The Best Car Rental Sites
How We Found the Best Car Rental Sites
40 hours of research
45 travel sites tested
2 top picks
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.
How We Chose the Best Car Rental Sites
We conducted a survey, questioning more than 500 travelers about the features that are most important to them when booking a plane ticket, hotel room, or car rental. The overwhelming result? Price. Preferences varied from there, and we used the most popular results to filter down from 29 sites to our two top picks.
The results also indicated that people value the details: choosing unlimited mileage, finding the right type of car, or making sure to rent from a particular agency. Again, most of our websites hit the mark here — though selecting for “car type” results in anywhere from 9 options (Kayak) to 13 (Orbitz). With this in mind, we prioritized the ability to specify both car type and rental agency.
The search process starts the same on most car rental sites — entering in dates, times, and pickup and dropoff locations — and the modifiers are the same — selecting your car type, preferred car rental agency, and your preferences on features. As a result, we were less forgiving on websites that were even slightly harder to use than their competitors. There are enough good car rental travel sites out there that you shouldn’t have to put up with even mildly annoying ones.
We cut an additional four sites for not being able to find or load results for car rental searches. As much as we loved Booking.com for finding us inexpensive airfares, repeated attempts to find a car in the entire Seattle area resulted in “No results found.” This was particularly odd given that fourteen other sites had found cars for the dates and location we requested. Cheapair similarly told us no cars were available, while FareBuzz and OneTravel failed to load a results page at all — no matter how long we kept our browser running.
We cut several websites for having an immediately off-putting design. A few sites inundated us with popups and banners to “call for better deals,” like StayDriveFly and CheapFlightNow. Others struggled to load pages in general or couldn’t let us update our search while looking at results — we had to go back to the main page and start over again.
We also wanted the best car rental sites to give us a map of possible locations, and we wanted the map to be useful. We liked having a map when we looked for rental agencies within a city (and could visually see whether a company was on the north or south side of Seattle) and when we looked specifically at rental agencies near the airport. By contrast, we weren’t thrilled with maps that only displayed information about the rental agency located at each point, or forced us to zoom in before showing us any information at all.
This left us with seven travel websites, including four websites from the Expedia Group: CheapTickets, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity; two sister websites, Priceline and Kayak; and one lone wolf, Skyscanner. For these remaining sites, we wanted to find not just any car, but the right car. Almost all offered sorting options, allowing you to organize your entire search results by price, distance, or “recommended” — where the travel website has constructed an algorithm to calculate what they think your best rental options are.
Best prices and customer service
All seven websites had passed the initial hurdle of finding any available cars to rent. To make sure that they were tracking down prices from the right websites, we took it a step further and verified that all the top rental car companies with high customer satisfaction ratings were represented. While we wanted to see low rates, we also wanted to be getting them from reputable agencies. All seven passed with flying colors.
The 2 Best Car Rental Sites
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.
Why we chose it
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.
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.
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
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