Last Updated on January 30, 2023 by Nico
For the most part, rental car operations are well-oiled machines. Their most valuable assets are the cars in their fleets. But there is only value if their keys are in the hands of a paying customer. Knowing how timing affects pricing can help you save money. In other words, it can pay to play with your rental car pickup and dropoff times.
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Car rental companies try to be as efficient as possible in getting their cars out of the lot and into a customers’ hands. Part of this involves employing a flexible pricing model that optimizes for keeping a car off of the lot and earning day rates. This flexible pricing can work to the savvy customer’s advantage. Small changes to the time of day of your pickup or dropoff or the length of your rental can drastically change the price of your reservation.
We’ve put together our best advice for using this quirk to lower the price of your rental as much as possible, with real examples.
Changing the Dropoff Time
For the first way that rental car pickup and dropoff times impact pricing, let’s use a real example from Enterprise. We’ll be comparing the price of a Compact SUV rental from Pittsburgh International Airport for a week in February. The pickup time for all of the rentals is also constant at noon on a Monday. But depending on the dropoff time chosen at the time of making a reservation, the price varies by $41.
|Dropoff Time||Total Price ($)|
While the savings aren’t enormous, they’re certainly significant. If you were initially planning to drop off your car at 1:30 pm, but you could feasibly drop it off at noon, you could save $40. Not bad. This pattern holds for other rental companies and other timelines.
Playing around a bit more, what if we changed the pick-up time? If we tell Enterprise that we’ll be picking up the car at 11:00 am and dropping it at 12:00 pm, the price increases by $25, for a final price of $376.
There are a million different combinations of pick-up and drop-off times we could choose, with any number of possible price changes. The key takeaway is that when booking a rental, take a minute to play around with the pick-up and drop-off times if your schedule allows it. You could find yourself saving a decent chunk of change.
Changing the Dropoff Day
Let’s do a similar exercise, but this time we’ll play with the length of our rental. Again, we’ll be tracking the price of a Compact SUV rental from Pittsburgh International Airport starting on a Monday in February. This time we’ll be incrementally changing the length of the rental, keeping pickup and dropoff times constant at 12:00pm. The price we’re tracking is the total price quoted by the Enterprise reservation tool.
Beating Weekend Price Hikes
In the table below, we’re tracking the pricing of our rental from before from Monday to Monday. Let’s say you wanted to drop-off the car on Saturday.
|Pick-up Date||Drop-off Date||Total Price ($)||Change|
The change in price is relatively constant until we get to the weekend. There’s a massive increase in price when we choose to drop off the car on a Saturday instead of Friday. Then, notice the very tiny increases in pricing as we get to Monday. Weekend rates at rental companies, not just Enterprise, are usually much higher than weekday rates. This is because there is a much higher demand for rentals on weekends.
So, in our example, we could save a whopping $237 by dropping off the car a day earlier or keeping the car for an extra few days.
The 26/27 Day Threshold
There’s another way that rental car pickup and dropoff times affect pricing. Rental companies are incentivized to keep a rental car in the hands of their customer for as long as possible. This puts a quirk into pricing that we’ve observed over the years (even a decade ago). It’s something we call the “26/27 day rule.”
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Let’s go back to our Enterprise economy rental, which we’re picking up from Pittsburgh International Airport at 12 noon on that same Monday in February.
|Total Price ($)||Duration|
Note that the price rises steadily until it fell off of a cliff between day 27 and day 28. If you were originally planning to drop off the car the 27th day, but decided to keep it an extra day, you would save a whopping $333.
When booking your next rental, play around with your drop-off date. Especially if you’re pushing up against a weekend or the 26/27 day threshold, you might find yourself some big savings.