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Here’s How to Level-Up Your Rental Car Game

These agencies make renting a car as painless as possible and get you on the road quickly.

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BY/ LAST UPDATED ON March 8, 2022
Here’s How to Level-Up Your Rental Car Game

Renting a car can be an experience akin to a root canal for many people, especially with the cost of car rentals currently on the rise. You can spend hours researching the various companies and their offerings, only to be continually confused about which offers the best deal for the vehicle that you need or want. 

With so many major players and smaller outfits that are trying to break into the car rental market, how do you know which one to give your hard-earned cash to? Not to worry, the top-notch detective team of editors at The Drive has got you covered with a run-down of the top car rental companies in the U.S. right now and what makes them great. We’ll take a lot of the guesswork out of the process so that all you have to decide is whether to rent the economy car or treat yourself to that convertible.

How We Got This List

While most big-name car rental agencies in the U.S. operate similarly, there are subtle differences, as well as obvious distinctions that can be made between the various options. So, the top picks for the best car rental companies were selected by taking an in-depth look at the overall reputation of each company, as well as how long they’ve been in operation, customer service satisfaction, BBB rating, and age and condition of vehicles offered. 

We also chose to not include Turo due to a recent rash of sketchy complaints

Only companies with a solid track record of delivering top-notch cars and stellar customer service were chosen for this list. For more information on selection criteria and methods, check out this link, which explains our methodology further.

Alamo

Alamo gets high marks for being a well-established car rental company that sits under the Enterprise umbrella.  The company was founded in 1974, so it has a long-standing solid reputation for offering upper echelon customer service and ultra reasonable rates. Another great thing about Alamo is that they frequently offer lower second driver rates than all the other car rental agencies in the industry. 

Booking online ahead of time can also help you get some much-appreciated discounts with Alamo, making them ultra-competitive. To sweeten the deal, Alamo offers its Alamo Insiders program, which is free to join and gives you an additional 5 percent off each time you rent. With unlimited free mileage and a super easy return experience, Alamo gets our vote for one of the top rental car companies in the U.S.

Pros

  • Average pick-up processing time is under 15 minutes
  • Super competitive pricing
  • Easy return procedure

Cons

  • Fewer locations nationwide than some of the bigger competitors
  • Fees for drivers under 25 years old

Avis

If you’re looking for some decent discounts on rental cars, at first glance, Avis might not seem like the best choice. In fact, the company’s base rates are actually some of the highest on the market. However, big savings come into play for savvy consumers that use discount codes, rebates, available promotions, and memberships to greatly cut back on pricing. For example, AARP members get special discounts. Longer-term rentals are also a way to save when renting through Avis. 

Last minute deals, business discounts of up to 30 percent, and the Avis Preferred Programs are still other ways to save valuable dollars. A cleverly designed free app lets you manage your reservation and drop-off with ease. Another great feature for people renting in the Northeast part of the country is that all rentals come with an EZ-Pass electronic toll device, so no worries about accidentally blowing through a toll and getting slapped with steep “administrative fees” down the line. Customer service gets good marks, but not the best in the biz.

Pros

  • Quick and easy pick-up and drop-off process
  • Cars are super clean and new
  • Deep discounts for small business customers

Cons

  • Discounts can be tough to find at first
  • High base prices can deter customers

Budget

Being part of the Avis Budget Group of car rental companies, Budget is one of the longest-standing car rental agencies in the nation. It’s also true to its name in that it’s one of the least expensive. Unlike some other options out there, you don’t have to get creative or spend a lot of time searching for deals. Budget’s daily base rate for many of its cars is only $35 per day. However, you can score an impressive 35 percent discount if you pay for your reservation in full at the time of booking. And as an added bonus, Budget offers several rewards programs, including a cool weekend program that gives you a third day free on intermediate through full-size car rentals.

Of course, as with most car rental companies, prices also get better the further in advance you book. Budget also gets points for having a wide variety of cars to choose from. You can get anything from a convertible Camaro to an eco-friendly Prius. If you’re looking for lots of pick-up or drop-off options, Budget’s got you covered. The company boasts one of the largest selections of offices in the country. One thing they lack, however, is stellar customer service (although it’s still pretty decent) and a very streamlined pick-up and drop-off procedure. 

Pros

  • Tons of pick-up and drop-off locations nationwide
  • One of the lowest daily base rates in the country
  • Weekend deals that include a free day 

Cons

  • Not the best customer service rating
  • Loyalty rewards program isn’t the best

Dollar

If you do want an excellent rewards program, check out Dollar Car Rental. Not only is it one of the most budget-friendly companies in the U.S., but business rewards members also get some swanky perks, including faster booking times and shorter lines at the counter. Dollar’s rewards program also doesn’t require as many points to get free stuff as other companies do, allowing you to cash in on your rewards sooner.

Advance booking and long-term rentals also snag you some impressive discounts. You can even get a 15 percent discount for signing up for the company’s online newsletter. 

One of the biggest drawbacks to Dollar is that the company has considerably fewer locations than almost any of the big-time car rental players in the game, so pick-up and drop-off might be a big issue. However, if you’re looking to just grab an airport rental and go, you’re probably fine at any of the bigger airports in the country. Customer service, although not lacking, definitely doesn’t get as high marks with consumers as some of the other options on this list.

Pros

  • Stellar savings and good rates
  • Excellent rewards program
  • Super quick pick-up and drop-off process

Cons

  • Fewer locations than most companies
  • Fleet of cars and offerings is more limited than larger players

Enterprise

If cost is less of a concern for you and you want to rent from a company that has one of the best reputations and highest customer satisfaction ratings in the country, you’ve got to go with Enterprise. This company goes above and beyond when it comes to making sure your car rental experience is not just as painless as possible, but actually enjoyable. They’ll even pick you up if you need a ride to the rental office. Enterprise has one of the newest fleets in the industry, and it even offers moving truck and van rentals. Want to go all out and drive in style? The company has an excellent selection of luxury and exotic cars available.

The company offers a tiered rewards program that gives you better and better discounts the more times you rent per year. With almost 6,000 locations nationwide and a very user-friendly app, convenience is the name of the game here. Be forewarned, however, that Enterprise has one of the pricier daily average rates on the market. 

Pros

  • Excellent selection of luxury and exotic cars not offered by many other companies
  • Tons of locations make pick-up and drop-off super convenient
  • New, clean, low-mileage cars

Cons

  • Pricier daily base rate than other companies
  • Rewards program requires more points for free rentals than many others

National

National is another long-standing pillar of the car rental community. Sitting under the Enterprise umbrella, this option has a lot of similarities to Enterprise and Alamo, so consumers can rest assured that there won’t be any unpleasant surprises or holiday horror stories when renting through this company. One thing that National seems to do really well compared to its counterparts is customer service. This agency gets one of the highest rankings for above-and-beyond customer service in the industry. And, like Enterprise, National offers a diverse fleet of vehicles from compact cars to trucks and cargo vans.

For some reason, National seems to cater more to business travelers than to the average tourist or vacationing renter. The company offers one of the best business rental programs around. With great corporate discounts and a presence in over 100 countries worldwide, National has a solid presence and serious staying power. The company loses some love for being pretty expensive overall. It’s got one of the highest daily rates going.

Pros

  • Serious perks for business travelers
  • Offices in over 100 countries worldwide
  • Excellent customer service experience

Cons

  • Expensive daily rates
  • Not really geared to vacationers or personal travel compared with some competitors

Thrifty

Cost-conscious leisure travelers will almost certainly find something to like about Thrifty car rental. Owned by Hertz, Thrifty offers a solid bang for your buck with a no-frills approach to renting vehicles. They offer a streamlined online check-in system and have more than 1,300 offices in 99 countries around the planet. The company also doesn’t play games when it comes to finding the best rate. It does, however, offer some location-specific deals and great weekend rates, so be sure to check those out when you go to book. Whether you’re booking for two days or two months, this company is one of the most budget-friendly choices.

Customer service experience leaves a little to be desired when compared to the higher-end, flashier car rental companies, but cost savings usually appeases customers. The company also isn’t the choice for flashy luxury or exotic cars, if that’s what you’re looking for. 

Pros

  • Super budget-conscious
  • Straightforward rental experience without a lot of hidden fees
  • Global presence

Cons

  • Not the best when it comes to red carpet customer service
  • Limited selection of vehicles compared to some other companies

Hertz (Not Recommended)

Not only is Hertz one of the largest car rental companies in the U.S., but it’s also one of the biggest players worldwide. It scores big time for offering plenty of airport locations. This makes it a favorite choice of frequent fliers and business travelers. It also has a wide variety of cars to choose from in its fleet, including everything from economy cars, to hybrids, and even luxury dream cars like the Hertz Penske Ford Mustang GT, which was exclusively designed and available for rent only through the company. There is an issue, however, that precludes us from recommending the brand. 

Hertz is currently being taken to court in a class-action lawsuit that alleges the company has been involved in a practice where legally rented cars are reported stolen. The renter is then arrested and could spend time in jail. According to Motor1, “Hertz is facing claims of false arrest from 230 plaintiffs currently suing the rental car company. The claims have been growing in recent months since first arising in 2019, but something of a milestone was reached recently. A court ruled that Hertz must disclose how many stolen vehicle reports it files in a year. The number? 3,365 on average.”

Nor is it a problem in the company’s past, as one case was recently reported in January of this year. We’re not sure what’s going on, nor can we speak or predict if you’d be affected, which is why, at this time, we can’t recommend you go through Hertz. Until this gets resolved, we’d recommend going through a different company. 

Tips and Tricks

  • When it comes to saving cash on your car rental, the further in advance you can book, the more money you’ll save.
  • Joining the company’s rewards program can save you extra cash and often allows you to add an additional driver for no extra charge.
  • When pricing out car rentals, be sure to go to each company’s dedicated website versus a one-stop-shop travel site. The company may offer better deals if booked directly through them versus a third party.
  • Double-check whether your car insurance company or your credit card company offers you rental car insurance before getting pressured into an overpriced policy offered through the reps at the car rental counter.
  • Another way to save money on your car rental is to skip the airport. Offsite locations often advertise lower rates to entice customers.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!

Q: Is it cheaper to rent a car daily or weekly?

A: It’s almost always cheaper to rent a car weekly than it is to go for a daily rental. With most companies, the longer you rent, the less expensive the rate. It’s also usually cheaper to rent a car on a weekend versus a weekday.

Q: What time of day is best to rent a car?

A: Earlier in the day is usually best to rent a car. Around noon, after the agency has had time to clean up and turn around the late-night rental returns, but before it gets too late in the day and they start to run out of the best choices is usually the best time to rent a car.

Q: How far in advance should I rent a car for the best price?

A: In some states, depending on the season or upcoming holidays, it’s fine to rent a vehicle two weeks in advance. In many states, such as coastal locations, where tourism is almost always booming, you should try to rent your car at least a month ahead of when you’ll need it. This will give you not only the best selection but also the lowest price.

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