No discounts for rental cars

There’s still money in rental cars, according to the latest from the New York Times. In May, the average rental rate (airport) for a compact ride was $345.99 for a week – as long as you booked it seven days in advance. That’s an increase of 73 percent from $199.65 in May 2008, according to Abrams Consulting Group, which watches this stuff. As of mid-June, the 2008-to-2009 change was narrower: $210.38 to $347.44 (up 65 percent).

The price increases, it seems, are our own fault. Demand is down 15 percent, which forces the rental car companies to cut their fleets back – ultimately engineering a shortage that pushes up prices. So, if we were renting more cars, they would be cheaper.

One of the side-effects of this dynamic is that cars are staying in the rental fleets longer. Remember when you’d never see a rental car with more than 30,000 miles on it? Well, don’t count on that threshold any more. The average rental car’s age is now up to 11 months – that has to be forever in dog years – as companies try to extract as much value from each ride as possible.

There are a few ways you can find a cheaper rental car, which you can learn after the jump.

Start looking early. If a rental car company isn’t sold out for when you want it (always a possibility), you’ll pay a fortune for the little remaining inventory.

Skip the airport lots. You could wind up paying an extra 30 percent that way. Head into the local city instead – or even better, the ‘burbs. A friend of mine used to manage a rental car location outside Boston and used to tell me just how accommodating they would be: discounts, pickup and drop-off and so on.

Don’t be afraid to upgrade. The last thing you want to do is sink even more money into this endeavor, but a few extra dollars can go a long way, especially if you need to be comfortable on a long road trip.

Want more tips? Read the original article in the New York Times.