Last Updated on February 28, 2023 by Michael
Looking for a cheap one-way car rental? There are likely many circumstances when you may want to rent a vehicle at one location and return it at another. Although once uncommon, one-way rentals are now commonplace. In fact, about 13 percent of all AutoSlash rentals are booked as one-ways.
How To Get a One-Way Car Rental Quote
Getting a cheap one-way car rental quote on AutoSlash is as easy as for a round-trip rental. Start by entering your pick-up location, specifying whether you will pick up the car at an airport or another address. The next screen will prompt you to select your drop-off location. When asked “Return at a different location?” select yes, then enter your desired location.
Choose the pick-up location
Select “yes” for “Return at a different location?” and add the return site.
Then, simply complete the rest of the required information (dates, times, car type, and contact information) and check your e-mail inbox for quotes for the one-way rental.
Why One-Way Car Rentals Are Usually More Expensive
Renting one way is typically more expensive than renting round trip. Your price is broken out into different components: the daily rate (a.k.a. time and mileage), taxes and fees, and a one-way drop charge.
The drop fee can vary from one rental-car company to another, and even within a single rental car company. The variation can be greater for members of organizations such as AAA, AARP, Costco, or USAA. When AutoSlash does a search, we always return the lowest total price, including any drop fees. Sometimes, we’re able to find a one-way rental without any drop fee at all.
Drop fees can vary wildly, especially for long-distance rentals, but not every drop fee will be prohibitive. We’ve seen drop fees of less than $5 for a pick-up in Fort Lauderdale and a return in Orlando. We’ve also seen drop fees of several hundred dollars for longer distances.
How Car Rental Companies Determine One-Way Drop Fees
Car rental car companies determine prices based on supply and demand, which allows them to
manage their fleets remarkably well. If your one-way rental takes a vehicle from somewhere it is in demand to somewhere less in demand, the drop fee will likely be hefty. For example, if you want to pick up a rare 4WD vehicle in snowy Colorado and drive it to Arizona, that will be expensive.
In daily practice, the AutoSlash team sees one-way rental rates, including the drop fee, ranging from $20 to $120 per day. We’re always searching for the best possible rates, whether you need a round-trip or one-way rental.
Restrictions on One-Way Car Rentals
Restrictions on one-way rentals may exist during high-demand time periods or if the renter wants to cross international borders. In those situations, it may not be possible to find a one-way rental.
In periods of exceptional demand, a site manager may restrict the ability to make one-way reservations. For example, during busy holiday periods, the rental car companies may need to keep vehicles in a specific region to meet demand.
One-way rentals between the U.S. and Mexico are not allowed. Rentals between the U.S. and Canada are often possible but require a transition at a “gateway” airport to find an allowed rental. Most car agencies in the European Union allow one-way rentals across country borders if the car remains in the E.U.
Opportunities for Exceptionally Cheap One-Way Car Rentals
When a rental car company needs to move a fleet of thousands of vehicles from one region to another, it often offers super-low rates to incentivize one-way rentals to or from the desired region. This is called either a drive-out program or a drive-in program, depending on the direction of the migration.
For example, rental companies need to move their convertible cars south for the winter. If you want to drive a convertible from Boston to Miami, you can likely find a nice discount in the fall. Cars migrate from the Northeast to the Southeast starting after Labor Day, with rates that are often just a few dollars per day. In the Western U.S., cars are moved from western states to Arizona for the winter. The opposite patterns occur in the early spring. These promotions are all about timing, so keep your eyes open at the right time of year if you’re interested in a long-distance one-way car rental.
There are also opportunities to save on shorter-distance one-way rentals. In some cities, rental car companies need to get cars from airports to neighborhood locations or vice versa on certain days of the week to meet consumer demand. Again, this is all about managing supply and demand. The goal is to keep a vehicle in use (and generating revenue) rather than sitting idle in a parking lot all
weekend. These specials often work extremely well for business travelers, as the cars move from
the airport at the end of the week and to the airport at the beginning of the week.
Slash One-Way Car Rentals with Loyalty Awards
Want to save on a one-way car rental? It’s just silly not to belong to a loyalty program.
Have you accrued free days in National’s Emerald Club program? Whether a free award day is used for a local rental or a one-way rental, you can expect to incur only minimal local taxes. We were once able to use an award on a last-minute, one-way rental for the princely sum of $12.03. Without the Emerald Club award, the same rental would have otherwise cost almost $180.
National is not the only company that allows the redemptions of awards on one-way rentals. Some other loyalty programs, including Hertz, provide the option to redeem points for one-way award rentals but those reservations require more points.
It’s free to join the loyalty programs of your preferred rental car companies. After accruing a few free days and being able to avoid the lines at airport rental counters, you’ll never look back.