There are many factors to consider when you’re renting a car. Car availability, location, extra services, and even website design all affect the decision of which car rental company to choose. But many times, the deciding factor is that of cost.

several company cars

Paying top dollar for a car you’re only going to use for a few days isn’t always appealing. Not surprisingly, many people prefer to use their travel budget on food and local attractions rather than transportation. If you’re one of those people, then here are the top budget rental car places to consider.

The Best Budget Rental Car Companies to Consider

1. Alamo

Alamo tops this list due to its super affordable prices, a wide range of availability, and decent customer service. Signing up to become an “Alamo Insider” on their website allows you to save 5%, and paying beforehand takes another 10% off of the price. Their last-minute specials cut rates even further. According to most online reviews, the cars are clean and in good shape, and their selection of options and vehicles is impressive.

2. Dollar

the inside of a car

If the price is your main consideration, then this car rental company is a great option. Their daily rates are impressively low, and extra deals and discounts available can bring that price down even further. They have a decent selection of cars, although they do lack hybrid vehicles. You can also use their Lock Low and Go feature to book a midsize car for the price of a compact.

The site also offers roadside assistance and insurance options online, allowing you to choose those options in advance if you want them. However, Dollar does charge a $20 fee for early returns and doesn’t give you pickup options. Unlike some companies, they don’t waive their extra driver fee for spouses.

3. Enterprise

It’s wise to book your car in advance to get the best deal here, as last-minute prices can be almost triple the price you’ll pay if you book a week or two beforehand. But with a huge selection of vehicles and a full range of options, this is a solid option if you’re looking for a budget rental car.

The website is very upfront about helping you see final costs, which can help you avoid last minute surprised when tax and extras are added to the price. However, paying online ahead of time doesn’t provide you with any discounts which other sites have. Enterprise also has a unique CarShare program which allows you to pick up and drop off vehicles at designated areas around the city. This option can be helpful if you only need to rent a car for a few hours rather than for days. There is no early return fee.

4. Thrifty

an audi car parked on the road

You can find some great deals with this car rental company. Their website also has some great options. These will help you save time and effort later, such as a toll prepay option. They also offer a lot of vehicles with great fuel efficiency rates. This way, you can save a lot in your gas budget if you’re traveling far. The site is also upfront with total costs from fees and taxes, though add-ons such as extra drivers can raise it further. They also don’t have locations in all 50 states. Pickup options to get you from the airport to the rental location also aren’t offered.

5. Budget

Budget is a worthwhile site to review if you’re looking for a good deal. Their website is fast and easy to navigate, and if you pay attention to their weekly deals and offers it’s possible to get a rental car for a great price. Their pay now feature allows you to shave a large percentage off of your price. They have a live chat customer service option which is nice if you have questions you want to be answered right away.

However, customer satisfaction with Budget isn’t stellar. Many former customers have expressed frustration over unexpected charges and fees. The Budget also charges you if you return a car early, rather than just fining you for late returns.

Which Budget Rental Car Company Should You Choose?

If you’re looking for a budget rental car from a company with solid customer satisfaction levels, then Enterprise and Alamo are the best choices here. Enterprise has consistently come out on top in the J.D. Power annual North America Rental Car Satisfaction Survey, with Alamo close behind.

Companies like Thrifty, Dollar, and Budget may offer the lowest prices, but you’ll want to calculate the prices of add-on charges. Car seat and child booster costs, GPS rental charges, extra driver fees, and other such features can all raise the price significantly. It’s also wise to check your existing insurance policies to see if they cover rental insurance, rather than paying for it a second time from your car rental company.

It’s also important to remember that prices can vary greatly depending on a wide array of factors. The time of the week, upcoming holidays, and vehicle availability. Booking ahead of time can save you a lot, but sometimes last minute deals can also be a good value.
Flexible travel dates can also come in handy, and changing the date of your travel slightly may help you find an incredible deal.

Bottom Line

The best way to find a great deal on a budget rental car is to check a large variety of websites. Do so early and often, because prices generally increase when you need a vehicle soon. If cancellations are offered free, then you can book the car as soon as you find a good deal and then cancel and re-book later on if you find a better deal.

No matter what company you choose, you’ll want to avoid unexpected fines. Reading the fine print is important to help you avoid unexpected charges, so pay attention to late fees, closing times, a mile or area restrictions, and similar rules.

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