Right now I am in the middle of putting the finishing touches on my own summer trip to Hawaii. We have the hotel and the flights taken care of (on points!), but we still need to get a good deal on a rental car. Since I am on the hunt anyway, I think it is a good time to share a few thoughts on the subject in my series on saving money and using points in Hawaii! If you missed the first few installments, here they are below.
Rental Car Deals in Hawaii (this post)
For most people, part of the fun of Hawaii is exploring beyond the hotel grounds. Sure some hotels offer a shuttle service to selection locations, and in some areas you can walk around a bit or use public transportation, but for many having a rental car is the easiest mode of transportation while staying on one of the islands – especially if you are staying somewhere other than Waikiki in Honolulu. I know when I was in Maui it was all but essential to have a rental car. I’m going to cover several resources you can use to get a good deal on a rental car in Hawaii, but in reality much of this info isn’t really Hawaii-specific. It is just the steps you would take almost any time you need a car rental.
- Start with Hotwire: Hotwire makes it super easy to see some relatively low car rental prices without much work. In some cases you can see who the car rental company is, and in other cases that information is not displayed. Sometimes the type of car is displayed, but sometimes it is not. I love to look at Hotwire to get a feel for the prices being offered, but I don’t often book with Hotwire because I like to know exactly what I am getting before I book, I don’t like to prepay, and I don’t like non-refundable reservations (unless the savings is very significant). It is still useful to start there so you have some price reference when exploring the other options.
- Compare with Costco: Believe it or not Costco can also be a good resource for car rentals. They have an online website that sometimes offers very competitive pricing for rental cars from Alamo, Avis, Enterprise, and Budget. You can cancel or change these reservations without penalty, but you do need a Costco Membership to rent (though you can search for free).
- Check your favorite car rental company directly + look for coupons: I am sometimes lazy/busy, so I really like to rent with the same company 99% of the time. I will even pay a little more to keep my rental car points, benefits, etc. in one basket. I also like to skip the rental car line and go straight to my car using a program like Hertz Gold. So for me I will check Hertz out specifically, and also search for their coupon codes both on the internet in general as well as on the Hertz specific forum on Flyertalk. I also often use my discount code via USAA in addition to any coupons. This can lower the going rate dramatically (but can sometimes raise it so check both ways). Personally, if I am in a hurry and find a rate that looks good based on comparing to the Hotwire and Costco rates I already know, I might just book and call it a day. However, since this post is specific to Hawaii, and most people need longer rentals and plan way in advance for trips like this, it pays to keep searching. Another option is to use your rental car points if the rates are coming back higher than you are comfortable with.
- Use credit card points: Car rentals are a time when the conventional wisdom applied to some types of credit card points shifts. I normally like to earn and use flexible credit card points by transferring to hotel and airline partners whenever possible, but there can be some good car rental deals as well. Specifically, it pays to check Capital One, Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points respective travel portals for car rental deals. You must have one of those cards to access their portals, but can typically use points or a credit card charge to book. Rapid Travel Chai has a good post on using Capital One points to book rentals.
- Use airline miles: I’ve never personally found a deal worth using airline miles on via a site like www.useaamiles.com, but I know others that have, so that can be an option to search once you know what is a good deal versus isn’t a good deal for your dates. You also need to know you value your airline miles. A good rule of thumb is valuing your miles in the 1.5 – 2.0 cents per mile range. Points Summary points out that the best deals seem to be reserved for those with AA Platinum or Executive Platinum status.
- Search a Hawaii-specific car rental company: I don’t have any personal experience with this, but have read some success stories with Hawaii-specific booking sites such as discounthawaiicarrental.com or aloharents.com. I’d love to hear if anyone has personal experience with these sites!
- Priceline it: If you still haven’t found a price you like and/or just want to see if you can successfully “name your own price”, give Priceline a try. Of course if your reservation is accepted, it will be non-refundable and you don’t get to pick which company it is with. Still can be a way to try to get some decent discounts if you are okay not knowing the details in advance, and are okay with non-refundable reservations. Obviously I would bid lower than what you have found on other sites, otherwise there isn’t much point in going this route. Million Mile Secrets has a post on this topic.
- Track your rental to see if it gets cheaper: I use Autoslash.com to track rentals to see if they get cheaper as the date gets closer. They will automatically email you (once you give them your confirmation number) and if they find a better deal you have the chance to switch to the lower rate. You can also choose to just keep your search on on your own as the date gets closer. Assuming you made a refundable reservation you can just cancel and rebook to the new lower rate!
- Free car seat(s): If you plan to rent a car seat, the costs can add up since it is often at least $10 per day (for a seat that often appears to only cost about $25 total!), but it is possible to get one free from Hertz via AAA discount code. I’ve also heard you can get two free via a Car and Driver promo. InACents has more details on these options, if they are useful for you. I have not had any problems with the AAA code in the past.
- Under 25 rentals: USAA is spectacular if you need multiple drivers in the same family or are a driver under 25 since those surcharges for those can also really add up. Via USAA there are no young driver fees for USAA members ages 18-24 with Hertz and 21-24 with Avis, Budget or Enterprise. Using the USAA discount code also allows for no additional driver fees for spouses or other USAA family members.
In most cases I think having a car rental is the smart thing to do for visits to the islands, but it pays to get the best deal possible using dollars, points, or miles. Let me know if you have some other good car rental tips to share (whether they are Hawaii-specific or not)!