Which Rental Car Company Usually Has the Lowest Prices?

Looking for the cheapest rental car brand? We did the math so you don't have to. Consider Enterprise, Budget and Hertz.
Sam Kemmis
Sally French
By Sally French and  Sam Kemmis 
Updated
Edited by Meg Lee

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Nerdy takeaways
  • Enterprise, Budget, Hertz and Dollar tend to be the cheapest brands.

  • Browse prices across brands and rental locations at your destination to find the best deal.

MORE LIKE THISTravel
Nerdy takeaways
  • Enterprise, Budget, Hertz and Dollar tend to be the cheapest brands.

  • Browse prices across brands and rental locations at your destination to find the best deal.

MORE LIKE THISTravel

Most travelers know that Spirit Airlines is a low-cost airline. They’re likely aware that a Four Seasons is almost always more expensive than a Motel 6.

But when it comes to rental car companies, which one usually has the lowest prices? Is Thrifty all that thrifty? Will Budget best help you stick to your budget?

A NerdWallet analysis conducted in March tracked 360 rental car prices across eight major U.S. companies to find which had the cheapest car rentals — and which had the most expensive.

By almost all metrics, National Car Rental was the most expensive, followed by Alamo Rent a Car. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Budget, Hertz and Dollar ranked among the cheapest.

Cheapest car rental company analysis

In our analysis of average rental car prices across different companies, weekly car rentals ranged in cost from $480 to nearly $700 — a difference of more than $200.

The prices analyzed in this study were based on rentals over a mix of dates throughout the next three months, and for both downtown and airport locations in regions that host the nation’s 10 largest airports. Rental types were the cheapest possible option (typically a small sedan) that allowed you to pay at the counter (as opposed to upfront in advance), and include taxes and fees.

The cheapest and most expensive rental car companies belong to the same parent company. Enterprise Holdings owns and operates the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands, which together comprise a fleet of nearly 1.7 million vehicles through a network of more than 9,500 rental locations worldwide.

The Hertz Corporation, which is the parent company that operates the Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty vehicle rental brands, was a little more consistent across all of its brands in terms of pricing; their average weekly rental car prices were within about $18 of each other.

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How to save on rental cars

More than $500 a week to rent a car can be a hefty chunk of your vacation budget. Thankfully, you might not necessarily be tied to paying the sticker price. Here are a few smart ways to save on rental cars:

Change how you book

A separate NerdWallet study in March found that booking rental cars in advance often doesn’t actually save you any money. If you’re fine with the uncertainty of booking last-minute, you might actually save more than if you had not been a procrastinator.

People arriving to their destination by air and who intend to rent a car upon landing might also save more money by booking from a nearby, off-site car rental location (as opposed to the rental car outpost located at the airport). Another NerdWallet study, also in March, found that rental cars tend to be about 20% cheaper when booked off-site versus at the airport.

Earn credit card rewards (and take advantage of many credit cards’ car insurance benefits)

Some credit cards for car rentals outshine others, offering bonus points and miles for paying for your car rental on that card.

Though perhaps even more valuable than the bonus points is another, lesser-known credit card benefit: rental car insurance. Many premium credit cards offer varying degrees of rental car insurance coverage, which can cover eligible damages in the event you get into a rental car accident or someone breaks into your car.

Cards with auto rental benefits
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
United℠ Explorer Card
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on American Express' website

Rates & Fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
NerdWallet Rating
Apply now

on Chase's website

Annual fee

$95.

$0 intro for the first year, then $95.

$695.

$550.

Rental car benefits

• Primary rental car coverage with reimbursement up to the cash value of most rental vehicles.

• Booking a car rental through Chase Ultimate Rewards® earns 5 points per dollar spent.

• Redeeming points to book travel through Chase — including renting cars — gives you 25% more value per point.

• Primary rental car coverage that reimburses up to the cash value of most rental cars.

• Other day-of-travel benefits for United flyers include a free checked bag, priority boarding and lounge passes.

• Complimentary elite status with Avis, Hertz and National, which entitles the member to upgrades and discounts.

• Secondary rental car coverage.

• Other benefits include expansive airport lounge access and hundreds of dollars' worth of travel credits.

• Terms apply.

• Primary rental car coverage with reimbursement up to $75,000.

• Booking a car rental through Chase Ultimate Rewards® earns 10 points per dollar spent.

• Redeeming points to book travel through Chase — including renting cars — gives you 50% more value per point.

• Cardholders eligible for special benefits from Avis, National and Silvercar.

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To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.


Take advantage of rental car loyalty programs

Most major car rental companies have accompanying loyalty programs that can earn you free rentals and upgrades.

While National’s car rentals tend to be among the most expensive, its loyalty program — dubbed the National Car Rental Emerald Club — is one of the best. Members with Emerald Club Executive Elite Status receive a free car rental day for every five qualified car rentals made, on top of other benefits like complimentary private airport delivery.

Look to rental car alternatives

If all else fails, you might skip renting from a major rental car company completely. Look to car rental alternatives, which are companies that have devised clever ways of getting your hands on the wheel, whether it’s peer-to-peer car rental services for borrowing an individual owner’s vehicle, or renting a car from an actual car dealership (such as Audi’s Silvercar service).

Cheapest rental car companies, recapped

Rental cars are expensive, and they’re not getting any cheaper. If you prioritize getting the best possible deal, then it’s a good idea to browse prices across multiple rental car companies and — if you can be flexible — across multiple locations within the same city.

But generally speaking, deal hunters might want to start the search with Enterprise, Budget, Hertz or Dollar — which rank among the cheapest car rental companies.

JT Genter contributed to this report.



How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Cards for Rental Cars from our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

75,000

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's over $900 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Reserve®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-10x

Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Travel℠ immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

75,000

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,125 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Points
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card
4.9
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-10x

Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel, Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more cards for rental cars
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