My Car Rental “Aha” Moment – How To Save Big In 2 Easy Steps

I really enjoy the process of crafting fabulous vacations at huge discounts by using points and miles. I love researching different airline and hotel options, thinking about all of the various redemption possibilities, and creating “wow-worthy” itineraries for a fraction of the retail cost. It’s relaxing for me; I do it to wind down after a long day.

However, there is one piece of the puzzle that I haven’t been able to embrace and appreciate along with all the rest: car rentals. I find it aggravating to sift through seemingly-endless sites in search of coupon codes. I’m frustrated by the huge variations in price from company to company and day to day. I feel confused by all of the different combinations of points-earning vs. money-saving possibilities.

I knew that my somewhat laissez-faire approach to renting cards was definitely producing lackluster results when it came to saving the most money and yielding the maximum amount of points per trip. Leaving points and cash on the table is not my style, so I knew this car-rental demon was one I had to face. (Yes, I know I am being dramatic. That is my style).

It was time for a showdown: me versus HertzAvisDollarNationalAlamoEnterprise.

I needed something easy and effective. Something instant and all-encompassing. I didn’t want to mess around with codes or toggle between sites. I didn’t want to be left with a lingering doubt that I could have gotten a better price if I were a savvier car-rental-shopper.

I needed a secret weapon. And I found one.

The first thing I did was to compare Zalyn and VroomVroomVroom, two sites that essentially claim to do the same thing, which is to find the lowest price for a car rental. Zalyn will “analyze coupons to find relevant ones based on your needs and help you pick the best one,” while VroomVroomVroom “compares all car rental prices for you so you are guaranteed the cheapest price on the best vehicles.”

Sounds good.

We are planning a quick trip down to San Diego this fall, so I used that trip as a test case. Zalyn returned these results:

zalyn chartInterestingly, the results on VroomVroomVroom priced out in exactly the same way (look at the totals):

vvv chart

I felt like I was off to a great start – it’s always a good sign when the stars align and discount sites agree. That way I don’t feel like I need to second-guess my choices.

My next step was to automate and simplify the embarrassingly old-fashioned way that I had been keeping track of my car rentals (which was to simply check in on them every so often…if I remembered to do so…as if they were hardy houseplants).

The answer is Autoslash. For me, this wasn’t intuitive. The reason is that if you try to actually search for a car rental using their service, results are terrible. This was the message I got when I searched for a car using the exact same San Diego dates that I entered in the above two examples:

autoslash messageI learned the reason for this: Autoslash was doing such a great job finding discounted rates, the car rental companies banned them from displaying their results. So they are now very limited in their scope if you are using the site to search for a car.

However, you can still use Autoslash as a way to find a lower price on a reservation you already have. The way it works is that you simply enter your reservation details, and Autoslash will email you if they find a lower rate.

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 8.46.40 PM

I’ve successfully done this for our upcoming trip to Hawaii. I found a decent rate on VroomVroomVroom – $160 for 5 days in Maui. A few days later, Autoslash found a better rate – $154 – so I rebooked with their site. Then they sent me an email containing this lovely snippet:

Screen shot 2013-05-21 at 8.53.23 PM

Awesome. I get it now.

Two steps, five minutes, big savings…what’s not to love?

Comments

  1. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the explanation on autoslash as I surely did not think it very useful when I tried the first time. I will give it a try! In fact I have a personal trip to Seattle coming up so am going to test out the service by entering in my Avis reservation to see what it comes up with.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on car rental loyalty programs. I use primarily Avis since that’s who my work contracts with. We’re automatically enrolled in Avis Preferred, and with enough rentals are upgraded further to Avis First. Benefits include free & discounted rental coupons based on usage, priority counter service (if needed), no need to wait in line key/contract in car when you arrive, complimentary car upgrades. Also can earn miles towards program of choice.

    • Rebecca says:

      UPDATE: So I was able to score a one week Seattle rental for $164 (incl taxes), a one free day coupon was applied. Closest lowest cost I could find was $300+ on vroooom. I selected Intermediate size as I plan to “upgrade” for free. If you are Avis Preferred, you can take advantage of their Select & Go cars. They have a special section of their parking garage where I can pick any of the cars I want (for my intermediate price) and just go. Don’t have to talk to anyone, just drive off & check out at the kiosk. Usually I try to pick a SUV since that’s what I’m most comfortable driving.

      I digress. I made my Avis reservation and entered into Autoslash. Two hours later, an email from Autoslash telling me of a better find for $30 less expensive SW-EEET! It was with Avis too. Only issue was, their lowest price they found did not include taxes. ARGH- they are not comparing apples to apples! They were comparing my price with taxes to other cars without, so in the end, it was not a better fare. It was $10 more. I was THIS close to having the aha moment and loving autoslash. Still 2 more weeks until my trip so maybe they will find something for me.

  2. Fantastic and timely for me. We’re planning a trip to Banff this summer and need a rental car. I knew AutoSlash had kind of fallen apart but now I know how to still use it.

    Great work, Pixie!

  3. pinkisnice says:

    I actually LOVE the thrill of the different-windows-multiple-code-combinations hunt, but I must admit, this streamlined process has it beat. Two questions though:
    1. Do you have to have a confirmed reservation to use this Autoslash feature?
    2. Is it typical that car rental reservations are cancelable without a fee? (I’m always worried about the fine print.)
    Thanks for yet another awesome post!

    • Rebecca says:

      Hi pinkisnice -on 2) I ‘think’ it is typical that there are no fees for cancelation or no-shows. At least this is the case w/Avis and Enterprise. With Enterprise, you don’t even provide a credit card number upon making the reservation. I’ve (unfortunately) been a no show on more than one occasion with no impact to my pocketbook.

  4. Kristina says:

    I’ve been looking for ways to get better deals on rental cars, but hadn’t found anything yet either. Thanks for sharing this info!

  5. Now for the million dollar question, how do you factor in which rental gets the best bonus on airline miles or points for their programs? I can’t figure that out. Also which credit card to use where for the rentals. And sometimes you can double dip and sometimes not.
    Help!

  6. Points Pixie says:

    Rebecca – I hope you can find a good deal. Sounds like you’ve got a good thing going with Avis!

    Anne – yay!

    pinkisnice – you do need a confirmed reservation to use the “track a rental” feature on Autoslash, but as Rebecca pointed out (thanks, Rebecca!) typically car rentals do not charge a fee for cancels or no-shows, unless you pre-pay.

    Kristina – you’re welcome, glad I could help.

    Laura – ack! Those are exactly the kinds of questions that were sending me into ostrich mode. I haven’t figured out the car rental thang to that advanced level yet – but when I do, you will be the first to know 😉

  7. After spending way too much time researching, I thought I had found the best deal possible on a two day rental in Palm Springs next month. But in 5 min I just saved $26 using vroomvroom and I upgraded from a Kia to a Fiat! I registered with Autoslash to see if they can find something even better. Thanks Pixie!

  8. Wow… this is SO helpful! I love planning our travel too… I can spend forever on the laptop comparing hotels, flight schedules, attractions, etc., but when it comes to car rentals, I’m bored. It’s just a big box with wheels to get you around, you know? You can’t compare the pool or the spa services like you can with a hotel : )

    This makes it easier, for sure. I’ll be joining up when I get back to the US.
    Cheers!

  9. This is just perfect! We’re planning a Labor day getaway and this will definitely come in handy. I used Autoslash sometime back to track a rental and didn’t get any notifications from them. I thought “well, maybe the price didn’t drop” but when I checked a week before pickup, the rate had dropped by $12/day and yet no email from Autoslash! Its a helpful service if it works, but it didn’t work for me.

    I’ve never heard of the other two and just checked them out. I like the name VroomVroomVroom. It almost makes me feel like my vacation has already started. Doesn’t VroomVroomVroom look a lot like CarRentals.com? I did a few searches and the results are pretty much the same.

    Zalyn on the other hand, doesn’t show any rates, but I guess its just a coupon site. From what I can tell, they find coupons they believe will give you the biggest discount and you can click through to see the discounted rate and total. One important thing to note is that when they send you over to Travelocity, look at the the column that says “Discounted” on the top. Also, you need to check every vehicle as some coupons only discount certain vehicle types. The part that I like most is that if you sign-up, you can get access to other coupons (AAA, Costco and others). Convenient to not have to punch in codes and your information dozens of times.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Sam – Thanks for all the great info and data points! Weird about not getting any Autoslash notifications, but sounds like you figured out a great alternative. Labor Day is coming right up! Hope you guys have a great trip.

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