How to Avoid High Airport Rental Car Costs

Aerial view of airport
Judy Bishop - The Travelling Eye / Getty Images

Airport car rental costs, on average, are higher than what you'll find away from the airport property. Sometimes the differences are great. It's more convenient to rent a car at the airport, so you have to decide if convenience is important enough to pay more for the car. 

Off-Airport Rental Comparisons

Here's an example of how these differences in airport car rental costs can affect your travel budget. The costs might differ, but it reveals the possible relative cost difference you could encounter between renting a car at the airport or off-site.

Say, for instance, that you could rent a Ford Focus for $27 a day at Rent-a-Wreck in Canton, Michigan, about six miles from the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, or a Hyundai Accent at Thrifty for $101 a day from a lot at the airport. Of course, the Hyundai Accent at Thrifty is a much nicer car than you would get at Rent-a-Wreck. So not only is Rent-a-Wreck much less convenient, you will also have a lesser experience driving the car during your stay in Detroit.

Low rates sometimes come with strings attached. In this particular case, Rent-a-Wreck was charging $25 each way for a shuttle between the terminal and the off-airport pick-up site. That's $50 off of the savings.

When this particular scenario was searched on Travelocity, there was an airport car rental compact deal with Thrifty for $56 a day; not exactly a bargain, but it sure beats $101 a day. It's also more attractive than the Rent-a-Wreck deal that is limited to 100 miles a day and adds on $50 to get to-and-from the rental point.

A search on Kayak of rental cars at 15 large- and medium-sized U.S. airports turned up mixed results, but 10 of the 15 airports showed cheaper rentals off the property. 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. 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.

How to Search for the Best Price 

There's a big hitch to off-airport car rentals: It will cost you to get to and from the rental location, and that could erase all the savings on the car's rate per day. The longer the rental, the more important it is to consider this option. It always pays to investigate and determine if the airport car rental convenience is worth the added price.

  • 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 at the same company.
  • Find out how much a cab or a ride with Lyft or Uber would cost to the off-site rental location.
  • Consider if the difference you would save pays for the cost of additional transportation and is worth the inconvenience.