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When U.S. travel restrictions showed signs of easing in 2021, eager travelers found a short supply of car rentals on the market. The shortage caused car rental rates to surge, and the weekly cost of renting a car for your next vacation is still notably high.
According to NerdWallet’s latest data, the average weekly cost of renting a car from the ten largest U.S. airports is about $614. At Chicago-O'Hare, the most expensive airport on the list, you’ll pay an average of $743 for a weeklong rental.
Although I’d heard about the exorbitant car rates, I still balked at the cost while planning a solo writing retreat in Northern California in October 2021. As I compared prices across conventional car rental companies like Alamo, Enterprise and Hertz, I also researched alternative car rental options, like Turo and Lyft Rentals.
Ultimately, I booked a Lyft car rental based on the considerable savings it offered.
Despite my initial skepticism, the experience was effortless and pleasant. In this Lyft rental car review, I’ll explain the process — from booking and pick up to drop off — and tell you what to expect if you choose a Lyft car rental for your next vacation.
» Learn more: How to earn travel rewards with Lyft rides
How Lyft car rentals works
Booking my Lyft car rental
For context, I was landing at San Francisco International Airport and needed a car to drive one hour north to Mill Valley, where I had booked a vacation rental. I also knew I wanted the convenience of a vehicle to get into the neighboring town and for my return to the airport.
To begin the rental process, I launched the Lyft app and tapped on the key symbol in the bottom navigation bar. Once the screen loads, you’ll enter the location where you’d like to rent a vehicle — assuming it’s in one of the 16 states the program serves. In my case, I entered “San Francisco.”
I selected the date range for my rental, which spanned seven days, and my desired pick-up and drop-off times. The app offered various car options, but I went for the cheapest one, which was a compact hybrid. The base rate was about $67 per day.
The app then outlined all of the details of my reservation, including:
Pick-up dates and times.
$20 Lyft credit ($10 each way) to get to and from the rental lot.
Per-gallon gas price (charged after the reservation).
At this step, you can choose to add additional insurance coverage or other add-ons, such as a USB phone charger or car seat, but I didn’t need them. Then, I added my driver information. The app allowed me to scan my driver’s license, but you can choose to enter your information manually, too.
I confirmed my payment details, and to my surprise, the estimated total cost was significantly reduced due to Lyft’s multi-day discount. This discount alone was $198 off of the base rental rate. And since this was my first time booking a Lyft rental car, I received an additional $30 new user discount, on top of the $20 Lyft ride credit.
Once I checked that all the information was correct, I tapped “Pay later,” and shortly after received a confirmation email with my reservation details. After discounts were applied, my rental reservation totaled $266.13, not including gas and standard toll rates (for crossing the Golden Gate bridge), which were assessed after my reservation concluded.
» Learn more: Where to find rental car discounts
Picking up my rental car
Upon arriving at the San Francisco airport, I got a Lyft ride to their rental lot. Unfortunately, the $10 Lyft credit didn’t cover the entire fare, so I paid about $20 not including tip.
Upon arrival, I expected to encounter the same grief as I’ve experienced in the past at car rental companies: long lines to speak to an associate, lots of paperwork to sign, upsells for additional rental car insurance, prepaid gas rates, etc.
But there was only one customer being served ahead of me in an otherwise empty lot. The pleasant attendant, tablet in hand, looked up my reservation quickly on the spot (there was no formal front desk setup), and reminded me of a few basic points from my reservation.
For example, I would be charged the local gas rate on the fuel needed to refill my tank after I returned the car, and I wouldn’t be charged an extra fee to do so. I’d also be provided with a toll transponder and would be billed after the reservation was complete for any tolls incurred.
I signed the terms on the tablet, and they handed me the keys to a Toyota Prius. The entire exchange took all but two minutes. I was so surprised at how pain-free it was that I blurted, “Is that it?”
Included with the key was a remote that opened the lot’s iron gate, which is how Lyft can offer 24-hour returns. I got in the rental car, which had a clean interior, adjusted my seat and mirrors and was on my way.
» Learn more: How to avoid long lines at rental car counters
Returning my Lyft car rental
On the last day of my trip, I returned to the Lyft car rental lot. I simply parked the car in an available spot, gathered my belongings and dropped the keys into a secure dropbox. No interaction was needed with a Lyft rental associate, though the person on site greeted me and wished me a safe return home.
I used my remaining $10 Lyft credit for my ride back to the airport. That ride, after taxes and applied credit, was about $20 not including tip.
After my Lyft car rental reservation
Although my experience with Lyft car rentals was seamless until this point, I was still skeptical that the service could be so stellar. In the following days, I watched my credit card charges to see whether Lyft would slip up by erroneously charging me for gas I didn’t use or sneak in unexpected fees.
It took about two weeks to receive a notice about additional charges. I was delighted when the only charge was a $9 toll for crossing the Golden Gate bridge, which I already anticipated.
What I liked about my Lyft car rental
$20 Lyft ride credit from airport to Lyft pickup location.
New user discount.
Free car add-ons.
Automatically charges local gas rate with no extra fees.
All contained in the Lyft app.
Downsides of a Lyft car rental
Only available in 16 states.
$10 Lyft credit each way didn’t cover 100% of fare to the rental lot.
Not ideal for users who aren’t tech-savvy.
» Learn more: Smart rental car alternatives you might not know about
My Lyft car rental, recapped
In total, I spent $295.13 for a seven-day car rental with Lyft:
$266.13 for the rental reservation.
$40 for Lyft rides to and from the lot.
$9 for a Golden Gate Bridge toll.
The significant savings is only one reason I’m never going back to a traditional car rental company, if I can help it.
The Lyft rental car experience as a whole — from the app’s intuitive user interface, the attentive and welcoming service attendants and ease of pick up and drop off — are all reasons why I’d rent my next car through Lyft again.
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