.

5. Take advantage of one-way seasonal trends


A ton of cars end up in Florida at the end of every winter, but it begs the question: “How did all those spring breakers get home?” 

It’s fairly well-known in the travel industry that a glut of cars end up in Florida, Southern Europe and the South Island of New Zealand at the end of every summer. As a result, car companies are usually pretty willing to pass on savings to you if you can spare them hiring a driver to reset the fleet.

In Europe, the car companies are even charged massive import tariffs if the cars stay out of their home country for too long. This can be a great opportunity to bring cars home, have a cheaper vacation and do a favor for your favorite brand. Check out www.hertz-europe.com for the cars currently out of their home country in Europe.

6. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

While most people think that companies like Hertz or Avis are monolithic corporations, the fact of the matter is that they are heavily franchised out. This can cause some issues when wanting to redeem your points, but because the individual operators have considerable discretion over their business and profitability, it can be worth negotiating at the counter. Particularly in small locations, on remote islands, in off season.

This can also bode well for upgrades to nicer cars. I once got a Camaro Convertible at LAX (notoriously one of the worst rental car situations) simply by asking for something “sporty”. Similar upgrades have occurred in San Francisco, San Diego, Denver and Phoenix, so it never hurts to ask. The worst that can happen is they can say no or offer the upgrade for a fee. Also important to remember, be nice to the people at the counter. They are used to people screaming at them all day, so a little kindness can go a long way.

Got this upgrade just by asking for “something sporty” and not being a horrible person to the counter workers.

Even the fee can sometimes make sense. I used points for a one way rental from Hertz in Spain, but they would only rent a small economy car with a manual transmission. I can… sort of… drive stick (like my harrowing experience stopping traffic in Dubrovnik), but I didn’t want to sweat it in the streets of Madrid, Bilbao, San Sebastian, the Pyrenees and Barcelona, so I asked about upgrades and walked away with a new, reasonably feature-rich Mercedes for $100 for the week.

7. Go with smaller companies

Most of the car rentals in the US are run by three companies: Hertz/Dollar/Thrifty, Avis/Budget/ZipCar and Enterprise/Alamo/National. According to Smarter Travel, together they account for 95% of all rentals in the US.

Comparatively, with smaller companies, particularly outside of the US, you have some flexibility on return times, whether the tank needs to be returned full and one way rentals (they have fleet management issues too). Some are even closed on Sundays, and have offered us the car for an extra day. You can often even get a free ride to the terminal in the car itself (happened to me in Christchurch, NZ) which can save a decent amount of time otherwise spent waiting for the shuttle.

8. Last but not least, look at other transit options

Move over Singapore and Emirates, it’s time for Andesmar!

While road trips can often be the best parts of many trips, it can pay to look at what options are available in the region you’re going to. For example, in much of South America, particularly Argentina and Chile, buses are plentiful, very reasonably priced and quite comfortable (similar to domestic first class on an airplane). It can take longer than flying, but on overnight trips can save you an extra night of accommodations.

Similarly, some regions have extremely competitive airfare, particularly Southeast Asia, low-cost carriers in Europe and Brazil. If you have a large amount of ground to cover and are packing light, these can be great options to help you see more in less time.

Finally, check out train schedules (really only sensical in Europe and Japan) and other services like BlaBlaCar, a ride-sharing service popular in the UK and Spain. While sometimes sharing a car can be a bit cramped, it’s a great way to meet locals and have a bit of a road trip experience, without destroying your transmission in the process

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