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How Businesses should book rental cars on the Internet

By guest writer Bob Cowen


With most rental car companies now offering almost identical service, the key factor is finding the cheapest car for your rental needs.  Here's how.

For more information and updates, visit Bob's website and join his free newsletter.

Part 3 of a 3 part series - click for Parts  One  Two  Three



In today’s self-service world, the keys to significant travel savings are knowing where and how to shop.

Web sites that began life catering to the leisure traveler (the airlines, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity) now promote “one stop shopping” for small businesses. Their allure is ease of shopping, policy adherence, and reporting.

But are these benefits real? What about pricing, the convenience of the flights offered, the location of the hotels, and – perhaps most of all, the value of your time spent on their web site?

Car Rentals - now a commodity item

These days your choice of rental car should be largely influenced by cost. Rental cars have become a commodity item (very much like airline seats). If you’re renting from any of the 'brand name' companies, you’re reasonably certain to get a nearly new low mileage car, and it will be available in a lot not far from their airport, with frequent shuttle service. Indeed, many airports now have common lots and shared shuttle service for multiple rental car companies.

Most rental car companies have some type of fast checkout and return procedure for their frequent renters.  Pickup and return of your car can be expedited by joining all of the rental car frequent renter programs.

Rental cars have truly become a commodity, and when you’re buying a commodity, price is your main consideration. The good news – large savings are available on car rental costs.

The Best Websites for You

Quarterly tests for U.S. airport cities consistently find that SideStep  generally finds the lowest price for on-airport or nearby off-airport (with a brief shuttle ride) rental cars.  SideStep is a program that is downloaded to your PC.  Because it works in conjunction with any other travel site, it is suggested that you use Orbitz.  Orbitz uses the helpful matrix display concept, developed by ITASoftware, to display the results for rental car rates.

The rental car companies with the lowest prices are rarely the same; and there is no clear-cut winner.  Depending upon the airport and time of year, SideStep may find the best price at Alamo, Budget, Dollar, or Thrifty.

Occasionally even lower prices are available at some relatively unknown rental companies. However, these companies may be quite far from the airport and lack the computer technology to allow rapid check out and return of your vehicle. If there is a question about where the lot is located, or what hours they're open, call the company.

Rarely do Avis, Hertz or National provide the lowest prices. Most offer corporate discounts with a “free” rental day after every 15 or so rentals (a 7% discount). Most of the prices that SideStep finds are more than 10% below the prices of Avis, Hertz, and National. It pays to examine the real costs of “free” rentals and corporate contracts.

Most discount coupons that are received in your credit card statement are worthless. Lower prices are easily found via SideStep and other sites. However, if you have a “free day” type of coupon, it may be worth including it in your comparison.

Taxes and Fees

Don't forget to compare 'apples with apples' and make sure that all rates you're comparing consistently include or exclude the various surcharges and taxes and fees.  These can make up as much as another 50% of the base rental fee, so it pays to understand these factors.

It is recommended that you reserve your car via SideStep. Their prices are often better than the car rental companies’ web sites, and there is no service fee.

By quickly checking the best and most useful web sites, you will be able to find the savings within your travel constraints.


These days, your major determinant in choosing a rental car should be the cost of the rental.  Most of the recognized name companies provide similar cars, from similar locations, with similar services.  Price is the main point of difference.

The best way to quickly find the best priced rental cars is via Sidestep and Orbitz.

Read more in Parts 1 & 2

In Part 1 we look at the best way to book rental cars online.

In Part 2 we look at the best way to book hotels online.

Related Articles, etc

Originally published 13 Feb 2004, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this copyrighted article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to Bob Cowen as original writer.

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