By the time most of you read this, I’ll be airborne. I’m heading out for a short work-related trip, and will be renting a car at the other end. Unfortunately, I waited until the last minute to book a car rental, and the rates were atrocious.
According to Kayak (my overall favorite travel site) the best I could do was $149/day for a full-sized car. Yes, smaller cars were marginally cheaper, and they might upgrade me at the rental counter due to availability, but I’m tall and want the guaranteed legroom.
After a quick perusal of the rental agency web pages confirmed these rates, I decided to try something I’ve never used before… Priceline.
Checking rental car prices at Hotwire
Before heading over to Priceline, I decided to check Hotwire to get a feel for the types of discounts that might be available. For those that are unfamiliar with these services, Hotwire and Priceline are both travel discounters with a twist.
Neither Hotwire nor Priceline let you know who your service provider will be prior to the transaction. Hotwire does, however, list prices up front. In contrast, Priceline lets you “name your own price.” Of course, they won’t necessarily accept it, but it’s worth a shot.
According to Hotwire, I could get a full-sized car for $89/day — much cheaper than going straight to the source. Moreover, since Hotwire only uses “mainstream” rental companies (Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, and National), I wasn’t too concerned about which one it would end being.
Naming my own rental car price at Priceline
With the $89/day price point in hand, I headed over to Priceline. Like Hotwire, Priceline only uses major rental companies (Alamo, Avis, Budget, Hertz, and National) so I wasn’t too concerned about which one I’d end up with.
I’ve read that a good strategy for figuring out what to bid on Priceline is to undercut the Hotwire price by about 20%. I ended up bidding $70/day for a full-sized car and got shot down. However, they offered me a “one-time opportunity” to rent for $83/day. Not wanting to spend any more time on this, I accepted.
In the end, I was able to save roughly 45% over the going rate. I could’ve probably gotten the car even cheaper (and saved on some taxes/fees) if I’d been willing to look at off-airport car rental locations, but this is a very quick trip and I don’t want to deal with it.
The downside of travel discounters
The biggest downside to both Priceline and Hotwire is that your arrangements are non-refundable and cannot be modified. If your Priceline bid is accepted, you are charged immediately. Likewise, if you accept a Hotwire deal, you pay immediately. Here’s the scoop from Priceline:
Priceline rental cars are non-refundable, non-transferable and non-changeable even if the reservation is not used.
If your offer is accepted, we will immediately lock in your reservation and charge your credit card. If your offer is not accepted, your credit card will not be charged.
Additional changes may apply at the counter if you pick-up or drop-off the car at a different date or time than you requested for your reservation.
Only the driver will be able to pick up this rental car at the counter. You will be able to add an additional driver at the counter for an additional charge.
The driver will be required to present a valid driver’s license and a valid credit card or debit card in his/her name with a minimum of $200 available credit as a security deposit on the vehicle. If you plan to use a debit card, you may be required to provide round-trip flight information at the rental counter.
Your offer price does not include vehicle liability, collision or personal accident coverage for your rental car. You should determine if you have insurance coverage prior to pick-up. Additional insurance can be purchased at the rental counter.
Something else to keep in mind is that you can’t instantly re-bid on Priceline. In fact, you can only bid once every 24 hours for a particular date, type of car, and location. You can, however, bid more often if you’re willing to change one or more of those variables.
Finally, as I’ve already noted, you don’t find out who you’ll be dealing with until after you pay. For rental cars, I don’t really care. As long as it’s a reputable company, I’ll rent from pretty much anyone. But for hotels? In some instances, location is critical, and not being able to control exactly where I’ll be staying could be a problem.
Into the unknown…
And now I’m just hoping that there’s actually a car waiting for me at the rental counter when I arrive. While I expect everything to be fine, I’ve never used Priceline before (have you?), so I’m still in the “get to know you” phase.
I’m assuming that everything will go smoothly, but I’ll be sure to update when everything is said and done.