When you have to travel, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for business or pleasure. The fact remains that the vehicle you drive is just as critical to your trip as the places you lay your head each night. Having said that, many travellers gloss over this detail when doing trip planning.

They put hours into researching hotel locations and amenities, picking a particular airline and flight, and looking over places to eat and visit. Then, once all that is done, they just slap on the cheapest car rental they can find.


If you’ve done this yourself in the past, you might have lived to regret it. Want to get better at picking rental cars when you travel? Keep reading!

Pick Out Your Own Vehicle

Whenever you can, try to pick a rental agency that lets you choose your own vehicle, either from reserving a particular model or choosing from a lineup when you get there. If you don’t, a counter clerk having a bad day might just hand you the keys to a Sonic LS.

At the time of writing, Hertz was the only agency that allowed consumers to choose particular models through online reservations, but only within your paid-for class, with no upgrades. Some special programs, such as Hertz’s Gold Choice and National’s Emerald Aisle, let you have a larger selection of cars when you get there. While these memberships are no-cost, they’re not always available at smaller airports.


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Know Your Airport

As already mentioned, smaller airports might have less inventory. Of course, where the rental cars are located also differs per airport. Some are right outside the terminal, and others require a bus ride. That can mean it takes longer to actually ‘arrive’ at a destination and even add two hours to getting ready to leave at the end of the trip. Cities with two or more airports often have one that proves a better option.

Miami International Airport has limited selections, but Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood offers a lot more choices. Detroit Metropolitan has an okay selection, but if you don’t mind flying into Grand Rapids, the choices at Gerald R. Ford is a lot better. Newark only requires a monorail ride to a good selection, whereas LaGuardia’s cars are both off-site and limited in choice. Other airports with notable off-site delays to get to a rental car include LAX, Houston’s George Bush, Denver, and Hopkins in Cleveland.


Don’t Fly In Late

If you come in on one of the latest flights of the day, you’re not likely to find desirable cars available, as they have long since rolled off the lot to previous fliers. In fact, some smaller airports might even run out of cars or even see the rental lots close! Call ahead for hours.

What Should You Actually Choose?

If you’re hauling the family around, a Flex or Kia Sedona are often available because business travellers ignore them, but avoid the Nissan Rogue Select.

However, if you are a business traveller, then a Toyota Avalon XLE or Chevrolet Impala V6 LTZ can make for great impressions. On the other hand, Cruzes, Altimas, and Malibus should be passed over when you can.

There are also three general things to note. First, avoid upsells when you can; they’re often mandatory for counter clerks to offer, but that doesn’t mean they’re any good. Second, make sure the radio still works; many rentals have Sirius, but if the first 90 days are up, you might be stuck looking for local stations. Third, the more letters you see at the end of a car name, generally, the better; go for SL over S and LTE over LT.

In Some Cases, No Choice Is Your Best Option

No matter how much you might like trying out the experiences that various vehicles have to offer, some cities might be places where Uber or a taxi just makes more sense. If you go to Chicago, San Francisco, or New York City, then hotel parking can cost you as much as an extra $60 daily. That’s just for the spot, and not for the car itself at all! Additionally, finding other parking spots while there is going to involve a lot of time and stress.

Having said that, cities that are very spread out, such as Detroit, Charlotte, or Miami, might mean long Uber rides, as well as waiting for one to even show up. You’ll have to decide for yourself city by city which conveniences are worth paying extra for.