The Basics

Two Reasons I NEVER Prepay for a Rental Car

Written by Charlie

Many agencies may advertise specially discounted prices if you prepay for a car. But, here are two reasons I never prepay for a rental car.

While many people are a bit gun-shy about booking any kind of travel that has to be paid upfront, I have never been a prepaid rental car person even before covid-19. Here are the two main reasons I do not prepay for a rental car.

Why I Never Prepay for a Rental Car

Rental car companies may often give a few percent off if you prepay for a rental car reservation but I have never been willing to do that. While it is nice to save money on travel, I value two things a bit more than the savings I would get on the prepaid reservation.

Now, sometimes, you may be able to prepay and still get the money back if you cancel (read the terms carefully with your agency you book with) but I do not like even that. I really do not want to hand over money to a company and then try to get it back later.

Plans Change … Flexibility is Key

When I am planning a trip, the very first thing I do is book a rental car. That is because you can book a rental car for free and cancel it at any time without having a penalty (though some agencies are starting to add no-shows or late cancellation fees). By booking a rental vehicle right away, I know that I at least have a rental locked in at a price in case things go up later.

But, if you prepay, you are locked into that reservation. I would say that 30% of my trips end up having me cancel a car rental reservation (way in advance of the pickup) due to different transportation needs or changing dates for travel. If I prepaid, I would be out that money or make myself stick to that travel plan.

Of course, I could always book after I lock in all my other plans but, again, having flexibility for something like a rental car is really important for me. Hotels I can change easily (with non-advance payment reservations) but a prepaid rental car is something else again.

Saving Money with Changing Costs

Even before covid-19, I was able to rebook my rental car reservation and save money many times! Remember, I am initially booking a rental car from an agency I like at a price I am willing to pay. Once that happens, I either keep my eyes on the reservation or other agencies (using Autoslash is great for this) and I can rebook to save money.

I had the best example ever of this over the weekend. We have to rent a minivan/SUV for almost a month. I had a reservation booked at a price I could deal with ($1,040) since this was a must-have and I had found it cheaper with one agency and location than from others – even cheaper than using discount codes/memberships!

Well, last night, I was checking the reservations again (I had already saved $120 from doing this before) when I found that I could rebook for a slightly different time/pickup and I saved $500 with a new price of $539 for 4 weeks of a minivan! 

That is just a killer deal and one that I never would have been able to take advantage of had I taken the original prepaid reservation discounted price of $1,120 (back when the original reservation was $1,200).

Bottom Line

Unless that prepaid reservation rate is just way too good to pass up, paying a little less for a rental car could lock you in so that you have no flexibility and possibly even cost you money if the price goes down later and you can no longer rebook!

Definitely think about it next time you are booking a rental car! Some agencies will advertise something like “up to 30% off on prepaid reservations” when in reality, most of the discounts are less than 10%. Consider what your flexibility is worth to you – and then keep checking anyway later as you may save even more than the original prepaid reservation!

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.

3 Comments

  • Hi Charlie.
    Your article makes it sound like none are refundable. Has something changed? I’ve prepaid many times with autoslash (ends up being Priceline) because they are refundable. Always check before booking!!!

    As you do, I reserve right away then watch prices until travel day. Many times, I’ve cancelled a prepaid reservation to book a cheaper one.

    The only downside is that you have to keep track that the refund comes through. I’ve never had a problem and I’ve saved thousand of dollars over the years.

    Love your blog! Thanks
    Susan

    • Thanks, Susan! I said something about some not being refundable but I will make it more clear.
      Depending on the policy and agency, it had been a real pain to get the money back. During COVID, it has been even more of a pain for many to get the money back.
      Thanks for sharing your data points as well!

  • Agreed, in the vast majority of cases, having the flexibility and freedom to change/alter/cancel your plans is far more valuable than saving a few percent by pre-paying. Hotels are the same way, it is rarely worth pre-paying a hotel room weeks or months in advance to save a few dollars, lest plans change and you are out the money.

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