No, this isn’t a promoted post; I just had to rent a car several times in the past 3 months and learned this from experience. Caveat: I rent from airports only so far, but definitely try it with other locations also.
Step 1: Reserve from Enterprise (or your favorite company, but I’ll explain why Enterprise in a bit) with carrentals.com – they have some sort of backdoor deals with all major car rental companies and make reservations for half the price (or less, normally) than what you get at the counter.
Step 2: Go to their lot to pick up the car, and as the rep is taking you down the car lot, ask (nicely) if it’s okay to get something better, like mid-size or full-size (if you want fuel-efficient options, mention it). Very likely, they’ll show you to a full-size car; if they don’t have any, they’ll at least offer you a mid-size car or even an SUV. THEN ask, “Oh, but is that still the same price?” You will hear a yes. This is why I pick Enterprise – their reps servicing the car lot are trained to do what it takes to make the customer happy. And so far, they never made me feel guilty or awkward – truly excellent customer service.
Step 3: Enjoy your full-size sedan for half the price of compact you’d get from the counter!
FURTHER SAVINGS: if you need a car for more than a week, try weekly increments first (1-week rates are cheapest). Ex: if you need it for a week and 2 days then reserve for one week, and call on the last day to extend. Similarly, if you need it for a month, try quotes for one week, two weeks, three weeks, and a month. Reserve whichever is the cheapest weekly rate, and call to extend if needed. When you call on the last day to extend, make sure to ask for the same daily rate. If not, drive the car to them and ask there – the folks who service the car lots are most customer service friendly and are yet to deny any of my requests.
So why Enterprise? CarRentals makes them as cheap or cheaper than others. But even when they are a few dollars per day more, their service is fantastic, which means you can reserve compact and ask for an upgrade; I am yet to be denied. So in reality they’re just as cheap as others because you get a full-size car for compact price. This summer, I got $13/day + tax deal on CarRentals for a full-size car with Enterprise for 3 weeks. That’s about $20 with taxes and fees. I extended it to 1 month, and then again for another 3 weeks. And when computer auto-raised price on me for 2nd month, an Enterprise rep fixed it retroactively. AND, I even went back twice to swap cars for fun (got tired of Kia Optima) – all for free, and without hassle.
Another example – yesterday I went to the counter at Enterprise and was quoted $560 for a week for Compact, “cheapest rate” he could do for me. I pulled out my iPhone, went to CarRentals.com and made a reservation for $280/week for Compact in front of the rep. He immediately saw it in the system and processed me no problem. Once at the car lot, I asked (humbly) the guy showing me to my car if I could have a larger car – ended up with a Chevy Malibu, same price. Awesome!
(I did try Advantage and Dollar counters – Dollar was cheapest, but still couldn’t beat CarRentals’ Enterprise deal. Interestingly, Dollar was more expensive than Enterprise on CarRentals.com)
I also tried Payless – horrible, horrible experience. Then I tried Advantage one time in San Francisco – much better, but still not the same (and their off-site location is a real pain). Also, for Advantage you often have to pre-pay on CarRentals site to get the best deal (w/o a right to refund); with Enterprise, you don’t. So you’re not locked in to any car type and have more negotiating power.
Final tip: if you’re only renting for a few days, try different return dates – after 1 day, after 2 days, etc. Book the cheapest daily deal, then call to extend after the fact.
This should save you a lot of dough. Enjoy!!