Ready to rev your rental up a notch? Don’t settle for an economy seat at the counter; ask about upgrades & try our tips to upgrade your next rental car.
The simplest way to get an upgrade is just to ask for one! Be nice, be humble, and be gracious, and you just may be surprised. Many times, the people at the counter have the power to put you behind the wheel of a sweet ride.
As with airlines and hotels, there are some other tricks you can try to move up a car class or two. When the car class you reserved is sold out, most agencies will put you in the next class up. Historically, many agencies have few compacts available so you may find yourself moved up if that’s what you booked. When you arrive at a very busy time – say Friday evening or Monday morning – there are better chances that your car class is sold out. Meaning a free upgrade could be yours!
We have also found that sometimes there are cars the local agency just needs to get off of their lot. True story: We reserved a generic mid-size car for a few days in upstate New York. When we got there, and asked about upgrades, there was a car someone requested but never came to pick up. A car the manager knew would sit in his lot for a long time, since it was a specialty rental. With a little bit of haggling, we walked out with the keys to a BMW M3 Coupe for about $10 more per day; less than the cost of upgrading to the “premium” Nissan Maxima! (Problem is, now we want a new BMW.) We booked from a cash-back site (see below), and that cash back paid for the upgrade. Win-win!
So yes, we upgraded, but the agency “up sold” us. We still see that as a win, because a discounted upgrade is still an upgrade. Know what the going prices are for the nicer or bigger vehicles, and ask if there are specials at the counter. Feel free to negotiate, too. Counter agents are sales people who are judged by how much more than your reservation price you spend. If an SUV is $80 more per day online, you can probably get into it a lot cheaper at the counter.
Sometimes, the best upgrade is cutting the cost, regardless of what car you reserve or get. One way to do that is comparing prices between the rental car agencies and online travel agencies. You may be able to snag a bargain, especially if you add a car to a package with a flight and/or hotel. The trade-off is that, if you are a member of their loyalty program, you might not get credit for the rental when you book through an OTA. Again, though, if you ask nicely at the counter, the agent may be able to add your member information when you pick up the car.
Our favorite way to save on any rental is by getting a little cash back. Sites like Ibotta (our link) or Capital One Shopping often offer cashback when you book through them. But don’t stop there! Once you’ve booked, go back to the top of this post and the number one tip: Ask for an upgrade at the counter!
You should also check with any affinity and discount programs you’re in, such as AARP and AAA; they may have upgrade or discount options for you, too.
In the end, you can almost always drive off with a nicer car than you reserved, and/or a few extra dollars in your travel budget!
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