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A car rental tip to remember

By Brad Tuttle
Budget Travel
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(Budget Travel Onlineexternal link) -- Everyone knows that airfares can change unpredictably, and it's largely a guessing game as to the best time to book. Car rental prices can also fluctuate -- wildly at times, and there's no way to tell you're getting a deal except to continue shopping around after you've made a reservation.

A few weeks ago, I needed to reserve a car for an upcoming trip. I had done searches on Orbitz and Sidestep, which shop multiple agencies at once, and wound up booking a mini-van with Thrifty for the best price at the time: $281 per week, plus $48 per extra day. With taxes and surcharges, my itinerary was estimated to cost $406. I had used the company in the past and was a member of its rewards program, so felt comfortable with the reservation.

But because I knew that rental agency rates change from time to time, I priced out the same itinerary more recently. This time, the rate quoted -- for the same dates, same style of car -- was $199 per week, $34 per day extra, bringing my projected total, with taxes, to $287. That's a $119 difference! Unlike with flights, there's no charge for changing or canceling car rentals, so I quickly dropped the original reservation and made a new one.

The moral: If you're searching for the best deal, no matter which car rental agency you're looking at, your job isn't done simply because you've made a reservation. It took all of two minutes for me to save over $100 -- and you can bet I'll continue to periodically price out the rental until the day the trip begins.

© 2006. Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.

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