While it has been a great year for airfare sales, when it comes to renting cars, rates are rising. Rental companies have reduced fleets, and travelers are paying more than they did last year for the same cars. Prices really take off during peak travel periods, so you could be in for an unpleasant surprise when you book that rental car.
If you're heading to Florida during the holidays, you could spend nearly the same amount on a weekly rental that you would on airfare for a family of four. We checked prices for full-size cars renting Dec. 23-30 and found rates of $802 per week in Tampa, $870 per week in Orlando and $921 per week in Miami, taxes included.
The winter holidays aren't the only time car-rental rates can jump when demand peaks. We've seen sharp rate increases during spring break at warm-weather or ski destinations, where there are conventions or special events, and in summer at top destinations.
You do have options for lowering your costs. For example, consider off-airport rental locations. Last Christmas, I was able to rent a car three miles from the Tampa airport for hundreds of dollars less. I took a quick cab ride and enjoyed the extra spending money. This year, I found rates of $321 per week three miles from the airport, for a savings of $481 over rentals at the airport. You can also look at rental locations near your hotel. Enterprise will pick you up, and the company's in-town rates are often much lower than those at the airport.
If you're staying at a resort hotel, you may want to skip the car altogether and enjoy your hotel's amenities. Many hotels offer shuttles to the airport and major attractions, so you may be able to get where you want to go without a rental. The same goes for staying in a downtown hotel in many cities. If you want a car for a side trip, rent one for just a day or two and save money on your rental and on hotel parking fees.
If you're flying to an area with several airports, check car-rental rates before you book your flight. Prices can vary considerably among the airports. For example, we checked prices in Southern California for a full-size weekly rental Jan. 20-27 and found rates of $332 at the San Diego airport, $470 at Burbank, $516 at Los Angeles and $588 at the Orange County airport. Prices included taxes.
Before you arrive at the rental counter, check with your auto insurance and credit-card companies to see what coverage you have regarding rentals. You probably are already covered for collision and liability, and the fees rental companies charge for coverage you may not need can really add up.
Tom Parsons is publisher of BestFares.com: www.bestfares.com