Car Rental Savings: Rent More, Pay Less

On a family trip to California, we spent two nights in San Francisco and five nights in Lake Tahoe. I relied on one of my old tricks for car rental savings—rent more and pay less.

When planning our California trip, I knew we did not need a rental car in San Francisco. We were staying in an Airbnb apartment in a fantastic location—on the edge of Russian Hill, Chinatown, and North Beach. We could ride BART between the airport and downtown and, within the city, walk or ride the city transit options.

SF clam chowder in sourdough bread bowl
San Francisco clam chowder in sourdough bread bowl

My ideal scenario was to pick up a rental car the morning we leave San Francisco and then drive to Lake Tahoe. Ideal, that is, except for the price.

For our travel dates, renting a car from:

  • SFO airport for seven days would cost $300.
  • SFO airport for five days would cost $500.
  • downtown San Francisco for five days would cost $700. McCool Travel note: There was one $300 option for a convertible, which, darn it, is not convenient for four adults. Can I get a rain check?
Florida Favorites by Charles McCool of McCool Travel
read this article to learn some cool car rental tips, even for a Mustang

Figuring I could find cheap parking in San Francisco for under $100 for two nights, I decided to rent the car from the airport for seven days.

Even though we did not NEED a car in San Francisco, I still rented a car, because I could save hundreds of dollars.

Not only did I park my car for almost two days, I did not even drive it. How crazy is that?

Factoring in the BART savings (at least $42.50) and my actual parking charge of $47, my car rental savings was $400.

Yes, it is a ridiculous rental car company policy, but I saved $400 by renting a car for an additional two days. Even though I did not use the car!

Rent more, pay less. I love it!

Besides saving money, we saved time and saved aggravation. A McCool Travel triple play!

We saved time exiting the airport, with our rental car instead of taking the BART train to downtown. I further saved the potential time and expense of taking BART back to the airport to rent a car two days later (which I have done before).

Honestly, it would not have been great fun getting from the downtown BART station to our vacation rental, so it was nice to be able to park the rental car nearby.

But Wait, There’s More McCool Travel Funness

Another bonus to having the rental car was visiting Ocean Beach, the Tiled Steps, Cliff House, Marin Headlands, and SF quirkiness before checking into our vacation rental.

SF Ocean Beach
visit the magnificent Ocean Beach in San Francisco
San Francisco Tiled Steps
have you seen the Tiled Steps in San Francisco?

Would you rent a car (and not use it) for an extra two days to save hundreds of dollars? Have you? 

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16 thoughts on “Car Rental Savings: Rent More, Pay Less”

  1. We’ve also found the longer the rental often times is the better deal and returning a car to the place we’ve rented it often saves hundreds in drop-off charges when we do one of our road trips; making it a loop instead of a one-way trip. We’ve also, like countless others, learned that you can make a car reservation and then cancel it without penalty (so far) if you find a better deal between the time of making the reservation and departure. Good article.

  2. Yes, so true. We just used airport parking twice on a recent road trip so we could take some quick flight side trips. Surprisingly cheap to park, and if no one dings your parked car, it’s stress free rental!

  3. Great tip, Charles! We rented a car at the airport in SF in 2010 when we did a loop including Tahoe, Yosemite, and Sequoia. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember we stayed in a hotel near the airport next to a Mexican restaurant with delicious Margarita pitchers. Anyway, we love car rental hacks, so sharing this tip on Backroad Planet’s FB page!

  4. Even though we don’t rent cars very often, you can bet your… well, let’s just say we would certainly rent one for extra days to pay less. Odd policy, but why not take advantage of it?

  5. This is a great idea and something I’ll think about in the future. Usually I’m trying to rent for as short a period as possible so interesting to see how well this worked out on so many levels.

  6. OK, you’ve sold me on the idea. I really thought your post was going to say you did not rent it from the airport because of the cost of parking; however, you proved me wrong! Your research certainly saved you money and provided more opportunities to see more sights. Thanks!

  7. just read another of your posts and now this one is another great idea.
    I will be researching this for all my rentals from now on. Thanks for thw cool tips.

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