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Best time to rent a car

Car hire prices can change on a daily basis and we’re often asked when is the best time to book car rental? We look at the reasons why prices change and offer tips to make sure you book your next car hire at the best time.

When is the best time to rent a car?

We’ve poured over data from years of car rentals and the general rule of thumb is that the best time to book your hire car is between 4-6 months (16-24 weeks) before you travel. Car rental prices are generally available from within 6 months, so looking to book much further in advance may not reveal the full range of car / suppliers available at your desired location. With less competition at this stage of proceedings you’re unlikely to get the best rate.

Rental agents will tend to inflate prices much further out than 6 months on the off chance of you booking, with plenty of time for them to rent their fleets they have little competition to worry about. On the flip side, once inside 4 months (16 weeks), prices are much more fluid inline with supply and demand. Whilst they may drop inside 4 months prior to pick up, they are more likely to rise the closer to pick up you leave it.

when is the best time to rent a car

Why do car rental prices change?

There are lots of factors that affect car hire prices, the main ones being;
  • Currency conversion rates
  • Supply and demand
  • Market trends
Currency conversion rates
If you’re renting a car in a different country you’ll likely want to pay in your local currency, however the rental car is likely to be paid in a different currency. Whilst currency conversion rates are generally small on a daily basis, big economic events such as Brexit can have a significant impact on currency conversion and affect the price you’ll pay for car hire on your local currency, either up or down.
Supply and Demand
Simple market forces will affect the price of car rental. Car rental agents aim to rent out as many cars as possible. If at any given time they have more stock available than anticipated, this may lead them to reduce rates to try and sell more rental cars, however if they have sold more rentals than anticipated they are likely to push prices up to maximise profits from what fleet they have remaining.
Market Trends
Whilst car rental rates don’t generally rocket around school term times like flights and package holidays, summer holiday locations will be generally more expensive in peak travel months (not limited to school term times) as demand is higher. Rental agents manage fleets to maximise efficiency and keep prices down. Where they may expect to sell 100 rentals per day in peak months and keep a fleet to meet that demand, in quieter winter months, prices will tumble as they try to encourage customers to book their rental fleet to avoid them lying idle.

Tips for booking car rental at the best time:

  • Keep looking
  • Check terms and conditions
  • Get it booked early
  • Be specific
best time to rent a car
Keep looking
Even after you’ve booked your rental car, for those looking for best value it can still be worthwhile checking back on car hire prices for your same trip every week. If the price is less than you paid, you can cancel your booked rental and rebook. Of course, you need to check that any cancellation fees don’t outstrip any savings, but by booking with a reputable car rental agent you’ll usually get free cancellation (subject to restrictions).
Check terms
Always check the cancellation terms and conditions before you book. If one car / agent is marginally more expensive than another but has free cancellation, you keep the option open to rebook at a lower rate if prices drop after you’ve booked by cancelling for free.
Get it booked early
If you’re travelling somewhere busy at peak times, booking between 4-6 months in advance is key, as demand increases, prices will follow. You can always use tip 1 to check back but better to have a rental car booked than chance it.
Be specific
If you need a particular car, for instance really want to rent a Mustang in Los Angeles you should also book at the 4-6 month golden window. Prices are stable and availability should be high. If you want or need a specific car type, you’ll get best choice and lowest prices the earlier you book or you might end up paying a lot more, or having to settle for something else.

What if car hire prices drop after you book?

It can and does happen, if demand at a certain location is lower than anticipated car rental agents can and do reduce prices. You do however have the option of cancelling your booked car and rebooking at the lower rate. It’s essential however to check your terms and conditions and in particular your cancellation terms as any cancellation fees may outweigh cost savings. You also have to consider if it’s worth the hassle, that will of course be determined by the saving on offer and how much effort you consider it to be.

Do extras and car hire insurance prices change?

As a general rule of thumb, car hire extras such as satellite navigation, child seats and additional drivers do not change like car rental prices. They are charged locally by the rental agent upon collection and paid for in local currency. So whilst it may end up costing you a little more (or less) of currency exchange rates vary between time of booking and pickup, the cost in local currency wont change no matter when you book your rental car.

What if you need to hire a car at the last minute?

If you’re in this position, it needn’t be the end of the world and you can still find a great deal on car rental, however you are likely to have less choice. Some people still arrive at the airport and arrange their car rental in person without pre-booking It’s a pretty safe bet this is NOT how to get the best rate on your rental car, with little other options you may find yourself at the mercy of the rental agent. Even if you book on your mobile in the departure lounge before taking your flight, you’ll get a better deal than arriving in person.

FAQs about best time to book car rental

Do car rental prices go down closer to the date?

Generally speaking no, you shouldn’t expect car rental rates to go down the closer to the date of travel. You should ideally book within the optimum window of 4-6 months prior to travel. Rental agents will know your options are becoming limited the longer you leave it and will price in that risk.

What day is best to rent a car?

There is no guaranteed ‘best day’ to rent a car, however if you can pick a day when it’s generally quieter you’ll likely get the best price. With low demand on a certain day you are more likely to get a cheaper price. At a tourist destination airport location for example where most flights arrive on Saturday, avoiding that day is likely to result in a lower price.

How do I get the best deal on a rental car?

Book within the 4-6 month golden window and keep checking rates weekly right up until you leave, if car hire prices have come down you can cancel and rebook your existing rental if the cancellation fees (if there are any) make it economical.

Is it better to rent a car early or last minute?

It’s best to book your rental car within the golden window that our data suggests is 4-6 months before you travel. Last minute bargains can be had, but are rare and you’ll have little choice if you leave it to the last minute to book.



Phil Partridge
Posted: February 24, 2020 by Phil Partridge
About the Author -

Travel writer, car rental guru, Phil has rented cars all over the world and shares his knowledge and experience on the Rhinocarhire.com Blog. Favourite country to visit: France.

Last updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2020
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