WebRotation: the car rental two-step (Hotwire and Costco)

The past year The Rapid Traveler has frequently rented cars for personal use, testing nearly every site and search engine. With all the coupons and discount codes, finding the best price can be maddening. Add in various points deals (and points surcharges) for even more complexity. And of course numerous sites (finger pointing at Hertz in particular) have several subtotals before unveiling the final wallop.

When price is the primary consideration, not the mostly lackluster loyalty program benefits (though ‘skip the counter’ is nice), The Rapid Traveler has almost never found a better price than this two-step option for the hurried and three-step option for the obsessive.

1. Search Hotwire. This immediately gives a good baseline for the bottom range.

2. Use Costco Travel to search Alamo and Enterprise. They also partner with Avis and Budget and for some locations those are competitive. Membership required but laxly enforced (as in never checked in The Rapid Traveler’s experience); Enterprise requires a Costco membership number to book online. Enterprise has the most off-airport locations if one is needed. Costco’s discounted rates and coupons are often unbeatable.

Stop here if not wanting a lot of hassle. Or,

Costco Car Rental

3. Use Priceline, targeting about 10-20% below the Hotwire final rate, not the daily rate. Priceline loads in a lot more taxes and fees than Hotwire so a $10/day Priceline rental is more expensive than a $10/day Hotwire rental. At the small end, Priceline economy and compact rentals often end up being the same cars and prices, so if a bid fails for an economy, The Rapid Traveler often adds $1 to bid for a compact. Prices seem lowest late Monday morning. Don’t wait till last minute, the best deals are often several weeks out.

This morning The Rapid Traveler had an 11-day airport rental to book. The major search engines and specialists like Autoslash and Breezenet all came out $240 and above net. Hotwire $215. Costco Alamo $192. It is rare to see the Costco rate dip below Hotwire, usually it is 5-10% higher but has total flexibility. This rate will not earn any miles and elite benefits, but the savings far outweigh those for The Rapid Traveler.

Readers, what works for you?

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  • Mae

    This is amazing! I ALWAYS take forever to tediously go through all these codes/promos for each site and end up giving up half-way through! This is definitely way better than Autoslash.

  • Mike

    Did you take into account using all coupon code and say, corporate rate code combinations to get the “best price” ? I always assumed, a typical large company corporate code (usually a pre-negotiated price for a full size) with a decent coupon code (say 2 class upgrade) always comes out a winner as opposed to trying out the rental consolidator sites.

  • @Mike – each case can be different, I have tested corporate codes for my own employer, and prior employer, and sometimes those are better, sometimes not, though they can get a little complicated with different insurance aspects related to the corporate rates, so in general I don’t advocate people working with those, especially corporate codes for companies they are not affiliated with, unless they are really familiar with the ins and outs of car rental. Costco rates function like a major corporation and the rates are often excellent. A new option I have written about (parts 1 and 2) that is often suburb is booking through Capital One if you have a rewards account with them.

    Upgrade codes and mileage add another layer of complexity, and depend on how a person values those.

    So my general advice to try for a decent deal if price is the main concern and not wanting to waste a lot of time is to test Hotwire, Costco, Capital One and Priceline for rates. From there you have a good price baseline and can explore other options and time and interest allow.

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