July 14, 2024
Waiting for a bargain? How to save money on holiday car hire this summer

Earlier this year, consumer group Which? analysed data and found that car rental prices have fallen dramatically this year, particularly in popular destinations such as Rhodes, Mallorca, Alicante and Faro. While they are still higher than before the pandemic, they are falling from the shockingly high prices of 2022 and 2023, caused by a shortage of cars and semiconductor chips.

However, new research from price comparison site Skyscanner has revealed that only a quarter of travellers who have booked a summer holiday have booked a hire car. It says that 61 per cent of British holidaymakers book their car hire less than four weeks before departure, and one in 10 book as close as the day before or the day of travel itself.

Many cite the reason for doing so as waiting to find a good deal. Skyscanner’s data reveals that the best time to book a good-value car rental in Spain, Greece and Italy is one week prior to travel, while those heading to France and the US should aim for two weeks ahead.

It also highlights that collecting a car off-airport can bring considerable cost-savings. Taking a shuttle bus to a satellite or city-centre rental office can save as much as 30 per cent in destinations such as Milan, or 20 per cent in the city centre of Heraklion in Crete, compared with airport rental desks.

Rental prices can also drop if you hang back after arrival for the queues to disappear. For example, move your rental start time from 6am to 7am in Palma de Mallorca and you might find that prices drop by up to 18 per cent.

You’ll also save money by taking your own car seats for children (these are usually carried free of charge by airlines) and opting for your own Sat-Nav (download maps for offline use prior to travel). If you are travelling with a companion, is one of you happy to do all the driving? Adding a second, named driver will add to the total cost.

Avoid the temptation to upgrade unless you’re happy to pay more. And if the car you booked is unavailable, you should not have to pay extra for a different model – the company should honour your booking cost.

Choosing your own excess car hire insurance usually saves money too. Search for recommended providers online – a week’s policy in Europe can cost about £30 if booked through a reputable company, but can cost more at the rental desk.

Avoid excess charges

If you manage to save on the headline rental cost, watch out for retrospective fees that might come as an unwelcome surprise on your final bill.

Check your policy before you return the car to ensure you’re adhering to rules such as refuelling (aim for a full-full policy, and refill the tank before you approach the airport, preferably in a town or city centre station), late drop-off ,and damage (use your smartphone’s video to quickly document every inch of the car before you drive it off, flagging any scratches or defects).

Three kids aged 11 and 7 are having fun in car during a road trip. The kids are wearing shades on and having a lot of fun during road trip. Sunny summer day in Andalusia, Spain.
Remember to return the car clean
(Photo: Imgorthand/Getty/E+)

Some firms have been reported as charging for cleaning cars that are returned with sand in the footwells, or other light soiling such as grass or dust. Check the policy before you leave, and if you’re unsure, ask for written confirmation about whether a cleaning fee will be applied. If it will, it’s likely to be cheaper to clean the car yourself.

A stress-free experience

If you’re landing on a busy, peak season flight, car rental desks will likely be busy too. Save time by registering with your chosen company in advance. For example, Avis QuickPass allows you to fill out all the details you would add at the desk online, in advance. On arrival you can head straight to the QuickPass desk, prove your identity, collect the keys then drive off. Members of its free loyalty programme, Avis Preferred, can also collect keys from self-service kiosks.

Download your DVLA licence check code in advance, should the company wish to see it, too, at gov.uk/view-driving-licence.

Finally, when you’re on your way, keep all the important details handy – emergency contact numbers, nearby petrol stations (and check whether you’ll need petrol, diesel or an EV charging point), and your licence.

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