Renting a car now costs more than flying – here’s how to get a better deal

Ah, the good old days of reserving a small car and hoping for a free upgrade to a medium; you might be lucky to have any car.

In 2020, when the pandemic hit, car rental companies reduced their fleets around the world. When we were all free to travel again, they were caught without enough cars.

The result for the Australian consumer: higher prices (and high profits for some multinational rental companies, go figure.)

Hobart and Budget airport pickup will charge you $1552 for a Suzuki Swift automatic or similar for a two week rental in September.

In Cairns, same operator, same dates, a Kia Cerato will cost you $2,446, but only if you pay now. Are you going offshore? A Toyota Yaris for the same dates in mid-September from Budget at Rome Fiumicino airport will cost €1816 ($2647), but you can hire a Citroën C3 automatic for the same period from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and Budget will only charge you €555 ($809).

There is also the very real possibility of not being able to get a vehicle, especially in places like Tasmania where the pool is limited by geography.

A myriad of factors contribute to the persistence of this situation and is expected to continue into 2023.

So how to get the best deal on a rental is much more complex than before.

To that end, Daniel Finch of Wotif advises booking early. Recent research from Wotif reveals that the number of Australians planning to travel to the country in 2022 is on the rise, with 44% now planning to stay in Australia for their holidays.

“Many still prefer to stay put for their holidays, there is an additional demand for car hire in Australia which means it has never been more important to book ahead,” he says.

And booking early is especially relevant if you’re going on vacation at peak times when everyone else seems to be traveling.

Another factor to consider is where you are picking up a car. According to Wotif, from January to March this year, city centers were the most popular pick-up points for car hire, with Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane topping the list, and regional destinations such as Cairns, the Gold Coast and Maroochydore are also popular. .

“It’s generally advisable to avoid picking up vehicles at major airports as it can be more expensive,” says Finch.

“But data from Wotif.com indicates that from January to March of this year, renting your car at the airport was actually more cost-effective – around 15% cheaper.”

A great hack for both securing a car and getting a great deal is to consider packages.

“If you’re flying or booking accommodation as part of your trip, it’s worth considering a package. Bundling your car rental with flights and/or accommodation into one package…can provide access to great savings not available when you book separately.”

Shop around for stores like Qantas Holidays, Flight Center and Discover Australia, which offers a host of all-inclusive self-drive packages. Or ask a travel agent.

Even in this new environment, however, the old rules remain.

Round-trip rental will always be cheaper than point-to-point, to begin with.

“While most car rental providers offer both options, the reason point-to-point car rental can be more expensive is that there are often fees that come with the flexibility of being able to drop off your car at a different place than where you originally picked it up,” says Finch.

You should always fill the fuel tank before returning the car – it’s much cheaper than having it done by the rental company. (And note whether the car is diesel or petrol – putting in the wrong fuel is a whole other world of financial pain.)

Beware of additional driver fees. If you share the driving, this will apply. But the cost varies from company to company, so it’s worth looking around. If an additional driver is under 25, a surcharge may apply.

Watch out for insurance costs. Travel insurance may be cheaper than insurance taken out by the rental company.

Always fully inspect the car before setting off and use this chart in the rental documents to note where the damage is – and if there is damage, it may be worth asking for another vehicle. Take photos of all sides and inside the car to document its condition during pick-up and before drop-off. Things can happen after you leave.

And keep your car clean – you might have to pay cleaning fees if snacks have been nibbled unhindered along the way.

And finally, note that not all car rental companies allow pets and even if they do, you may be liable for a detailing fee if the car is returned full of Fido fur. Check the T&Cs.

with Michael Gebicki


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