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How to find the cheapest car insurance?

rental-car-signNo matter where you’re traveling, how old you are or how outlandish your rental requirements, you can always save money on car rentals. From little-known tricks to snazzy startups, we’ll break down the best ways to save money on ground transportation.

Do you really need a rental car?

For many travelers, a car may seem like a necessity just based on their daily routine. However, if you are traveling to a big city, public transportation is usually a cheaper and more accessible option than renting and parking a car. The independence of having a car can seem freeing initially, but if you plan on driving that car into a major city center expect high stress, gridlock, and parking nightmares. If you know you’ll need a car for at least part of the trip, jot down a quick cost benefit analysis comparing the total cost of renting a car (including parking fees) versus catching a cab, shuttle, or train.

6 tips to save on rental cars

1. Get big savings by avoiding big names

Consider renting from a company you’ve never heard of. FlightCar lets outbound travelers rent their cars to inbound ones at discounted rates; RelayRides is a car-sharing company that’s less air travel-specific.

2. Waive the 24-and-under surcharge

There’s a lot to recommend being over 25, such as the ability to legally serve in the House of Representatives and to rent a car hassle-free. Though some companies will lend to the pre-quarter-life-crisis crowd, they often levy a hefty surcharge. Here are a few ways to avoid the fee, which can run up to $25 a day. Be warned, though, that those under 21 are probably stuck with the young invincible surcharge.

  • Search for discounts.
  • Consider Zipcar or similar offers. Short-term car rental services may have an affiliation program with your university that’ll get you lower rates.
  • Look for affiliation discounts. The USAA, for example, lets members 21 and up avoid the surcharge; military personnel are also exempt.

3. Find rewards and discounts

No matter where you book or how, you’re sure to find discounts with a savvy combination of credit cards and coupons. Here are some good sources to earn money back or get a deal on rentals:

  • Credit cards that give bonus rewards on travel or car rentals. Look for one that’ll give rewards on any rental, without tying you to a specific set of dealers. Be careful, though – some only give rewards if you book directly with the rental agency, instead of Kayak or a similar agency.
  • Coupon aggregator websites. They’ll tell you which companies are offering promotions like 20% off or one day free. One such is Zalyn, which aggregates rental car deals and lets you filter by location and date, rather than the (more limiting) rental company.
  • Rewards malls and cashback websites. NerdWallet’s discount tool can help you find coupons as well as tell you which sites will give you 5% or more back on your rental.
  • Affiliation discounts. AAA, the AARP and other organizations offer cut-rate rentals for their members.

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