How to Save on Car Rentals Online
Traveling may quench your thirst for adventure, but the cost of transportation adds up quickly and before you know it your wallet ends up dry. Frequent vacationers may know about price discrimination, a tactic car rental companies use to gouge prices based on a buyer’s location and other factors.
But, do you know how to bypass it? A VPN is your key to lower prices, but you have to know how to use it. Lucky for you, we do, and we have no problem taking you step-by-step through a journey that leads to lower car rental prices. Buckle up!
If you have wanderlust, we admire your sense of adventure, but probably don’t envy your bank account balance. Traveling is expensive, and if you do it often, costs add up quickly.
Every cent saved matters. So if you rent cars on your trips often, you need to know about price discrimination. It’s a tactic car rental companies use to vary their prices based on location. Customers in more affluent countries are charged more for their cars, based on what the company expects them to be willing to pay. Seems unfair, right? Because it is.
But investing in a VPN and carefully comparing prices allows savvy adventurers to level the playing field.
Where to Rent a Car Online – Best Car Rental Websites
Step one to getting the best possible deal on a rental car online is knowing where to go. Here are the best-rated, most reliable car rental websites:
- Skyscanner Car Hire
Finding Car Rental Deals Online – Beware of Online Price Discrimination
Businesses want to make money, period. Rental car websites want to get the most money out of you that they possibly can. To do that, a car rental company considers what a consumer would be willing to pay for their cars and set prices based on that.
Believe it or not, what an individual customer is willing to pay varies greatly depending on a few factors. When setting your price, companies consider any or all of the following elements:
- Where you live
- Information stored in cookies
- The device you are browsing from
Surprised? You are supposed to be. These tactics are known as “hidden price discrimination” for a reason. In this article, our main goal is to help you eliminate price discrimination based on location.
You’ll see lower prices if you are a native traveling to another city within your country or if you the resident of a poor country.
We know you want proof that this happens, we don’t blame you, and we have it. Carrentals.com is one of the most blatant offenders of price discrimination by country, so this is the website we used for our examples.
First, we connected to a U.S. server. We chose a pick-up location in Los Angeles and a drop-off location in San Francisco and found a Toyota Yaris available for $210 (after fees) for three days:
Then, we connected to a server in Argentina and simply hit refresh (you should clear your cache and cookies before doing this, but our goal was to show you how quickly the price changes.) This is what happened:
A few cents is not a big difference overall, but it proved price discrimination, so we decided to investigate further. We switched to a few different servers and watched the price switch between these two prices before an idea struck us. There’s no better road trip in the US than coast to coast, east to west. If you are visiting the US from another country, even if you don’t make this exact trip, chances are you are visiting a couple of states.
For our coast-to-coast example, connected to a U.S. server and gave ourselves a month, to be realistic. We found a car for $32.64 per day:
We decided to practice what we preach so we cleared our cache and cookies, chose an incognito browser and searched for the same trip on an Argentinian server. Now, the price was now $33.71 per day. $1.07 a day adds up on a big trip like this:
Because the third time’s a charm, we cleared our cookies and cache again, logged on to an incognito browser and connected to a Malaysian VPN server. This yielded our best results yet. See for yourself:
Total fees considered, there’s a $30+ difference between this price and the most expensive one. On any road trip, that adds up. A VPN makes it easy to save this money seconds. It’s silly not to take advantage of that.
On another note: Everything tends to be more expensive in big cities. We wanted to put this theory to the test with rental cars, this time on the popular website Travelocity.
First, we set our pick-up location to Manhattan, NY and kept the drop-off location the same. We found a Mitsubishi Mirage available through Enterprise for $400 per week ($479 after additional fees):
Then, we changed our pick-up location to a village in the suburbs about 45 minutes outside of the city. We were seeking out a car through Enterprise at least of a similar size. We found a Mitsubishi Mirage, and were amazed at the difference in price:
All fees considered, you save more than double the amount, just by switching your pick-up location to a smaller area. The moral of this story? If you can, pick up your car in a smaller city and just drive it to your location. It will save you drastic amounts of money.
While it’s sometimes hard to control what device you rent the car from, there is evidence that the device you purchase from matters, too. Rates to rent a car on a cell phone are cheaper than when you do it on a desktop, and device brand seems to matter too, with Mac users being the victims of the highest prices.
Outsmart the Car Rental Portals with a VPN
Finding the best rental car is time-consuming enough, so we’re going to make choosing a VPN to ensure you get the best deal on the car simple. There are countless to choose from on the world wide web, but three that will lead you to the perfect rental car quickly so you can focus on more important things, like planning the must-see stops on your road trip.
Here is a list of the top VPN providers that we recommend to trick your browser and find the best car rental deals online. See more recommended VPN services for other purposes on our VPN review.
#1 ExpressVPN – Best VPN to Save On Car Rental Online
ExpressVPN is our first choice. It’s a leader in the industry for all VPN needs, car rentals are no exception. Features include:
- Industry-leading speed so your connection won’t drop while you’re hunting for the best deal
- Servers in 148+ countries, so there are plenty of locations to choose from, plenty of chances to find a lower price than you ever imagined
- 256-AES encryption, so your data is scrambled. Read: private.
- Diverse compatibility so you can connect and shop from any device
Subscription plans include 1-year ($99.95), 6-month ($59.95) and 1-month ($12.95 per month) Not sold yet? No problem! The 30-day money-back guarantee makes trying it out risk-free.
Get more information on ExpressVPN review.
NordVPN is another impressive comprehensive VPN service, which puts extra focus on privacy. These features will help you find the perfect rental car in no time:
- 3000+ servers in 60 countries
- A “no logs” policy so no one will know you’ve found your way around price discrimination
- 256-bit AES encryption
- Mobile app so it’s easy to take advantage of the cheaper prices on mobile we mentioned above
Subscription plans include a 2-year plan ($95.75), a 1-year plan ($83.88) and a monthly plan ($11.95 per month.) They also periodically offer 3-year plans for an even better deal. Check the website for current deals. There is a 30-day risk-free money-back guarantee.
Get more information on NordVPN review.
As a still relatively unknown option, PrivateVPN offers the features that will make car rental shopping a breeze:
- 80+ servers in 56 locations
- Compatibility with many operating systems
- A high-quality network for fast speed & strong encryption
- No activity logs are kept for maximum privacy
Plans right now include yearly ($54.00 with an extra month free) 3-months ($16.88), or monthly ($8.21.) All plans include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Get more information on PrivateVPN review.
Shop Smart — Consider all aspects of your trip carefully
VPNs make online car rentals more affordable and less overwhelming, but it still takes time to find the best deal. Here are some tips outside of using a VPN that will help you get the best deal:
- Clear your cache and cookies before you search. As explained above, this is important for the VPN trick to work, too, but in general, it’s a good rule for privacy; make sure they can’t use your information to sell anything to you.
- Only reserve the car you need. When on a road trip, space can be tempting. If you can reserve a compact, do it! Compacts are the least popular rental cars in the US, so sometimes companies run out. But, if you’ve reserved one and they run out, they have to give you a free upgrade.
- Avoid renting cars at airports. Airports are convenient places to rent cars, but they know this. There are tons of hidden fees, and the difference in price just for the convenience of only having to walk a few steps to a car. Use public transportation or rent a car at the hotel if you can.
- Don’t buy the insurance. Call up your insurance and credit card companies to see if they cover rentals before you reserve a car. Chances are they do. Then, you don’t have to feel the pressure the sales representatives are trained to make you feel when you’re at the counter to pick up the car.
For the Smoothest Ride, use a VPN
Shopping for a rental car can be stressful. There are thousands of cars online waiting to be rented, and you just need one. It’s tempting to just click on the first car you find that seems to meet your needs. That’s a surefire way to throw money down the drain. Using a VPN to connect to a proxy server in a different country will get you a better deal. Choose pickup locations in smaller cities and take your time. VPNs are your first line of defense against a bad deal, but to avoid any bumps on the road to your rental car, make sure you consider all your needs.