For many this topic needs no introduction, for the rest of us: What is a one-way car rental? A ‘one-way car rental’ is when you rent a car in one city and drop it off in another. For example, renting a car from Hertz in San Francisco and dropping it off at another Hertz location in LA. Road trips can be a great way to explore new places. However, often, there is a problem for car rental companies as they collect too many cars in some locations and not enough in others (e.g. if more people drive from A to B, than from B to A). To solve this problem, car rental companies often charge an additional drop-off fee for one-way car rentals.
Car rental companies do this for a several reasons. For example, some state laws that require a car not leave it's home state for more than a certain amount of time; or simply because the rental location wants their car back. To get the car back, the rental company needs to either hire a vehicle transport, or heavily discount their rental fees in the opposite direction to encourage a return rental. In order to cover these costs the dreaded drop-off fees (sometimes called a drop charge) can range from a few hundred dollars, to more than one thousand dollars (or even Euros!). One-way rentals can be particularly expensive for international travel, which by car is more common in Europe due to the free flowing nature of the EU member countries.
So what did you say about saving money?
In a few words.. It pays to shop around (duh). Let me explain though. Remember what I said before about rental companies discounting cars to get them back home, well yeh look for those! Some routes at certain times of year are well known for this. For example after Spring Break in Florida, if you’re planning to start your trip in Florida (e.g. Florida to Maine). Florida is a popular spring break destination & I guess party goers just run out of steam & don’t want to drive home again… Afterwards the rental locations there are left with an excess of cars; this is a good example of opportunity discounts.
These types of deals can be hard to find though, that's when it’s handy to use the right tools. Websites such as Price Lab do a great job of this for the US & Canada, or AutoEurope if you're planning a trip through Europe. Sites like this will help you cut through the noise and hone in on the cheapest deals. Price Lab is a spin-off of MirrorTrip, which is a service that matches people driving in opposite directions to create a round trip so that you don’t have to pay drop-off fees. MirrorTrip offers some of the best deals to be had in the one-way car rental world, but is currently only available in Western Canada. So if you’re looking to travel elsewhere, their free Price Lab tool can be very useful.
If you still aren't finding any options that work for you. Some out of the box thinking might help you cut costs. For example, you might be able to arrange with the rental company a vehicle transportation company to bring the car back for you; certainly can't hurt to ask. This won't be cheap, so I'd only consider it when you're facing drop-off fees in above $1,000. Other options include companies such as Canada Driveaway; who use their own driver network to relocate vehicles for you. Once again, dependant on what you're able to arrange with the rental company; this may be a slightly cheaper option.