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Seven tips to get the best deal on car hire

Carlton Boyce / 06 January 2016 ( 15 May 2019 )

Save money and avoid being ripped off with our tips to get a cheaper deal on hiring a car.

Car hire sign at an airport
Hiring a car at the airport may not be the cheapest option

We’ve covered the car hire industry’s dirty little secrets already, but how do you go about getting the very best deal on your hire car now you understand how the game is played?

1. Haggle

While phoning to get a better price is a very good strategy, visiting in person is even better. Yes, I know you don’t like haggling, but once you understand that the people behind the counter have enormous discretion to get a deal done, you should feel a little less guilty or awkward about putting them on the spot.

The key here is to be polite and smile a lot; if they think you’re going to be a problem customer you’ve just alienated the very person who can help you save money.

So explain what their competitors are offering (10 minutes on your smart phone while you’re waiting to collect your luggage from the baggage carousel should be long enough) and ask whether they can beat it.

When you’ve struck a deal on the price, ask them to throw in a free upgrade or the loan of a sat nav too. Remember, it’s very hard to say no to someone who’s happy and smiling!

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2. Compare and contrast

If you do your research you’ll find a wide range of offers and prices from all the major players and third-party aggregators. Feel free to compare and contrast their offers (although direct comparisons are often harder than they should be…)  before you pick up the phone to try and do a deal in person.

Websites, you see, are fixed and inflexible, while people aren’t; people understand what’s sitting in the car park and what flexibility they have to do a deal.

Seven car hire rip-offs to watch out for

3. Downsize and be flexible

If you really need a seven-seat MPV then only a seven-seat MPV will do. But for most of us any old car will do, so be flexible. 

At busy periods they might only have the beige saloon that no one ever asks for, so by offering to take it off their hands you’re in a great place to strike a deal.

Read our tips for avoiding being ripped off when hiring a car

4. Book at weekends

Weekends are, counter-intuitively, a great time to rent a car. That’s because lots of people reserve a car for collection then and never collect it. 

This leaves a depreciating asset sitting in a windswept car park that isn’t earning them a penny for days at a time. Until you step in, of course, offering to take it off their hands…

Is it better to pre-book your car hire?

5. Don’t pay for extras

Don’t, whatever you do, pay for extras like sat nav hire. Buy a map instead, or use Google Maps or a navigation app such as CoPilot on your Smartphone. 

Extras are almost as profitable as selling insurance, which is all you need to know to make sure that you never pay for them again.

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6. Only buy the insurance you really need

A lot of car rental firms make more money from selling insurance than they do from the car hire fee itself. This gives the employees a huge financial incentive to scare you into buying every insurance product they sell.

So decide up front what insurance cover you need and what you don’t. And when you’ve done that, double check that the essential cover you’ve identified isn’t already being provided by your holiday insurance policy or even your credit card or bank account.

What is car hire excess waiver insurance and do you really need it?

7. Always fill the petrol tank yourself

Most car hire companies supply their cars with a full tank of fuel. They also offer to top up a half-empty tank for you when you drop it off, saving you the inconvenience of having to find a petrol station when you are in a rush to catch a flight or a train. Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it?

It isn’t, and the company isn’t being altruistic; they’ll sting you for a one-off charge for doing this, plus the cost of the fuel. (I don’t need to tell you that the cost-per-litre will be considerably higher than anything the local petrol station charges, do I?)

So always brim the fuel tank near the drop-off point. And when the pump clicks off to tell you it’s full, trickle in another half-litre or so. Because, if you don’t, they will.

Six petrol myths busted

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.