In an ideal situation, the best time to rent a car is six months to a year before you travel with a large group during the peak season. However, most of us are not always so aware in advance of when we’ll be traveling. Don’t worry. You’re human, and it’s perfectly normal to book closer to your rental date, especially if it will be in the off-season.
Best time to book a rental
One of the most common questions when trying to rent a car is when to book. For starters, most people want to make sure that they can definitely book a vehicle. Like most travel booking, it’s possible to find yourself in a situation without any available vehicles.
In order to ensure that a vehicle is available, it’s best to book when you have an idea of when you’re going to be traveling. Some car rental companies, like Advantage, will allow you to make changes to your reservation if you need to do so.
Another factor that makes knowing when to book your rental so important is the desire to get a good deal. The majority of people want to get the most value for the lowest amount of money they can. Whether you call it being thrifty, frugal, or just smart about spending, for some people getting a good deal is the driving force in their decision-making process.
If you’re one of these people or you just want to know when to book your rental to get a good deal, you may find yourself pondering different factors that can affect your pricing. Does the day of the week matter? Does booking in advance really save me that much money? Is there a crunch time when the price will drop back down? So, with pricing in mind, let’s look at the factors at play.
If you’ve never rented a car before, you should know that prices for rental cars change a lot. Different factors determine the price at different times. Prices can really fluctuate. Some of the factors that cause fluctuations:
- Vehicle category and class
- The rental company
- Timing of the rental
- Length of the rental
Like a hotel, a rental car company wants to rent out as many vehicles as they can on any given day. In most instances, rental car companies want to be competitive in their pricing to attract business and increase the demand for their product.
Think about trying to get a hotel during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, getting a room in New York City on New Year’s Eve, or making a hotel reservation in the city that hosts the Super Bowl or the Olympics. You would expect the rooms to be in high demand, hard to get, and higher in price than they would be on a random Tuesday when nothing major is going on in the area.
You expect that when you’re looking for a hotel because the high demand causes the price to rise. It’s just the natural order of economics, and rental car prices are no different. Companies hope to capitalize on the demand to generate revenue.
When businesses operate in an industry affected by fluctuations in demand, they aren’t trying to stick the customers with a higher price, but they are trying to offset the slower times that don’t generate the same revenue to make it possible for them to provide the services that they do.
More popular destinations, due to the increase in demand, are more likely to have a higher base price than their less popular destination counterparts. As a traveler, it’s important to understand the cause for fluctuations in order to make the best choices to get you the best price.
Base prices are the things most likely to change. You can count on the other rates to stay the same. Some of the other rates that will affect your overall price include add-ons like:
- Baby seats
- Ski racks
- Young driver fees
- Daily toll passes
- Roadside assistance coverage
Timing shouldn’t affect these types of rates, so you can factor these into your expected cost as you plan your rental. Then, you can focus on capitalizing on the best time to rent a car to get the best base rate.
Booking in advance
If you know you’ll be booking in a popular location at a busy time of the year, you should aim to book as close as you can to a timeframe of six months to one year in advance. For example, if you know you’re going to the Super Bowl next year, you should start making your rental car reservation between late January and late June in order to make sure you have a rental and get the best price.
Another reason that you should definitely consider booking your rental car reservation in advance is when you anticipate traveling with a large group or with multiple kids. In these instances, a minibus, a large van, and extra amenities may be needed. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get a much better price, but booking in advance will greatly increase the odds of getting what you need for your trip.
When you’re traveling with a large group, you want as little to worry about at the time of your trip as possible. Plus, if you’re sharing the costs, knowing as much about your trip will help you plan for everyone to pitch in to share the financial load equally.
Whether you need to book in advance because you hope to get a good deal, plan to visit a busy destination, or just need to meet a special circumstance’s needs, it’s best to shop around and compare prices and available features and services online before you decide on a single option.
After you’ve shopped around, you should have an idea of the price range you can expect for your trip’s car rental needs. This will help you establish the target price you hope to pay, but it will also let you draw a line in the sand on just how high you are willing to go on a price.
When you find a deal you like, go ahead and make the reservation. Make sure the company you choose allows for free cancellations, and if you see a better deal before your trip, cancel your existing reservation and go with the better price if it meets your needs.
Booking in advance doesn’t hurt anything, and it is more advantageous to have secured a rental at a decent price than to get in a situation where you are booking so close to your travel dates that you’re paying a much higher price. Even worse, you could find that you’re unable to find a company that has any inventory left to rent to you when you need it.
Booking last minute
While booking in advance has its advantages, you’re not doing it “wrong” if you book at the last minute either. In fact, there are times where booking at the last minute makes more sense and doesn’t do your pocketbook any harm.
If you know your trip is during a less busy or off-peak time of year, booking closer to the time of your trip is understandable. If your travel dates are more flexible, it makes sense to wait until closer to your trip as well, and you may be able to find a better rate based on the day of the week.
If your trip will be a solo trip, with a partner, or a smaller group that has no special requirements or circumstances, you can wait longer to book your rental. If you are less concerned with the type of vehicle you can book, the most common car types are usually available more easily, so the prices of these rentals may not fluctuate as much as other car types like vans, special cars, or luxury models.
Now, while you have some flexibility and freedom to wait a little longer to make your reservations, you still want to be booked at least 72 hours before your trip. This is because prices tend to go up during the final 48 hours.
If you can’t help it, you can’t help it. So, if you have to book at the literal last minute, don’t feel bad, but just be prepared to pay more. If you can avoid this last-minute situation, do yourself a favor and go ahead with your reservation. Cancellation or rescheduling are almost always viable solutions if you find that you need to make changes to your plans. Just be sure to communicate with your rental company.
The easiest way to keep it straight on when is the best time to rent a car is this simple set of rules. If you have no special circumstances and plan to travel in a less busy location or at a less busy time, book your reservation one to three months before your travel dates to get the best deals. If you know you’ll be traveling to a busy location, at a busy time, or need special accommodations or features, book six months to a year in advance to get the best deal and ensure availability.
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