Airport car rental costs, on average, are higher than what you'll find away from the airport property. Sometimes, the differences are great. You must decide if convenience is more important than these added costs.
Here's one example of how these differences in airport car rental costs can impact your budget. The search was done several years ago, and your costs will differ today. Consider the principle at work.
Some Off-Airport Rental Comparisons
A search for an airport car rental at the Detroit airport turned up these curious results: A Ford Focus for $27/day at Rent-a-Wreck in Canton, Mich., about six miles off the airport property, or a Hyundai Accent at Thrifty for $101/day from a lot at the airport.
Low rates sometimes come with strings attached. In this case, Rent-a-Wreck was charging $25 each way for a shuttle between terminal and the off-airport pick-up site. That's $50 off of the savings.
A side note: when I searched through Travelocity, I found an airport car rental compact deal with Thrifty for $56/day -- not exactly a bargain, but it sure beats $101/day. It's also more attractive than the Rent-a-Wreck deal that is limited to 100 miles/day and requires that $50 to get to-and-from the rental point.
Again, your search at this moment will end with different numbers. But it's likely airport car rental rates will come in higher than off-airport rates.
With this Detroit example, there was inspiration to search other cities to see if this situation is common. So using Kayak, I looked at 15 large- and medium-sized U.S. airports. The results were mixed, but 10 of the 15 airports showed cheaper rentals off the property.
This search was for a compact car, with a Sunday pick-up and a Wednesday drop-off.
The savings came at several levels.
In Boston, Cincinnati, and Salt Lake City, the savings came in at better than $85 for the three days. In Chicago, the off-airport savings was $56. At three other locations -- Atlanta, Norfolk, and Omaha -- the savings totaled about $25 in each city.
The results were nearly even at the airport or off-airport in Denver, New York (JFK), Fort Lauderdale and Gainesville in Florida, and Little Rock.
Bottom line: savings are not always forthcoming and can vary quite a bit by market.
Reasons for the Higher Airport Costs
Airport car rentals involve a host of fees that off-airport rental facilities don't have to pass along.
One major factor is taxes. Airport taxes are sometimes twice as much as the tax bill off-airport. For example, one of the highest single day tax rates is at Hopkins Airport in Cleveland. Running the same comparison for a three-day compact, the savings off-airport, at a location about 20 minutes from the airport, the savings was $67.
Obviously, taxes aren't the only culprit. Other market forces are at work. The costs of doing business on choice airport property can be greater than at a location elsewhere, where parking lots and office space are not at a premium.
A Strategy for Airport Car Rental Searches
The $67 saved in that Cleveland search won't stay in your pocket for long. You'll have to arrange transportation to-and-from the airport. In some cities, most of the savings will be gone with that one expense.
There's also the added inconvenience and possible time losses associated with finding the rental office beyond the airport.
Each city is unique in its situation. It always pays to investigate and determine if the airport car rental convenience is worth the added price.
Here is a strategy:
- Find a car rental company that is having a sale in your destination market, or at least the company with the lowest current rates
- Find the off-airport rental office for that company that's closest to the terminal
- Compare the rates at that location with the airport car rental costs for the same company
- Consider if the difference pays for the cost of cab fare or rideshare expenses, and your inconvenience
To estimate cab fares for major cities, search for a website such as TaxiFareFinder.com.
Cab fare, or a ride with Lyft or Uber, is part of your final calculation. There are times when an off-airport rental location can be accessed from the terminal easily with mass transit . In those rare cases, you might only part with a few dollars of your anticipated savings.
Bottom line: airport-based car rentals are often more expensive than those off-airport, but it always pays to check both rates before booking. Savings do not always follow you off the airport property.
The longer the rental, the more important it will become to employ this strategy. Don't pay too much for airport car rental convenience.