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You’ve booked your hotel and airfare for your next vacation and now it’s time to reserve a set of wheels.  Renting a car can be expensive but there are tricks you can use to ensure you get the best rates without sacrificing comfort.

Comparison shop

How do you know you’re getting a bargain if you don’t shop around?  Instead of jumping on the first deal you see, take some time to comparison shop.  Sites like Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia let you compare the rates for numerous companies at once. Although this is a good place to start, don’t book your reservation until you’ve checked with the rental company directly. Sometimes you can find an even better deal on their website.

Let the company pick your vehicle

People rent cars for different purposes.  Some want a luxury vehicle they can use for showing off, while others strictly care about getting from point A to point B.  If you have no preference about the car type, you can save money by letting the manager pick the vehicle for you.  Thrifty, Dollar and Enterprise all offer special deals to customers who don’t mind booking blindly.  For a low price you’re guaranteed to get a compact car or larger, but you won’t know which one until you get there.

Decline the recommended extras

Rental companies make a lot of money by charging you for extra benefits, most of which you don’t need.  Curbside drop off?  Hop on the free shuttle and save your $25.  Satellite radio for $8 a day?  Not when you can listen to the local stations for free.  If music is that important to you, download some songs on your phone and connect it to the car’s Bluetooth.  Paying $17 per day for GPS is also a waste of money.  Most phones already come with Google Maps which can give you directions for free. There’s also a good chance that your own car insurance covers rentals so paying for extra protection may be unnecessary. 

Search the internet for coupon codes

There’s no shortage of coupon sites on the internet which means you have countless opportunities to save.  If you’re not sure where to begin your search, check out DontPayFull or RetailMeNot.  Simply type in the rental company’s name and they’ll give you a list of available coupon codes.  Test them all out to see which nets you the biggest savings.

Become a rewards member

Signing up for a loyalty program can save you time and money.  As a member you’ll be able to skip the long lines and head straight to the lot.  You’ll also earn rewards points which can be redeemed for free rentals. Some agencies even let you add an additional driver (usually your spouse) for free.

Inquire about membership discounts

Being a part of certain organizations can help you drive away with savings.  AAA members get special pricing when they book through Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty.  They’ll even waive the fee for an additional driver or child safety seat.  AARP members can save up to 30% off their bookings with Budget and Avis.  Drivers can also receive a free upgrade and discounted GPS.  Additionally, some companies offer discounts to military members and their families, so it doesn’t hurt to ask questions.

Pay in advance

One of the easiest ways to score yourself a sizeable discount is to book your reservation online and pay in advance.  This money-saving trick isn’t even a secret.  Visit any car rental website and you’ll see both prices clearly listed side-by-side.  In some cases, you can save up to 35% off the base rate when you pre-pay.  The drawback is that your payment may be nonrefundable.