How to Save an Insane Amount of Money on Your Next Car Rental

David Landsel, January 12, 2016
Fares from Washington DC:

    Unprecedented rates of consolidation within the industry, an addiction to pricey new centralized airport rental facilities (costs are nearly always billed back to the consumer) and a business model that appears to be on life-support add up to one simple fact: In far too many markets, consumers are paying way too much for their rental cars. Where they're most frequently being taken for a ride? The airport.



    For experienced budget travelers, it's always been possible to avoid on-airport rates – all you've ever had to do is hop in a cab to a local agency branch, where you can save an often-astonishing amount of money. But with a much-needed increase in airport transit across North America, not to mention the cheaper-than-cabs (well, most of the time) ridesharing services that are now legal at more airports than you might have guessed, the most casual vacationers can quite easily take advantage of the deals waiting often just minutes from the airport perimeter.

    To give you an idea of how easy it can be to beat the rental rates at some of the busiest North American airports, I've randomly sampled the cost of a week's economy car rental in the coming weeks, using one company per destination. (Make sure to compare as many as you can when you do your research.) I'll then show you the cheapest way to get to the off-airport location, finding out whether or not they'll allow you to drop the car at the airport at the end of your trip without a steep penalty – this will save you time and hassle on your last day in town.



    SAVE $259 IN LAS VEGAS (LAS)

    Rent at airport: $388/week plus $172 taxes and fees, Avis

    Rent in town: $302 total (incl. all taxes and fees), Avis Monte Carlo

    Cheapest way to get there: Lyft is now authorized to enter the passenger pickup area at McCarran (check with Uber as well, approval may soon be granted). It's a quick, $8-$10 ride to the Monte Carlo.

    Additional cost to return at airport: None.

    SAVE $351 IN SAN FRANCISCO (SFO)

    Rent at airport: $461/week plus $151 taxes and fees, Enterprise

    Rent in town: $261 total (incl. $26 taxes and fees), Enterprise Moscone Center

    Cheapest way to get there: Ride BART from the SFO station to Powell or Montgomery ($8.95, 30 min), walk three blocks.

    Additional cost to return at airport: $50 drop fee


     
    SAVE $429 IN CHICAGO (ORD)

    Rent at airport: $510/week plus $247 taxes and fees, National

    Rent in town: $328/week (incl. $68 taxes and fees), National La Salle Street

    Cheapest way to get there: Ride the CTA Blue Line to Washington ($5, 40 min.), walk two short blocks.

    Additional cost to return at airport: Yes – weekly rate jumps by more than $100.

     



    SAVE $158 IN LOS ANGELES (LAX)


    Rent at airport: $271/week plus $83 taxes and fees, Enterprise

    Rent in town: $196/week total (incl. $20 taxes and fees), Enterprise Marina Del Rey

    Cheapest way to get there: Lyft is now authorized to pick up passengers from the Departures level at LAX; the 15-minute ride will cost around $12.

    Additional cost to return at airport: $25 drop fee


     
    SAVE $226 IN SEATTLE (SEA)


    Rent at airport: $371/week plus $171 taxes and fees, Hertz

    Rent in town: $316/total (incl. $44 taxes and fees), Hertz 8th Avenue / Convention Center

    Cheapest way to get there: Link light rail from airport to Westlake ($3, 36 min.), walk three short blocks.

    Additional cost to return at airport: $40 drop fee


     
    SAVE $182 IN DALLAS (DFW)

    Rent at airport: $247/week plus $132 taxes and fees, Enterprise

    Rent in town: $197 total (incl. $28 taxes and fees), Enterprise Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas

    Cheapest way to get there: DART Orange Line light rail from DFW Terminal A to Irving Convention Center Station ($1.75-$2.50 depending on time of day, 15 min.), cross Las Colinas Boulevard.

    Additional cost to return at airport: $50


     
    SAVE $306 IN DENVER (DEN)

    Rent at airport: $345/week plus $127 taxes and fees, Budget

    Rent in town: $166 total (incl. $36 taxes and fees), Budget Downtown 20th & Welton.

    Cheapest way to get there: Beginning Apr. 22, hop the new A Line train from DIA to Union Station ($9, 37 min.) then hail an Uber for the 12 block ride to the agency location ($5-$7). Until then, a $55 cab ride from the terminals will still save you plenty of money.

    Additional cost to return at airport: Approximately $20 more, built into the daily rate.

    SAVE $89 IN NEW YORK (JFK)

    Rent at airport: $271/week plus $125 taxes and fees, Dollar

    Rent in town: $307 total (incl. $51 taxes and fees), Dollar West 52nd St.

    Cheapest way to get there: AirTrain to Howard Beach ($5), A Train to 42nd Street, transfer to the C/E Northbound, exit at 50th Street, walk two blocks ($2.75, 50 min).

    Additional cost to return at airport: None


     
    SAVE $450 IN PHOENIX (PHX)


    Rent at airport: $431/week plus $194 taxes and fees, Hertz

    Rent in town: $175 total (incl. $20 taxes and fees), Hertz Scottsdale Motor Mile

    Cheapest way to get there: Ride the SkyTrain (free) to the 44th + Washington Station and hail an Uber or Lyft from here ($10-$12, 10 min).

    Additional cost to return at airport: $14.99 drop fee


     
    SAVE $113 IN ATLANTA (ATL)

    Rent at airport: $225/week plus $112 taxes and fees, Avis

    Rent in town: $224/week total (incl. $35 taxes and fees), Avis Midtown/Colony Square Mall location

    How to get there: Ride the MARTA train from the airport to the Arts Center Station ($2.50, 24 minutes), walk three long blocks.

    Additional cost to return at airport: None

    Note: Orlando and Fort Lauderdale do not appear on this list – in most cases, renting directly from the airport is still (at most times of the year) the most affordable and efficient option.

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