Car hire prices change a lot, so it’s worth knowing when’s the best time to book a rental car. Discover the secrets of when you’ll find a great deal on your hire car.
Where are you going?
Major airport or big city
In busy places, such as large airports and popular holiday spots, rental companies change their prices a lot – sometimes several times a day. Often these changes are tiny, but sometimes they can be substantial. If you’re going somewhere busy, it’s worth booking as soon as you know what you need.
Smaller airport or off the beaten track
When you’re renting somewhere that’s less busy, prices don’t tend to vary that much. You may as well book as soon as you know your dates. In smaller places, cars can sell out, so waiting to see if prices go down can be risky.
What type of car do you need?
If you’re after a more unusual type of car, such as a seven-seater, luxury car, convertible or four-wheel drive, it’s definitely worth booking as early as you can. Rental companies tend to have fewer of these, and once they’re gone they’re gone. The prices of these cars don’t go up and down that much, so you’re less likely to find a last-minute bargain.
When’s the best time to book your rental car?
Booking three to six months before you travel is usually ideal. Prices tend to be most competitive during this period. There isn’t much benefit to booking further ahead. If anything, prices tend to be higher a year ahead.
If you’re booking nearer to your trip, and you’re happy with one of the more common car types – e.g. something in the mini, economy or compact car groups – it’s rarely a problem to book a car closer to your trip. Rental companies have plenty of these models, although prices can rise late in the day if demand is high.
What if you need a rental car at the last minute?
Everyone ends up booking late sometimes. Booking within a week of your trip will likely cost you more. Within the final 48 hours, prices almost always go up.
However, car rental in many places is still surprisingly cheap. So if you do need to book at the last minute, don’t worry too much. It’s worth booking online even a few hours before you go to pick the car up. That way, you can compare prices and choose the cheapest deal, rather than finding you’re stuck with whatever a rental company has left when you arrive.
What if prices go down after you book?
Car hire terms and conditions vary, but many offer free cancellation. This means there’s a period of time when you can cancel your booking and get a full refund. For example, it could be free to cancel for the first few days after you book the car, or anytime up to a couple of days before you pick it up. So, check your Ts & Cs. If you find a lower price later on (and you can cancel your original car for free), you can simply cancel and grab the new deal. To find out more, see What does ‘free cancellation’ mean in car hire?
Why do prices change so much?
Prices change because demand for rental cars goes up and down. Rental companies want to rent out as many cars as they can. If they’re renting out fewer cars than they expected, they will reduce prices to attract more customers. And if they’re getting more bookings than they expected, they will raise prices to maximise revenue.
Do the prices of insurance and other fees change?
The price of extras you pay for at the rental counter won’t be affected by when you book. This includes additional drivers and ‘extras’ (baby seats, sat nav/GPS devices, ski racks, etc.). The prices of extras and other fees don’t change in the way rental prices do.
Three timing tips for a rental bargain
- Book a car at a popular destination at a quiet time (for example, a summer-holiday favourite will be quieter in winter, so the rental companies will have plenty of cars available).
- Book as soon as you can if you’re going somewhere busy – three to six months ahead is ideal.
- Check your Ts & Cs for the cancellation policy – you might be able to cancel for free if you spot a better deal later on.
To find out more, see Last-minute magic: how to get a great late car rental deal.