Last Updated on October 9, 2023 by Katrina

last-minute auto rental
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During the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans have become more likely to book auto rentals at the last minute. Often within a week of their pickup date. That doesn’t mean you need to pay extra for a spur-of-the-moment plan. Here are eight ways to find a super last-minute auto rental deal.

Book your auto rental as early as possible. 

As in, as soon as you’re thinking of taking a trip. The earlier you book, the more time AutoSlash has to track your auto rental reservation and perhaps find an even better deal. Don’t worry if your trip is tentative: Just book the “Pay Later” rate so you won’t be charged until you pick up the auto rental. 

Don’t walk up to the counter without a reservation. 

Walk-up rates—typically set by the auto rental office’s local managers—are typically not great deals. In fact, they’re usually a little higher than what the reservations department has set.

Ask AutoSlash for a Quote on a Cheap Car Rental

Online rates, meanwhile, are usually set by number crunchers whose sole job is to keep rates competitive. So even if you book online just a few minutes before walking up to the counter, you’ll almost guaranteed to get a better rate than if you walked up to the counter without a reservation.

Let AutoSlash help you find last-minute auto-rental deals and availability. 

When you need a last-minute auto rental deal, don’t waste time searching for coupons and discounts—just request a quote from AutoSlash, and you’ll get a selection of deals, usually within 15 minutes. We have access to over a thousand coupons and discount codes that can knock anywhere from 10 to 50 percent off that walk-up rate—and sometimes even more. For a last-minute booking in St. Louis recently, we found coupons that chopped a $75 rate down to $35. 

Check both airport and off-airport locations. 

Even if you’re picking up an auto rental close to your home, it’s worth checking rentals at the airport. Neighborhood branches, which tend to have small parking lots, typically don’t keep a lot of cars in inventory, so you risk finding either high rates, or even a sold-out lot. That logic works both ways too: if you’re flying into an airport and can’t find a good rate, try neighborhood branches near the airport. Since neighborhood locations tend to cater to a different market, they might offer lower rates or lower taxes. In many cases, renting off-airport is much cheaper even after paying for an Uber or taxi from the airport.

Don’t panic if everything is sold out online. 

Here’s another reason to request a quote from AutoSlash: If our system doesn’t find any initial results, our team gets an alert and we’ll give your request extra attention. Sometimes a slight adjustment to the time, car size, or location can reveal options that were hidden.

Don’t feel pressured to buy insurance on the spot. 

When you’re in a hurry to get your auto rental, you might not have had time to research your insurance coverage. Keep in mind that auto rental agents work on commission, so they’re going to recommend that you buy insurance from them. Just know that if you live in the U.S., have a mid-status credit card and own an auto that’s covered with an automobile insurance policy, you’re almost certainly already covered for an auto rental. Want some additional protection? AutoSlash has partnered with Sure to offer deeply discounted collision coverage—and you can even buy a policy the same day.

Check the walk-up rates as a last resort. 

In general, it’s best to lock down a last-minute auto rental deal before you get to the rental office. But if there really isn’t anything available online, walking up to the counter may get you results. Sometimes, a reservations department will shut down online bookings to avoid overselling, even though the lot isn’t empty yet.

Many auto rental companies compensate their employees for walk-up rentals, so the person behind the counter may be highly motivated to get you into an auto rental. Car rental agents often have some flexibility on the rates, so try not to look too eager. Just politely ask about their best rate—which tells the agent that you’re not desperate, and you care about getting a deal. Once you hear the rate, feel free to negotiate or ask if there are any discounts available.

That said, if you really are desperate, tell the agent you want the collision coverage. Most rental agents work on commission, and insurance is one of their biggest opportunities for bonuses. Letting an agent know that you want insurance is as good as waving a fistful of cash in front of him or her.

Stand your ground if you have a confirmed reservation. 

It doesn’t matter whether you booked your auto rental 30 minutes ago or three months ago. A confirmed reservation is guaranteed, and major rental brands have official policies to back that up. If you have a reservation and the rental office tells you they’re out of vehicles, it’s on them to find a solution. That solution might involve:

  • upgrading you to a larger vehicle at no additional cost
  • locating a replacement auto rental from another agency and reimbursing any difference in rate
  • covering your transportation to your hotel and getting you into a vehicle later that evening or the next morning
  • putting you in a smaller vehicle for now and arranging to switch you into your reserved class (or larger) later when it becomes available

Let AutoSlash Track Your Car Rental for Price Drops

In any of these situations, you should expect compensation, to cover the inconvenience caused by their failure. If the office is unable to find a solution in a timely fashion, request a commitment—in writing—that the auto rental company will cover the difference if you have to rent elsewhere at a higher rate.

Need a last-minute auto rental? Let AutoSlash save you both time and money.