Rental Car Deals #search #property

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You can save a bundle even in a market with sky-high rates

Whether your travel plans involve wings or wheels, finding a rock-bottom fare or rate can be more challenging than ever. Persistent e-mails and text alerts from carriers and websites such as Expedia and Priceline tease ridiculously low air- and rental-car bargains, but when you drill down to specifics, the limited dates and other restrictions are almost always deal-breakers. But recently, I’ve had unexpected success saving on rental cars in a market where discounts were few and far between. Here’s the back story and how it played out.

Every spring and fall, I fly to Charlotte, N.C. (Charlotte-Douglas Airport, to be exact) from New York, typically six round-trips a year. I begin sniffing for airfare bargains two or three months in advance, and once I buy tickets, I search for rental-cars using various tactics: I’ll solicit quotes from the airline’s preferred “partner,” which rarely proves to be the cheapest way to go; compare prices among the major rental companies via aggregator sites such as Tripadvisor; go to the big rental companies directly, and try membership organizations such as AAA. I’ll also visit “opaque” sites including Hotwire, which promises superior savings in exchange for concealing the identity of the company you’re renting from until after you complete the transaction (it’s typically Enterprise, Avis, National, or another well-known brand).

My primary choice is Hertz because it has a large rental fleet, is situated on airport property, runs plenty of shuttle buses to and from the terminal, and has staff to check you under the return canopy instead of your having to stand in line at the customer-service counter. Hertz prices are competitive, and I’m even willing to pay a few dollars extra, if necessary, because of those plusses.

But rates during the spring have soared in past years. After going through the usual drill, I couldn’t secure a one-day economy-car rental for less than $60, $83 with taxes and fees. So I tried again in a few days. The rates didn’t budge. So I made a third attempt through Hotwire, with one notable difference. Not only did I fill in the pickup location and my travel dates and times, I also included personal contact information–address, e-mail, and phone number. Although the immediate price quote was unmoved, I received a follow-up e-mail shortly thereafter noting that rates had dropped a bit. So I repeated the exercise throughout the week, and after each try I magically received a subsequent e-mail citing yet another price drop. When I received a message with a rate of $19.95 ($36.22 with taxes and fees). I took it. And the rental company that offered the deal? It was Hertz. I booked several more rentals using the exact same strategy, with the same results.