1. Each country has its own requirements for driving permits and insurance: For example, Italy requires visitors with a U.S. license to hold an International Driving Permit. You can get one at your local AAA office for about $30. Costa Rica requires drivers to buy liability insurance, and there isn’t a way to wiggle out of it! Do your research before traveling abroad!
2. Always take photos of prior damage, mileage, and fuel level at the start AND end of the rental. Take the extra two minutes to do this, it is worth the trouble if you get into a sticky situation.
3. Signup for each company’s rewards program. Even if you only rent occasionally, being enrolled will often allow you to skip the line (a huge time saving!), get upgrades, waiver second-driver fees, and choose whatever car you want in your category.
4. Know the difference between primary and secondary car rental insurance. Many credit cards come with car rental insurance, so you can reject the expensive insurance companies try to sell you. However, secondary coverage only kicks in after a claim first goes through your own car insurance company. Avoid any hikes in your insurance rates at home by paying with a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which provides primary coverage. Also note that credit card insurance does not cover liability.
5. Never fill up gas right next to an airport. It will always be more expensive. Find a place about 10-20 miles away from your final destination to fill up gas before returning your vehicle.
6. How do you get free upgrades? Besides being very nice to the agent at the counter, certain credit cards give you free status with many of the major car rental programs. For example, the AMEX Platinum gives me Executive Status with National, where I can automatically select any car in the Executive area (usually a double upgrade from whatever I rent). The United Club Card offers free President's Circle status from Hertz! Last month in Michigan, I used this status when I rented a Toyota Corolla, and picked up the Jaguar XE from the PC area.
7. Take whatever status you earn with one company and match it to others! I took my Executive status with National and matched it with companies like Avis and Sixt. Then I saw a promotion online to match those statuses with Hertz President’s Circle! I have used my status with Hertz over 10 times to get amazing upgrades without paying a cent extra! Check out statusmatcher.com to see which companies will match to each other.
8. Negotiate your upgrade! Often, agents will try to upsell you into something nicer or faster! Make sure you negotiate the rate to get the best deal possible. I have used this tip many times when upgrading to a convertible.
9. Use your credit cards, AAA, or Costco memberships to get huge discounts on car rentals. Each car rental company is usually affiliated with one of them....
10. Use Autoslash.com for 90% of your car rentals (maybe not for exotics…). You won’t regret it and will get the best price!