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Avoid These 8 Hidden Fees to Save Money on Rental Cars

Avoid sticker shock by avoiding these fees car rental companies don't want you to know about.

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Damage waiver

Even though you know you’re already covered by your car insurance policy, rental agents pushing their company’s damage waiver coverage will sound so convincing that you’ll feel like you’re risking it all for refusing their extra coverage. Here’s the catch: Your own car insurance might already cover you, making that extra $63 to $210 a week unnecessary. Check your policy before you buy to figure out what’s best for you. Find out the cheap travel secrets booking agencies don’t want you to know.

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Damage claims

Consumer Reports says one of its readers was charged $304 for “damage” to a rental car after dropping it off when the office was closed. Their advice: Always pay by credit card so you can dispute inaccurate charges. Another good tip: Use your phone’s camera to take pictures of any scratches on the car before you rent it, and to document its condition when you return it. Know your lease, and how to get out of it.

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Gas prices

This is old news. Everyone knows by now that if you’re supposed to bring it back full and you fail to do so, the rental car company will mark up the gas price you’ll pay. What you may not know, however, is just how much they’re marking it up these days: according to USA Today, the gas fee could be as high as an extra day of rental.

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Expensive upgrades

In days past, rental car companies would often give free upgrades. Now that cars are in shorter supply, this is less common. While a free upgrade is still worth asking for, don’t get talked into paying for one. Smaller cars are typically easier to drive and park, use less gas, and if something uninsured does happen, cost less to replace.

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Airport fees

Hopping off the plane and heading straight for the airport’s car rental station is the quickest way to get on the road, but you’ll pay the price for that convenience. Rental agencies are required to pay a concession fee to the airport, and that fee will be built into your bill, Neil Abrams, founder of car rental consulting and travel market research organization Abrams Consulting, tells SmarterTravel. It might be worth the cab fare to catch a ride to a rental agency farther from the airport. Don’t miss these 15 other travel fees smart travelers always avoid.

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One-way pricing

While agencies won’t tack on an obvious fee for a one-way rental, they will charge you a higher rate per day if you drop the car off at a different location. Our search for an overnight car rental in New York found that one company’s price more than doubled when choosing another location for drop-off. Depending on your itinerary, you might need to end your road trip in a different city, but try to avoid it if you can.

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Additional driver charges

In most states, you could pay extra for every additional driver who will be behind the wheel, even if that person is a spouse. Keeping mum about extra drivers is tempting, but that would leave your insurance void during an accident, and you’ll pay way more than that $13 daily fee. Luckily, you have some options. Members of AAA, Costco, and AARP can list an additional driver for free with certain companies, and some rental agencies offer a free second driver with free-to-join rewards programs, like National’s Emerald Club. Here are some secrets to traveling cheap, according to travel agents. 

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Little extras

Renting a GPS or a car seat isn’t free, so stick with your phone for navigation instead. If you have an AAA card, be sure to show it at the counter—Hertz will waive the $14-a-day booster seat fee if you’re a member. Next, be sure to know the 18 things rental car companies won’t tell you.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.