Everyone is always looking to save a buck on car rentals. So today I want to share a local car rental travel hack that might work well in some situations. I am thinking of big cities or metropolitan areas with outrageously high daily or weekly pricing at airport locations.
You have two ways to try and minimize the cost here. The first is to try and research one-way itineraries. In contrast, the second is booking with local car rental facilities rather than airport.
On average local car rental facilities tend to have more reasonable and affordable daily prices than most airport locations. However, you can structure your itinerary to begin at one of these locations and end at the airport. Often doing it that way, you’ll get competitive pricing with minimal inconvenience.
Local Offices are Key to Success.
When it comes to looking for local facilities, you are best sticking with larger brands li Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise. This is doubly true in large Metropolitan areas, which offer many different locations to choose from.
However, remember that these locations are typically only open on weekdays from 10 am to 5 pm and have limited availability. Although, If you’re lucky, they’re never crowded; on the other hand, if lady luck is not with you, they can be exceptionally crowded at once. Another drawback is often local offices are hit or miss, as is the car selection. You cannot be picky, as this strategy is primarily to save money.
Ultimately this is a strategy to achieve cost savings when airport rental cars are otherwise expensive. Although sometimes, it is a gamble even when you have Premium Status and Premium Bookings with the company. I have been burned completely once before when I showed up two hours late, and they unexpectedly canceled my reservation.
Before booking a specific location, make sure to check reviews to see how reliable the location is. If there are numerous bad reviews, give it a wide berth!
Great Saving on a Trip to Southern California
I got to try my method in late August on a quick trip to Southern California to visit my family. It was a flying visit, just two nights and three days. I wanted to be in and out as fast as possible and chose SNA (John Wayne Orange County Airport) as it is the closest to my destination. Although I had researched car rentals for a week prior, I only committed two days before traveling.
Although I traditionally prefer National, but they typically do not have local facilities. I also avoid Avis as the quality of vehicles has recently declined. However, they’re often lower cost than Hertz or National.
National was showing at $370 for one weekend and $700-800 for one week. Ouch! Although Hertz wasn’t much better, showing at $320 for one weekend and $600 for one week.
The magic happened by changing to a local facility. One that is a whopping 0.5 miles (880 Yards) from the airport. However, I did keep the return location as SNA airport.
Voila! The price plummeted to lower than $300 for the week. If opting for just a weekend, it would be even less.
Keep in mind this only worked because my times were perfect. I was arriving on a weekday during open hours, which made the pickup possible. Returning the vehicle to SNA can be done at any time.
Searching and Booking
The first step is to compare the pricing between your various options.
- Round trips starting and terminating at SNA.
- One-way rental from a local location to SNA.
- Round trips starting and terminating at a local location.
I then used the zip code, city search, and map, and I found several locations nearby to the airport and tried combinations with all of them.
I hit pay dirt when I found the Renaissance Hotel Hertz location just 0.5 miles from the airport. Although you could walk there, it is also reachable by shuttle. I finally settled on a one-way with this origin ending at SNA.
Less Choice Than Airports
Unsurprisingly the small location has a much smaller – and less cool – selection of cars. Here’s a comparison of the cars and pricing from SNA versus the local location. Prices are almost half.
I chose a standard car and ended up with a quote under $300 for a whole week!
I was hoping that Presidents Circle status with Hertz would help me with the pick up process and get the best possible car.
One thing to note about the location is there was a discrepancy. Google Maps showed a completely different location for this Hertz office than the Hertz website. Guess who was right? Google is the answer; it seemed Hertz didn’t know where its own location is astounding!
Arriving at the Airport, Taxi and Failed Pick Up Attempt
I recently tried this in April ’23. My 11:09 arrival flight came in at 10:17 am. However, my checked luggage did not come until around 10:55 am.
Unfortunately, the baggage claim took a very long time – almost 1 hour, and I wanted to catch up on calls. I opted to take a taxi and talk on the phone as needed. However, I knew from prior research that the location was a 26-minute walk from the airport, or a 5-minute shuttle ride, or a $12 Uber.
There was also a queue for Ubers available at the airport. Therefore, for convenience (I didn’t have time to wait), I decided to just take a taxi. I must say it was a costly $18 taxi ride – so much so that initially, I thought it was a mistake! Since it was only about 6-minute taxi ride. Walking was 24 minutes. Maybe it’s better to save $18 and just walk. However, in the end, I’m still saving over $300 on the upside.
Now the shocking discovery. I walked into the hotel and asked where I could find the Hertz location. I was informed the location in the hotel had moved a few months earlier, and it’s in a completely different place! Wow, what a bummer!
I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to do for a moment because the person at the front desk didn’t know where the new location was.
He did mention that people keep coming over and over again for pick-ups, only to find it’s not there! Which just made me shake my head about Hertz!
The wrong address – this is a consistent problem with Hertz.
The New Local Car Rental Location and Pick Up Experience.
I was lucky; as I walked out the door, the Valet guy waved me down and asked if I was trying to find the Hertz. He then told me they moved to the old Thrifty building just down the street. I checked Google Maps, and lo and behold it WAS the same location!
So Hertz just didn’t update things, grrr!
I strolled over to the new location. Thankfully, it was only a ten minutes walk. Overall there was nothing remarkable to see except that it’s pretty difficult to walk around in Orange County, especially with luggage.
Finally arriving at the building, there was no sign. Inside, the sign still wasn’t put up either. The location had only recently moved.
On the bright side, it took less than three minutes to check In, pull up my reservation, insert my card for payment, and finally get handed the keys. Overall, the service was very friendly and fast.
Local Car Rental Choices Car Choices
I was given two choices of car Altima or a Malibu. They asked if I wanted a Blue car or something else – which was funny because both cars were blue. That’s Orange County humor.
I chose the Nissan Altima with 33,650 miles. The service was so fast had i not stopped for pictures I would have been on the road in less than 4 minutes.
In all honesty, this was almost faster than my Airport pickups.
One thing to keep in mind is it definitely helps to have everything set up with the Car Rental agency ahead of time. Make sure to have your membership number, profile, and pre-registered payments. It’s even faster if you have Hertz Presidents Circle status. Everything was set and ready to go.
The car was old and dated, and there wasn’t much choice; unfortunately, that is the downside of local locations, but the deal is good value.
I won’t dwell much on the return process. It was like any other airport return. I took the vehicle to the airport and brought it to the rental return lanes. Although I ensured it had a full gas tank before returning the vehicle.
On return, they checked fuel, asked how the ride was, handed me a receipt, and I was off! The charges were as promised.
Raleigh Durham Local Car Rental Experience
I repeated this strategy in mid-May 2023. This time around, in the Raleigh Durham area. I was attending my sister’s graduation at Duke University, and graduation is naturally a super busy time for car rentals, especially in a smaller metropolitan area like RDU.
I needed a three-day Friday to Sunday booking and was quoted the following prices:
- National was showing at $450 for the weekend. 3 days.
- Hertz RDU was $415 for the weekend. 3 days.
However, a local location in Raleigh to RDU rental in a Premium Car Configuration came in at just $200.00.
The Uber from RDU to Raleigh was just $20, so I still saved $200 or so over the weekend.
Using this strategy is a gamble, and once I was burned completely. It’s vital, when using this strategy, you check reviews. If there are numerous bad reviews about the location, run away!
However, this is the easiest way to achieve cost savings if you’re slightly flexible are willing to travel a little. But you need to be aware of limitations like opening times, distances from the airport, etc.
Remember you can try booking one-way or round trips from local car rental facilities, rather than the airport facility. You can try and coordinate returns back to the airport for convenience. Reaching your pickup locations can often be done by shuttles, Uber, or even walking.