Quick Notes

Sign up for all free car rental agency reward programs. These provide free upgrades and discounts on rental cars.

Arrive early to have the best options.

Renting a car can either be the exciting start to an adventure or a tedious but necessary task.  Here are some tips for renting a car.

Timing does matter

The time you arrive at the rental car agency makes a huge difference in your choice of vehicles available and the possibility of being upgraded. If you show up late in the evening you may have very few choices left available. Earlier is better when it comes to improved selection.

Late arrival can also work in your favor in obtaining a free upgrade to a nicer vehicle. Later in the evening means the cheaper, smaller vehicles are likely to be gone. If you’ve pre-booked the smallest, cheapest vehicle, you are likely to receive an upgrade.

Location, location, location

The location of your arrival will also be reflected in the inventory. In Florida, the Miami airport tends to have a mediocre selection while Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood has a large selection of convertible mustangs. In Michigan, Grand Rapids has a better selection than Detroit Metropolitan. As a general rule, the car rental agencies associated with the smaller city airport beside the large city airport often has the better car rental options available.

The proximity of the airport to the location of the rental car agency is different for each airport.  Some on-site, others a bus ride away. Off-site car rental agencies tend to have a worse selection than on-site car rental agencies. Once you’re away from the airport and the courtesy bus has left, you don’t really have much choice except to take whatever car the rental agency has available or is willing to provide to you depending on what type of reservation you made.


1. Pick your car or let the agency do it?

It is generally best to go with a rental car agency where you can pick the car you want either at reservation time or at the time of arrival. Rental car agency ‘surprises’ are rarely good ones. You may be traveling to a location where they will only reserve you a vehicle. In that case, be sure to indicate what your preference is.

Many of the rental car agencies offer free membership in a rewards plan that either provides immediate upgrade perks or allows you to earn them. Be sure to enroll in these rewards programs. If the rental car agency for some reason has been unable to honor your choice or stated preference, you will often be provided a much better free upgrade if you are a member of their rewards program.

2. What type of vehicle do you need?

Vacation rental – If you have the whole family or a car full of friends try something that is likely to be avoided by business travelers.  For example,  a Ford Flex or Kia Sedona.

Business trip – Avoid the premium or luxury selection, especially if your trip is being billed back to the client.  Try the Toyota Avalon  XLE or the Chevrolet Impala V6 LTZ.

Recreation rental – Headed to the cottage or to the beach?  Try the Jeep Wrangler or the Kia Soul Plus.

Splurge rental – Try a truck, convertible or luxury upgrade to make your travel experience a little nicer or use this as an opportunity to try something new.

3. Which trim package to choose?

After having chosen the model of the car you want to rent, there may still be a few different trim packages available. With each trim package comes different accessories. There can be a large difference between the interior of the cars, even though they may be the same model.

Be sure to check the available features in each available trim level before committing. Options such as leather interior and sunroofs may be upgraded trim levels. The base model may have fabric interior and no sunroof. If you don’t have the time or the energy after a long day of travel, just remember that the more letters the higher the trim level and the better the accessories and interior.

Avoid the upsell

Except for the insurance, avoid the add-ons. It’s easy in the heat of the moment when you are travel weary to just says yes to speed the rental process along to get out of there. You will regret this when you return to the car to the agency to a massive bill as the add-ons added up to more than the actual daily cost of the car rental.

1. Avoid prepaying for gas

Fill up prior to return but not close to the airport. The cost of gas will be the most expensive there.

2. Use your phone GPS

Many car rental agencies disable the GPS on their vehicles. You’ll often be offered GPS as an add-on service. If you have a smartphone you can use this, or use a good old fashioned paper map.

3. Tollpass

Tollpass is included in some car rentals automatically. If not, before you say yes, see if your route actually requires you to take toll roads. The Tollpass rental includes a daily rental fee so unless absolutely required, it’s more cost-effective to turn it down.

The best way to receive the best car available when you need a rental is loyalty. If you often use the same car rental agency and are a good customer, they will often remember you and provide you with the best available car they have to give you.