rental cars

Renting a car in an inevitable part of my family’s travel. We don’t rent for all trips, but if want the freedom to explore outside of a city, it can be an easy, economical way to see the sights than buying four train tickets. You may think booking a Family Car Rental is simple — insert your pick up location, pick up a car and, voila! Sadly, this is not the case. Like most aspects of planning, there are a few more things to think about, including insurance, extras such as car seats and driver details and even which rental company to use. Hopefully, we can help take a little guess work out of the process for you.


  • Book in advance to get the best price. Showing up at the counter at the airport or in the local office will generally be more expensive than an advance booking.
  • Make sure you look up coupon codes when booking online for added savings.
  • Airports and rail stations generally offer cheaper rates than local city offices where the rental supply is more limited. The more cars a location has to rent out, the better your chances are at getting a good rate.
  • Arriving early to a bricks-and-mortar office may help you chances of getting a good vehicle.


  • Sign up for rewards programs
    • Every car rental agency has some sort of loyalty program. Make sure you sign up for any that you will be renting cars with, even if it is on your smart phone as you go to pick up the car. Many offer free upgrades, extra drivers and discount coupons that will come in handy for future trips.
  • Costco members
    • If you are a member of Costco, don’t forget they have a Costco Travel section. They offer fabulous discounts on rental cars that you should not miss out on.
  • Book through a consolidator
    • Sites like scour several sites to find the best price for you. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to save a little cash, but compare prices you might get directly with a car rental agency to make sure you are getting the best savings.
  • AAA members
    • If you are a member of AAA you can get extra discounts on car rentals that non-members may not be able to enjoy. Before booking, ask if a member discount is available.

What type of car are you looking for?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Manual or Automatic?
  • Two-door or four-door?
  • Number of passengers?
  • Number of many bags? Don’t forget to count strollers!
  • Air conditioning/heat?
  • Roof rack for skis, kayaks, etc.?


  • Car seats
  • GPS
  • Insurance
  • Extra drivers
  • Driver under 25 years old

Understanding car sizes

Car size descriptions are not standard across the globe. If a car states that it can only hold two people and one small bag, believe it. You could end up with a Smart Car, not that four-door deal you imagined.

  • If you are not sure if you should get a mini, compact or economy for your couples retreat, call the rental car company.
  • If you are traveling with your family, assume you will need a four-door vehicle with a trunk at the very least. I have gotten by on a compact car here in the United States, but had to upgrade when I booked an economy for three kids and two adults and it ended up being a two-door Volkswagen Bug.

Changing cars once you are at the pick up location

There is nothing worse than showing up at a car rental desk, getting the keys, then seeing the car you are renting is too small for your luggage and/or party. What do you do?

  • Try to load your luggage. You may be surprised by what fits.
  • If your passengers do not fit in the vehicle you will have to upgrade.
  • Do not drive off the lot!
  • Go back to the same rental agent who handed you the keys. Explain your situation and see if an upgrade can be made. This is when holding a rental agency loyalty card could save you a bundle.
  • Be prepared to pay more. You are the one who booked the car knowing your needs, not the rental agency. They may not be as sympathetic as you think, but most will try to help you out.
  • If there are no larger vehicles available, ask the desk if they have a sister agency on site or if a car can be brought over from a different location.


Questions to ask yourself:

  • Does your personal car insurance cover rentals?
  • Does your credit card cover rental damage?
  • If your credit card does cover rentals, is there a minimum or maximum rental period they will cover?

To get the extra insurance or not to get the extra insurance?

This is the question of the moment every time you book a rental car. It’s daunting to think you may have to spend more per day on insurance than the actual cost of the car to rent. Some countries do not give you the option; you have to get the insurance (Mexico requires it. Read the fine print). In the USA they seem to nickel and dime you over every tiny expense.

Domestically my rule of thumb is to only get the insurance if it would be less than my deductible or if my credit card won’t cover the damages. An example would be a month-long rental. If the insurance is more than my $250-$500 deductible then I will not get it.

If you don’t even want to risk it, just get the insurance. It is a roll of the dice every time you rent whether an accident occurs or not. Both my credit card and my car insurance cover rentals, so I rarely get the added insurance on a domestic rental.

Internationally I opt to get the insurance more often than not. Many rental agencies in Europe will include the insurance in the quoted price. If they don’t then they try to make it a bit more affordable and enticing. Dealing with international auto accident claims also seems like a huge headache to me. If I have to put out a little extra cash for the peace of mind the insurance will give me, then I will gladly pay.

Read what is covered! Don’t be fooled by the promise of added coverage. Read through any exclusion to make sure you are getting your money’s worth.

What to do if you are in a Rental Car Accident

Click to read our full list of tips.

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