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Secrets to saving money on car hire

Planning to hire a car abroad? Let us ensure that your car hire experience doesn't turn into an expensive nightmare by reading this guide on how to save money and avoid hidden charges.

One of the best ways to see a new country (or one that you love returning to again and again) is most definitely to rent a car. It gives you so much more freedom than using public transport and will allow you to discover many hidden gems wherever you are.

The one downside to renting a car abroad, be it to drive the Amalfi Coast in Italy or to visit the many vineyards in the French countryside, is the hidden charges you are presented with when trying to pick up your rental. It seems no matter how many boxes you tick when booking your rental online, there always seems to be an up sell at the car rental office. Our guide aims to educate you on how to avoid hidden charges, how to find the cheapest car hire deals, and what you are and are not covered for when it comes to travel insurance.

Part 1: How to find cheap car hire

Search Skyscanner

Searching online for car rentals abroad is definitely one of the easiest ways to book a car before you depart for your holiday. Skyscanners’ car rental search platform works in the same way as the flight search box – which means it searches over 1000 car hire companies and finds you the cheapest rental possible. You simply type in where you wish to pick and and drop off your car rental along with the dates and times of the rental, and Skyscanner will do the rest of the work for you. Once a long list of car choices appears, you can use the filters to narrow down your search based on model and size of car, additional features and fuel policy. You can find rentals for as little as €10 a day in many European cities.

Skyscanner car hire search

Book a local car

While the large car hire companies control most of the market, it can be possible to find cheaper deals by dealing with a local company direct in the city or country you are travelling to. This especially applies in cheaper countries where you can often pay in local currency and will quickly discover how much money you are saving. Just search for local online rental companies and search from there.


Search for discount codes

If you have chosen which company you would like to book your car rental with, try searching online for discount codes. This works especially well if renting a car in the USA as you can often find various discount codes or coupons to help reduce the price.

Rent by the week

Renting a car for a week can often be cheaper than renting it for a 5 or 6 day period. Car hire companies offer weekly discounts and the weekly rate is almost always cheaper than the daily rate combined. Longer rentals are always encouraged, even if it’s just a 2 or 3-day weekend and if you bring the rental back early you will be refunded a daily rate (amount differs depending on rental company.

Don’t rent at the airport

While this might be more trouble than it’s worth, you can save a lot of money by renting a car outside of the main airport. Most rental car companies will charge you an extra fee to pick up and drop off the car at the airport while other will add on an extra airport tax. One way to do this is to rent a car in the city centre and then drop it off at the airport at the end of your holiday – this way you avoid those extra airport taxes.

Airport sign

Part 2: How to avoid hidden charges

When hiring a car abroad, there is a myriad of extra charges to be found and manoeuvred. Car rental companies will charge extra for all of the following: Adding a second driver, dropping off in a different location, renting a GPS or SatNav, requesting a car seat, bringing the car back with an empty tank. While you might not be able to go without the second driver, most others extras can be avoided.

Shop around for petrol prices

Shop around for the cheapest petrol and fill up there before returning the car to avoid exorbitant extra charges.

Pumping gas at petrol station

Use offline maps

As everyone now has a smartphone, download a free offline map app so you can find your way even if you don’t have an internet connection.

Map of travels

Deny extra insurance

In some countries they will charge you extra if you sign up for insurance at the desk instead of online in advance, and they will always try upset you on various insurance policies. More on that below.

Couple driving car

Remember that different countries have different rules when it comes to driving so read up on the driving regulations before you go to avoid any fines.

Read more about hidden charges here.

Part 3: Does my insurance cover me?

Travel insurance cover

One of the most expensive elements of renting a car is actually the insurance charges they add on. From basic liability insurance to third party insurance and extras to protect your tires and windscreen, it can be a very stressful experience. If you have comprehensive travel insurance (such as the Explorer Option from World Nomads), your travel insurance will cover your car rental and any damage done to your car (but not to a third party). You will also be insured for any medical expenses should you be injured.

Car insurance

Credit Card insurance cover

Many credit cards, such as an American Express, will also keep you covered but be sure to check with your credit card provider before you travel overseas. With all this in mind, you should feel confident to skip the extra insurance policies your rental car is pushing on you. Both Visa and MasterCard, also provide rental car insurance options, but you will be limited to the number of days you are covered for. You must deny you car rental providers insurance to be covered by your credit card.

Booking with a credit card

For more tips of driving abroad, check out our various downloadable country guides that outline speed limits, signs to look out for and other helpful tips for driving in popular destinations such as France or Spain.

This article just gives some recommendations on things to look out for, but it is very important to thoroughly read your insurance policy and the level of cover you need will always depend on individual circumstances.

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