We will be traveling to our condo in Florida for Thanksgiving this year. And even though we booked tickets when Southwest opened their schedule through the holidays, I didn’t book a rental car then. And since life has been pretty busy since going back to work full-time – I realized this weekend that we don’t have car reserved. After a brief moment of panic, we knew we needed to make a decision about renting a car or figure out some other way to get from the Tampa airport to Sarasota.
Preparing for the worst, I started searching for cars. Holiday weeks are usually much more expensive than other weeks, but we’ve never had trouble getting a car. But I still knew this was something I should have taken care of weeks ago! I can add this to the list of “failures” (along with many of the goals I set in August) because I am so busy. It’s amazing how working can cost you money on things you usually don’t think of!
Since we are flying Southwest (using our Companion Pass), I started looking for cars on their travel portal. Sometimes we get really good deals there with extra bonus miles thrown in! For our dates (11/19-11/25), the cheapest economy* car available was $240.02 and that was for an off-airport company. The cheapest on-airport rental car available was from Thrifty for $321.05. (*Yeah – that picture is not an economy car – just a little dreaming I guess!)
We would rather pay an extra $80 for an on-airport rental than to use an off-site rental company. We did that once in Tampa and even though we didn’t have major problems – they didn’t have enough cars because people had not returned cars on time, it was a pain to wait for a shuttle bus, and we had to wait in huge lines. Since our travel time is already limited, risking issues with off-site rental companies (especially during the holidays) was not something we would consider.
We’ve also rented from many different on-airport car rental companies in Tampa and we’ve never had any issues at all. We usually go with the cheapest rental available and $300+ for less than 6 days of renting is not cheap! We knew it would be expensive but we’ve paid less than half of that other weeks during the year.
Then I decided to check Cheaptickets.com. I find their website easy to follow and I use it mainly to check out options and confirm prices I have seen on other sites. It confirmed that the least expensive economy car available was the $321 economy size rental with Thrifty.
I also decided to check out the Thrifty website to see what they had to offer. They had an offer for $278.88 if I “paid now” rather than just reserving the car and paying later. That was certainly better than $320. But even with $40 of savings, $280 was still more than we wanted to pay!
We also have a AAA membership from all the driving I did last year to the college where I worked. So I went to their website and the least expensive was still Thrifty – but even with all of the discounts, the price was still $293.
Then I remembered the Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) travel portal ** and I wondered if I would find the same Thrifty rental car price. We’ve used this portal before to make reservations, but there are times when their offers are more expensive than other sites. And since all of the prices I had found on all of the other sites were pretty consistent, I doubted that we’d find cheaper options.
But when I entered the dates, the results showed a Thrifty economy size car for a total of $171.25 (including taxes & fees) or a total of 13,688 UR points. After looking at our UR point balances (over 150,000), we decided to pay for the car with points rather than spend money. For any of you travel hackers out there, we don’t normally “earn & burn” – but we think sitting on this many points (because we are till adding to the balance each month) is silly too. We also had the option of using any combination of points and cash!
We decided to book the car right away. And we took the points from one of my husbands’ accounts because he is usually the driver of the rental car. If we book with mine, they sometimes try to charge more for extra drivers depending on the company we end up using.
But now we’ve realized that we should have used my points instead of his since I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) card and points in that account. I remembered the Primary Rental insurance the CSP provides, but I was so excited about the price – I forgot to check that before I hit confirm!
Primary Rental insurance is important to consider and you can check out this post by Darius at Million Mile Secrets that explains it. If this was a business trip, the Business Ink Plus UR points we used would have covered us too. But I’m not taking chances calling this a business trip 🙂 I’ll call in the next few days and cancel his reservation and re-book under my CSP UR points to make sure we have this insurance – in addition to our own car insurance. (We never buy the insurance they offer at the desk – do you? If so, what are we missing?)
Honestly, we could probably get by without a car for the days we are there – but I’m not sure $170 (or the UR point equivalent) is worth the hassle and limitations it would put on us.
But could we get to Sarasota some other way? We certainly could and here are a few other options:
- Supershuttle Vans from the airport for two of us cost over $100 each way, so that was more expensive than the car!
- A taxi would have cost over $150 one way!
- We have never used Uber or any other ride-sharing service and I’m not sure we want to give that a try for this trip. We would still be without a car – but that is something we will look into in the future when we have a car that we will keep at the condo.
- Taking a bus could be an option but there were none running at the time we are scheduled to arrive. It would also involve transfers from a larger company like Greyhound to our local Sarasota County Bus System to get dropped off in front of the condo.
- A one-way car rental could work (dropping it off at the Sarasota airport) but then we’d have to figure out how to get to our condo 11 miles away… and we’d have to do the same thing on the return. Again, this might not be a bad option when we have our own car waiting for us at the condo and we just need to get there from the airport.
And all of those options leave us without a car all week… (even though we can walk and ride bikes to almost anything we could ever need once we get there).
So renting the $170 car (paid for by existing UR points) was an easy decision to make!
How do you save money when renting cars? What rental car companies do you use and what websites do you use? Would you have used your Chase UR points to get the deal we got or would you have paid cash? Does anyone else get as excited as we do when we realize that Satellite Radio is included in the rental? 😉
*I used the word free in the title, but in an effort to be transparent – it’s important to note that we did pay $95 annual fees for both our Chase Sapphire Preferred and Business Ink cards this year. We don’t like paying the annual fee but we need these cards to move Chase UR points around to airlines like Southwest. These cards also have GREAT benefits that earn us an amazing number of points. We haven’t paid for a flight on Southwest in over 3 years (and we fly at least 5-6 times a year) – so paying these fees is like paying for one flight a year. Those fees are a small price to pay to keep Chase happy!
** I don’t have any links to credit cards or Chase bank here at all. So nope, I’m not making any money on you. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to do that 🙂
Photo Credit: Jean Scheijen at freeimages.com