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Saving on rental cars

I consistently get really good deals on rental cars and here are my secrets:

  1. Book early – You don’t need a deposit for rental car reservations so book early as it doesn’t matter if you cancel it.
  2. Use both a discount and a promotion code when reserving.
  3. Rent from local or non-airport locations.
  4. Don’t get the insurance – use the coverage provided by your credit card instead.
  5. Book for longer – A one week rental will be cheaper than a 5 day rental due to pricing rules.

The number one thing that will lower the cost is applying the discount codes. It’s simple to get one. Nearly all airlines offer a discount code “CDP” for use with car rental agencies. To find it just google “CDP”, your airline, and rental agency. United’s is ‘62455’ for Hertz. Next go to the rental agency’s website and look for their promotion and coupon page for a promotion that fits your rental. Add the Promotional Coupon “PC” to your rental and let the magic unfold! Here is a great resource to find rental discount codes that I use: www.carrentalsavers.com

Car rental agencies are like restaurants in that they don’t make their profit from their core product (restaurants make their profit on drinks not food). Their biggest markup is from insurance, and you’ll find it will typically double the total cost of your rental. If you can, use a credit card which comes with rental car insurance coverage and decline the insurance from the rental agency – and try not to crash.

Another counter-intuitive artifact of car rentals is that it is often cheaper to rent for a longer period. Agencies have a stepped pricing model, with the typical being 1-day, 3-day, weekly, and monthly pricing. If you need a car for 5 days it will almost always be cheaper to make the rental 1 week so that your pricing drops to the weekly rate. You can still return the car after 5 days, you’ll just pay less for it.

Lastly think about renting from a non-airport location, particularly when doing one-way rentals. A great example I have is from this summer when I did a one way month-long rental from LAX to Reno, NV. If I had rented the car directly from the airport location the cost was $950. Instead I hopped in a taxi and took it 5 miles to a nearby neighborhood location. The taxi was $25, but the car rental was now $525.

rental car desk

Rental car desk

Saving on Gas

The days of cheap gas are over. Gas is now a moderate expense for most of us yet there are a few simple things you can do to save some money, and help the environment by using less.

  1. Buy it as cheaply as possible. Apps such as ‘GasBuddy’ (iPhone and Android) make it easy to find the cheapest gas nearby. Pay attention to which areas have the cheapest prices too. Some towns/regions have consistently cheaper gas than others. Also look out for deals on higher-octane fuel. 91 octane fuel has approximately 3% more energy in it than 87, so if the price difference is less than that you are saving money.
  2. Driving style. It’s amazing that there isn’t more education about driving efficiently. The way you drive really makes a difference in how much gas you use, and it doesn’t always mean you are going to take longer to get somewhere. You can get 20% better mileage pretty easily by adjusting how you drive.
    1. Easy on the acceleration! Being gradual in the amount you accelerate saves energy. Try to avoid frequent rapid acceleration.
    2. Look up! It’s amazing how many people drive looking only 30 yards in front of them. Look up when you’re driving and see the traffic conditions ahead of you. Don’t accelerate into a stop light or traffic. Ease off the gas and coast in.
    3. Maintain a constant speed. Changing velocity (speed) uses energy. For flat highway driving use cruise control.
    4. Keep it 70 or under. Cars just like jets have an optimum ‘cruise speed’. This is the point where they travel the most distance for the least fuel. A typical jet is 530-550 miles per hour, a typical car is 55-60 mph. It requires exponentially more energy the faster you go and the graph looks like a typical bell curve. Once you start driving over 70 your fuel economy plummets.
  3. Car maintenance. There are some pretty simple things you can do to help get the most mileage out of your car.
    1. Tire pressure. Under-inflated tires can add significantly to your vehicle’s drag. Make sure you keep your tire pressure at or above the manufacturers recommendation. They typically spec a PSI that is slightly lower to improve ride comfort, but you can safely drive on a bit more pressure.
    2. Oil changes. Oil can reduce your engine’s internal friction and therefore help it deliver more of its power to the wheels. Change your oil every 5000 miles. Certain oils have a lower viscosity which can also help reduce friction.
    3. Weight. Every 100lbs extra that your car weighs increases your fuel consumption by 2%. If you’ve got extra heavy junk in your trunk that you are driving around needlessly take it out!
  4. Drive smart. A little thought can save you a lot of gas with no fancy hybrid needed.
    1. Plan your travel. You can save a lot of fuel simply by planning on when to drive. Doing your travel outside of peak traffic time reduces the amount of time your car is running very inefficiently at low speeds or stopped in traffic. If you commute to work think about how you can alter your hours to drive when there’s less traffic. If you are running errands do it at a quieter time of day. It will save you both time and money!
    2. Think about your route. Most GPS units favor interstates when giving you directions, even if they are longer distance-wise. Depending on your route you can save fuel by taking more direct back-roads which can reduce usage by being a shorter distance as well as driving at slower more fuel-efficient speeds.
    3. Think about conditions. Rain and snow both decrease your fuel-economy by creating extra friction on your wheels. Extremely cold temperatures also affect the efficiency of your engine by requiring a higher fuel/air ratio.

Hotels for cheap (or free)!

There will be times when, despite being as popular as you are, you will have no connection with someone to put you up for the night. It may also be that you just want to stay in a hotel. Fortunately there are a few ways to stay in 1200 count egyptian cotton sheets for very little!

My number 1 pick is using my Starwood Preferred Guest points (SPG) that I gather by using my SPG American Express credit card. Upon approval you are given 25000 points, enough for two nights at the W hotel anywhere (valued at ~$700). You can also use cash+points to pick up a room for $40-60. More info here (let me know if you apply so I can get the referral bonus though!)

If you don’t have an SPG Amex, then my number 2 choice is an iPhone/Android app called Hotel Tonight. It gives you super deals on curated hotels in most major cities, but the catch is you can only book the hotel that day. The hotels they pick are all carefully chosen and so you won’t go wrong. Use my invite code ‘krobertson7’ and get a $25 credit for your first booking!

Hotel Tonight

Sign up using my invite code ‘krobertson7’ and get $25 in free credit!

Getting that cheap flight

There are all sorts of techniques and theories for getting cheap flights. Buy on Tuesdays. Book travel that leaves mid-week. Look for deals via Twitter. The list can go on and on.

My number one trick for getting good deals is simply to know what the average price is and be able to buy when you see something that is good. If I have an upcoming trip I want to take I set up a price alert on Kayak and I simply check the price for the particular flights I want every day. Over the course of time you get to see a general trend on what the average cost of a ticket is, then if there is a sale or suddenly the price drops I’m able to know it is a good deal and I buy it right then and there!

This is also is handy when booking popular routes like NY-SF or LA. Over the years I’ve observed that the average price is around $400 for a direct return flight. If I see a direct flight for the dates I want that is say $300 then I’ll just buy it right then because I know that is about as good as you are going to get.

So in short, know the average price by looking frequently and you’ll know when you see a good deal!

Airport ground staff have the power

If you’ve ever tried to call up an airline reservation line to make some kind of change to your flight chances are they didn’t do it out of the kindness of their heart, and instead stuck you with some huge change fee. It took me a number of times before I realized that these people suck and can’t help you. Even if you complain, ask for a supervisor, make a big fuss, ask nicely, they still won’t help you – or they’ll charge you. The people in the call centers have no discretionary power, and are a profit center for the airlines. So who can help?

Despite frequently being some of the surliest, most bitter employees of any airline, ground staff at the airport have the power! They can book you on a earlier flight, change your connecting city, book you on another airline, upgrade your seat, even change the city you’re flying to – without charge!

The people who can help you the most are the staff at the actual gate. The check-in staff often have to get permission from a supervisor, or are super-unhelpful because they deal with assholes all day. It depends on the airport and airline though. You can forget about getting help from any New York airport. They have hands down the worst ground-staff across all airlines in the whole country, if not the world. People are nicer and more helpful in smaller airports and in the southern cities.

The best position to adopt with any request is to be nice, extremely polite, and as friendly as possible. They have total discretion about how much to help you, and if you are refreshingly nice from most of the people they deal with all day you’ll find you’ll have a better chance of them going out of their way for you.

Next time you’re at the airport, go ahead and ask if you can get on that earlier flight, or that free

Be nice!

seat upgrade. Be nice and you’ll be surprised at your success rate!

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