As Europe's small towns and off-the-beaten-path attractions beckon travelers to explore beyond major cities, more travelers are interested in renting a car for a European road trip.
If you are planning a trip that begins and ends in the same city, renting a car is a fairly straightforward proposition. All you need to do is research the best rate, book your car and pick it up when you arrive.
But what if you are flying into one European city and heading home from another? You'll probably find that it costs more to rent a car in one city and drop it off in another.
Drop-Off Fees Are Here to Stay
Once upon a time, some European rental car companies were happy to let customers book one-way car rentals without added drop-off fees. With the exception of very specific, one-country rentals, those days are largely gone. Car rental companies in Europe have adopted the drop-off fee, making one-way car rentals quite expensive.
Although you're likely to find a drop-off fee no matter what company you go with, the fees vary from operator to operator. To get the best deal, make sure to do your research and get a quote from every available rental provider.
European Car Rental Tips
Even if you have to pay the drop-off fee, you can mitigate the cost of your rental by adopting some of these money-saving strategies.
- Diesel fuel tends to cost less per liter in Europe than gasoline, and diesel-powered cars get good mileage, so it's worth your time to research diesel-powered rental car options.
- Car rental websites tend to quote and default to prepaid rental prices. You will need to check a box that says something like, "I want to pay at the counter" to get counter payment rates. Paying at the counter costs more, but you aren't locked into that rental until you actually pick up your car, and your credit card won't be charged until you have the car keys in your hand.
- Cars with manual transmission are sometimes less expensive to rent, so if you know how to drive with a stick shift, you can save money in Europe. If not, it might be worth practicing on a friend's car before you leave for your trip anyway. Some rental car offices claim to have automatic transmission cars, but the reality might turn out to be quite different.
- Airport pickups and drop-offs cost more but offer the convenience of extended rental car office hours. If you are renting your car and dropping it off on a weekday, check the prices at downtown offices, which are usually located near train stations. You could save as much as 10 to 15 percent on your rental if you can pick up your rental away from the airport.
Buy-Back Car Leases
If you are renting a car for 21 days or longer, consider leasing a vehicle from one of Europe's buyback car lease companies. Depending on where you want to pick up and drop off your car, you could save quite a bit of money. Programs like these work in favor of tourists looking for a cheap car rental and locals who are looking for a way to get around the steep VAT tax, which tourists don't have to pay. The way it works is that you'll purchase a new car directly from the manufacturer and then sell it back to them at the end of your stay. This way, they can sell it as a used car to another customer without having to pay tax. Not only will you get a brand new and fully-insured car for your trip, but depending on the company, you can pick up and drop off the car wherever you like.