The Best Car Rental Sites

Renting through an online car rental site should be quick, painless, and cost-effective. We tested the search functions, pricing, and customer service of a slew of popular sites and found two that should be saved in your bookmarks for when you’re getting ready to roam: Cheap Tickets and Priceline.

The 2 Best Car Rental Sites

Best For
Precision Searching
CheapTickets
CheapTickets
CheapTickets offers the most customizations when searching to help you find your perfect car.
Pros
Variety of options
Intuitive and easy to use
Cons
Map feature
No option to search with discount code

Why we chose it

Variety of options

We were particularly impressed with CheapTickets, which is part of the Expedia family, for giving us the most options when it came to choosing a rental car. If you know exactly the type of car you want, CheapTickets is your guiding beacon in finding it. In addition to choosing where and when you pick up and drop off your rental car, you can choose to only search for cars rented by a specific company, and request special equipment — right off the bat, without having to sort through results first.

Once you have your results, you’ll also be able to specify whether you prefer a manual or automatic transmission, how important air-conditioning is to you, and whether you need to have an unlimited or limited mileage policy. We particularly liked how, in addition to specifying the car type you’d like, you can look at cars within a given daily price range, whether it’s less than $25, $25 to $49, $50 to $74, and beyond. If you have a specific neighborhood you’re trying to rent a car in, or return a car to, CheapTickets can search for that, too.

Intuitive and easy to use

A big part of our decision making process came down to how intuitive and easy to use the sites were, and CheapTickets more than satisfies. We were easily able to see all of the searches we conducted clearly listed on the home site — and the page, not surprisingly, tailored its ads to the destinations we searched. This might help someone find deals they might have otherwise skimmed over.

Points to consider

Price map tool

The map shows the location of the car rental company, but it doesn’t bring along with it the list of cars or any filtering options. To make changes to the map, CheapTickets required us to leave the map view, add a filter, and then go back and look at the map to see how our preferences affected our options.

No option to search with a discount code

We also found that CheapTickets doesn’t allow you to search using a discount code — unlike Orbitz, Expedia, or Travelocity. You’ll need to jump over to one of those sites if you have one to use. However, there is a “DEALS!” feature on the homepage that lets you search for current discounts on your trip or car rental.

Best For
Location Searching
Priceline
Priceline
With a little patience and a little luck, Priceline's bidding tool can help you find a steep discount for your rental.
Pros
Ease-of-use
Map tool
Cons
Less search customizability

Why we chose it

Map tool

We were thoroughly impressed with Priceline.com’s map tool. When you click on the feature, you’re given a view of available rental sites with tabs highlighting the cheapest deal possible in that particular area. And if you aren’t satisfied with that, clicking on the blue tabs will direct you to a more in-depth view of all deals specific to your criteria within the area. Again, we liked how Priceline.com did all of the legwork for us, whereas CheapTickets only pinned the location of certain rental sites, topped off with a brief summary of only one deal.

Ease-of-use

We were also impressed with how easy Priceline.com made finding the cheapest deal possible for us. In fact, there’s an entire tab dedicated to the category — you don’t have to dig through multiple tabs and scroll through pages of selections to find the most affordable rental car for your trip. While CheapTickets also lets you tailor your search for cars under $50 — we really didn’t have to do any extra digging with Priceline.com other than giving the middle of the results page a quick glance. The less work you have to do finding a deal, the quicker you can get to where you need to go.

Points to consider

Less search customizability

You can search by car company, type, miles, and pick-up location, but unlike our top pick, we couldn’t specifically search for cars with air conditioning, automatic transmission, or within a certain neighborhood on Priceline.com. These details are only later revealed when you choose the car and prepare to reserve. We didn’t like how we couldn’t eliminate the guessing game process by just tailoring our search to those features from the start.

Tips for Renting a Car Online

Read the fine print

You’re getting a better price and better service by using a booking engine, but you’ll also need to keep track of double the policies and double the fine print. Read through both the booking engine’s and the agency’s policies on cancellation, fees, age limits (especially if the driver is under 25 or over 70), and add-on items like infant/toddler seats, navigational systems, snow chains, ski racks, etc. (You also won’t be guaranteed to receive those items when going through a booking site.)

Check the coverage

Purchasing collision protection from any of our picks will cost you $10 per day on average. Expedia group offers $35,000 in coverage for exactly that — $10 a day. Kayak plumps up the coverage to total $40,000 for a dollar less, and Priceline.com provides $50,000 in coverage for a dollar more ($11). With this in mind, it might be worthwhile to call your auto insurance company to see if you’re covered for rentals — your credit card company might also provide coverage.

Shop around

Even though all of our travel sites searched the most popular car rental agencies for cars, we found cheaper prices when we searched directly on Avis’, Budget’s, and Thrifty’s home webpages. If you’re looking to earn points with a particular company, double check prices before committing to a booking.

Car Rental Sites FAQ

What are the benefits to booking online?

When you opt to book through a travel site rather than an individual car rental company, you’re likely surfacing much better deals, while also avoiding sketchy sites that might charge you more. You also are more likely to have recourse if you interact with a rental agency that treats you poorly, since you’re doubling up on customer-facing responsibility.

What is unlimited mileage?

Unlimited mileage is pretty much how it sounds: You can drive as far as you want in exchange for paying a little more money. Limited mileage rentals restrict how far you can drive (the number might change if it’s a weekday versus a weekend). If you go over, you’ll be charged a fine.

Can I request special equipment?

Yes — all of our websites let us request a navigation system, toddler seat, or ski rack to be included with our rental. We liked this convenience, but booking engines cannot guarantee that your requests will be fulfilled, and you won’t be able to prepay for the add-ons.

How does the collision protection compare to car rental agencies?

We found collision protection policies to be better through these travel sites than actual car rental agencies. While it’s important to fully understand your policy, this is especially true when you’re going through a third-party site.

Expedia websites and Priceline guaranteed us a free cancellation — something not included when we went through Kayak directly to the Fox Rent a Car page. For example, we weren’t thrilled that Fox Rent a Car places an extra $150 charge on our credit card “just in case” we incur additional damages, and refunded only after they’ve assessed the car after return.

The Best Car Rental Sites: Summed Up

CheapTickets
Priceline
The Best
For Precision Searching
For Location Searching
Parent company
Expedia
Booking Holdings Inc.
Collision coverage cost
$10
$11
Coverage up to:
$35,000
$50,000
Search filters
Car capacity, car type, daily price, rental car company, neighborhood, “nearby,” and specifications (i.e. air conditioning, transmission, mileage, etc.)
Location, location type (airport, non-airport), car type, rental company, miles

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