If your family vacation involves renting a car, making some decisions before you pick up the car could be the key to a smooth trip.
- HOW MUCH CAR DO YOU NEED? You've heard about travelers who reserve the cheapest compact and hope it won't be available so they can enjoy a free upgrade to a larger vehicle.Before you gamble on such a break, contemplate cramming your kids and stuff into a too-small car. You're better off reserving the size you really need.
- WHEN DO YOU WANT IT? This summer, availability is tighter than usual, and procrastination could leave you without wheels.
Making a reservation protects you from rate increases.
But if rates go down, you get the advantage if you ask for the lower rate.
- WHAT WILL IT COST? A few phone calls can pay off when searching for the best deal.
At the Orlando airport, for instance, price quotes for a one-week rental of a midsize sedan in July ranged from $151 to $220 - a whopping 46 percent spread.
- ONE WAY OR ROUND TRIP? Most vacationers pick up and return the car to the same location.
If you plan to return the car elsewhere, be sure to make it clear when asking about price.
A drop-off fee can make a huge difference to your budget.
- HOW FAR ARE YOU GOING? Distance doesn't matter to Alamo, Avis, Budget and Hertz because all their rentals include unlimited mileage.
Other firms, including National Interrent and Thrifty, may have some limitations.
Make sure you're clear on this point when you ask about prices.
- CAN YOU GET A DISCOUNT? Breaks of 5 percent to 15 percent abound in the rental world.
Seniors, sometimes defined as anyone 50 and over, often get discounts.
Tell the reservation agent about any affiliations that might earn you discounts, such as motor clubs or fraternal organizations.
- SHOULD YOU BUY INSURANCE? The short answer for most renters is, probably not.
Before your trip, check exactly what your own auto-insurance policy covers. Most policies extend the same coverage you have on your own car to a rental.
- HOW WILL YOU PAY? Most renters charge the cost to a credit card. Using cash may be tough.
Some firms may not rent to anyone without a credit card, even with a large cash deposit.