Editor's Note
  • February 28, 2018 - Since this review was published, multiple travel sites have been acquired by giants Expedia and Priceline. To ensure our recommendations are up-to-date, we tested 45 travel websites to find the ones most capable of finding you the right car for the right price. Despite the added competition, our top picks CheapTickets and Priceline are still our favorite go-to travel websites for car rentals, with user-friendly search features, and competitive prices.

The Best Car Rental Travel Site

Renting through an online car rental site should be quick, painless, and cost-effective. We tested the search functions 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.

CheapTickets, part of the Expedia family, is a sure bet. With phenomenal customizability, insightful rental company ratings, and intuitive iconography, Cheap Tickets should be your go-to car rental site. If you aren’t comfortably buying until you’ve surveyed the landscape, any of the other sites in Expedia’s lineup — Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity — offer great functionality. We didn’t find any better bargains when we comparison shopped between them and Cheap Tickets, but we preferred Cheap Tickets’ presentation.

If you’re willing to put in a little extra time to get a better deal, Priceline will appeal to true bargain hunters. The famous Name Your Price tool lets you bid for how much you’re willing to pay, and see if a rental car agency scoops up your offer. Not the most streamlined if you’re looking for one-click shopping, but potentially lucrative if you’re planning ahead.

We also experimented with Kayak and Skyscanner. Both were perfectly usable, but not quite as user-friendly as the Expedia group or Priceline. We got a little frustrated with the necessity of manually entering a lot of search restrictions.

Our Picks for the Best Car Rental Travel Websites

Best for Precision Searching
CheapTickets offers the most customizations when searching to help you find your perfect car.

You can’t go wrong with any of the sites of the Expedia group (CheapTickets, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity) — we were impressed with the whole suite, and aside from some color changes, they’re all identical. We recommend starting either with Cheap Tickets or Expedia. The only major difference between them is that Expedia automatically sorts your results by “Recommended” (with the option to switch over to Total Price or Distance) and Cheap Tickets only offers sorting by Total Price or Distance.

We were particularly impressed with CheapTickets 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, Cheap Tickets can search for that too.

We also loved that Cheap Tickets includes customer reviews of particular rental agencies, with a spectrum of easy-to-spot smiley and frowny faces plus a five star system. (These aren’t fully fleshed out with customer feedback, but the system is in place and we expect it will only get more helpful.)

We were a little disappointed with the map feature, however. It shows location, but doesn’t bring along with it the list of cars or any filtering options. To make changes to the map, Cheap Tickets 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.

We also found that Cheap Tickets 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, with its flexible customization options, upfront details and clear, colorful iconography, Cheap Tickets is easy to understand and easy to use.

Best for Bargain Hunting
With a little patience and a little luck, Priceline's bidding tool can help you find a steep discount for your rental.

Priceline earns this spot thanks to its famous Name Your Own Price Tool. Select your dates, your location, and the basic type of car you want (from economy to convertible), and enter the price you’re willing to pay, per day, for that car. If your bid wins, you’ll be connected through to the purchase page, to finalize your details. If not, you can wait 24 hours to try again with the same bid — the same dates, location, car type, and price — or go back and try adjusting your price or car type.

You won’t know the exact details of the car you’re renting, or where you’re renting it from until you’ve completed the purchase. On the purchase page, it will let you know how many people your car can fit, the approximate size of the luggage compartment, its transmission type, and whether it has air conditioning. But all other details are hidden.

The trade-off for not knowing the specifics of your rental car can be some serious savings. Our bid for a luxury car at $10 per day for three days was accepted, even though the tool briefly warned us that our price was “too low.” Depending on how busy your destination is during your planned trip, and the popularity of the car you’re requesting for, you might be able to score a great deal.

If you want a surer bet, you can also use Priceline’s regular search tool. Search by all the normal factors — price, car type, company, etc. — in a straightforward layout. While not as elegantly organized as the search functions of the Expedia clan, the presentation is decent. Plus, it aces the map tool, which allows for filters and lets you hit “see more results.”

Book Your Next Car Like a Pro

A booking engine saves money, but not necessarily time.

When you opt to book through a travel site rather than an individual car rental company, you’re likely surfacing much better deals, while 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.

You’re getting a better price and better service, 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.)

Booking engine and fare aggregator sites can help you find the cheapest price quickly, and can give you a good idea of what cars are available. But you’ll still have to go through the legalese of the actual agency’s site to know what fees might be applied.

For collision protection, rates between sites are about equal.

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 total to $40,000 for a dollar less ($9) and Priceline provides $50,000 in coverage for a dollar more ($11).

We found that their collision protection policies were better than what’s offered by actual car rental agencies. While it’s always important to fully understand your policy, this is especially true when you’re going through a third-party site.

Our Car Rental Site Review: Summed Up

Car Rental Site
The Best
For Precision Searching
For Bargain Hunting