Takeoffs: Cutting Rental Costs

Travel
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Getting the best possible rates on rental cars is a matter of knowing a few cardinal rules. The first one is always book in advance. Rent a car at the counter without coupons or a AAA-membership in hand, and you're guaranteed to pay the maximum rate. But if you do a bit of research up front, you can often save up to 30 percent off the published rate.

The best places to do research are the Internet, magazines and newspapers. Rental companies often place advertising banners on portals such as Yahoo and AOL that offer deals. Budget, for example, had a banner on Yahoo's homepage that offered a Ford Ranger for $19.95 per day anywhere in the country. That's half the usual rate. And virtually every major travel site has some form of "hot deals" page. Book your Avis rental through www.skimag.com, and you'll get a free one-day lift ticket, a free subscription to one of three ski magazines and a free ski-rack rental with any mid-size or SUV one-week rental. Now, about insurance. Don't assume that your credit card or car insurance covers the cars you rent. Generally speaking, only gold cards or higher level cards do; cards with no annual fee never do.

Similarly, only some insurance companies cover you, unless you call to add rental insurance for a specified time period. In both cases, there are all sorts of stipulations: the country you're in, the type of damage incurred, whether it's direct damage (liability and damage to the car) or indirect damage (the time the car spends in the shop).

Call to get specifics. Finally, don't forget to reap what's coming your way: Most rental companies have agreements with airlines so you can earn miles when you rent. Have the rental agent log in your mileage number when you pick up the car.