Conventional advice has been to book your rental car as soon as you decide on travel dates and destinations. However, with fluctuations in both car rental and airline prices, is this always the best strategy? This article will explore factors to consider when deciding when to book your rental car in relation to your flight, including price trends, flexibility, and potential savings opportunities. 

Car Rental Pricing Trends 

Car rental prices can vary significantly depending on demand levels. During the pandemic shortage of 2021-2022, prices skyrocketed, and availability plummeted, making early booking essential. Now that market conditions have stabilized somewhat, short-term price fluctuations are less extreme. Still, prices do tend to rise in peak seasons and holidays, so booking 3-6 months in advance allows locking in lower “shoulder season” rates. Flexible rates also provide opportunities to rebook if prices drop later.

Flight Booking Considerations

Airfare prices fluctuate according to predictable patterns, and it’s generally best to book between 1-4 months in advance for the lowest rates, depending on destination and travel season. When plotting an itinerary, compare flight and rental car prices and dates together to find the overall most cost-effective timing. Fly mid-week when possible and consider alternate nearby airports. 

Comparing On-Airport vs Downtown Rentals 

While airport locations offer convenience, downtown or off-airport locations can save money, especially in large cities. Avoid steep airport taxes and fees by renting a few miles away and using public transit or a rideshare to reach your destination. Be sure to factor potential transportation costs into savings comparisons. 

Flexible Booking Options 

The ability to change or cancel reservations without penalty allows maximizing savings potential. Opt for fully refundable rates when possible so you can monitor prices and rebook if cheaper options emerge. Pay-at-counter reservations also provide flexibility. Set calendar alerts and regularly check for lower rates in the 3-6 months before travel.

Last-Minute Bookings 

Data shows an average savings of $75 for one-week rentals booked within 3 days of pickup. However, this strategy risks a lack of selection or availability, especially on preferred vehicle classes or dates. Off-season leisure travel is the main scenario where last-minute deals are most reliably found.

Multiple Quotes and Comparisons 

Rather than committing simultaneously to a flight and car booking, get quotes from multiple rental agencies, airports/locations, and flight dates. Create a spreadsheet to track the full costs of various “flight+car” combinations. With patience, you may discover a configuration that shaves hundreds off what seems like the obvious choice. 

Additional Factors to Consider:

Here are some additional details on the potential savings from last-minute car rental bookings:

– According to NerdWallet’s analysis, renting a car a week in advance can yield an average savings of $75 per week-long rental compared to booking further in advance.

– Last-minute deals are most reliably found during off-peak seasons or mid-week bookings when rental agencies are incentivized to fill empty vehicles. Holiday periods see fewer discounts.

– However, waiting also carries higher risks like lack of availability for preferred dates or upgraded vehicle classes. Budget models may be all that’s left. 

– Discounts also depend on demand factors outside travellers’ control, like last-minute cancelled reservations leaving extra cars to rent.

– Rentals within 3 days allow agencies to adjust pricing dynamically based on constantly shifting availability predictions.

– Flexible reservation types that don’t charge until pickup, like pay-at-counter, maximize potential savings. But fully refundable also allows rebooking if rates rise.

– Set calendar reminders 3 months, 1 month, and 1 week out as an ideal strategy to monitor rates over time for a particular rental.

So weighing potential savings versus convenience and options is key for last-minute booking decisions. Advanced flexibility is still the safest path in many cases.

Best Practices 

In summary, flexibility, advance planning, and thorough price comparisons between all elements of a trip are key to scoring the deepest discounts. Consider booking your rental car 3-6 months in advance if peak travel is involved, and simultaneously quote flights. Watch for last-minute car rental rate drops. Always factor in total outlay, not just base prices, and be willing to combine providers for the best package deal. With diligence, you can beat conventional booking wisdom.

Choose Expo!

At Expo Rent-A-Car, we make it easy for you to find the right vehicle at the lowest possible price. Browse our wide selection ranging from economy all the way to luxury vehicles available at our downtown Vancouver and airport locations.

Whether planning a weekend getaway or an international excursion, let Expo Rent-A-Car handle your ground transportation needs at an affordable price. Check our website or give us a call at +1 604-726-6502 today to discuss the rental options that fit your trip itinerary and budget best. 

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