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Best car rental sites 2021

Best Car Rental Sites 2021
(Image credit: Getty)

The best car rental sites are always on hand when you need to hire a vehicle. Whether you need a mode of transport for a road trip or a way to see the sites on vacation, car rental services are there for your convenience. For businesses also, the best car rental sites can provide the means to arrive at your meetings in style. 

Regardless of your priorities, there should always be a vehicle that’s perfect for you. The very best car rental services tend to stock compact, economy, and family cars along with luxury cars, SUVs, vans, pickups and more, so the choice is up to you. Of course, car rental costs will depend on the type of car you hire. Remember that prices are often higher when hiring from an airport location, but with all the top rate car rentals sites having rewards programs, your loyalty can eventually provide free rentals, discounts, and priority services when picking up your vehicle and dropping it off. As well as cost, you’ll usually want a car rental service with a location near to you, and one that will have your car ready and waiting for when you want to collect.

If you’re unsure where to start, this guide to the best car rental sites has been compiled with all these factors taken into account and more. As well as highlighting the top-rated car rental service overall, the rundown also includes car rental sites that are most suitable for various needs - that means you’ll find a top pick if you’re on a strict budget, another if you like your rewards, and further options if you want to hire weekly or while you’re abroad. And should you be searching for a slightly larger vehicle, maybe a van or truck to help you move home, our dedicated guide to the best truck rentals for moving will have all the information and guidance you need. 

1. Enterprise: Best car rental site overall

Enterprise is the best car rental site overall

(Image credit: Enterprise)

Enterprise

Enterprise is the familiar car rental site with all the hiring options you could need.

Most locations of any rental company
Carshare offers hourly rentals
Upgrades and priority service among rewards
Rental upgrades not included in basic rewards tier
Can sometimes be beaten on price

Enterprise has more car rental locations in the US than anyone else and, from what we've found, a lot more to offer than other car rental companies in the US. With over 4,600 locations across America (and almost double that around the world), if you need to rent a car, there's a good chance an Enterprise office won't ever be far.

The choice of vehicles on offer is hard to beat too, with upwards of 20 standard cars available along with 12 different types of SUV, and a host of luxury cars if you prefer to travel in style. Importantly, the hire cost that Enterprise charges are reasonable as well, with lower single-day rentals usually much cheaper than average. The rewards program - Enterprise Plus - which awards points for each dollar you spend, offers excellent benefits to regular customers too, including car upgrades and a priority checkout line for faster pick ups.

Add in a free pick-up service, which will ferry you to the rental office to pick up your car, and a car share service that allows for almost autonomous hour-by-hour car rentals if you sign up, and Enterprise has to be the best car rental service, bar none.


2. Thrifty: Best value car rental site

Thrifty is the best value car rental site

(Image credit: Thrifty)

Thrifty

Thrifty offers value for money to all its car rental customers.

Low daily rental costs
Free rewards program
Points accrue for each dollar spent
Fewer locations than other rental companies
Black out days in rewards program
Points can expire

Thrifty by name, Thrifty by nature - offering the best daily rates and better than average weekly rates too, Thrifty is our choice for the best value car rental service. By joining its free Blue Chip rewards program, spouses can drive for free too, so you'll save money there as well. 

Signing up as a Blue Chip member will allow you to earn points for each dollar you spend on car rentals too, which you build up to qualify for free rentals. Then there's the "skip the counter" perk, allowing you to go straight to the lot to pick up your car, and a priority counter service too. That said, the notice of black out days when you can't use your free rental, and the loss of points after two years of inactivity, means the program is certainly not as rewarding as some. 

That there's only around 300 Thrifty offices across the US might pose a problem too, but if one is nearby, and you need to rent a car, they're sure to offer you a terrific price. 


3. Hertz: Best car rental site rewards program

Hertz has the best car rental site rewards program

(Image credit: Hertz)

Hertz

Hertz likes to reward its car rental customers handsomely.

Has rental locations across US
Huge range of car choice
Outstanding rewards program
More expensive than other services
Black out days, unless you use 2x points

Joining a car rental rewards program costs nothing, so you might as well sign up and see what you can earn - in this respect, Hertz’s Gold Plus Rewards program is one of the best. In addition to basic benefits like points and expedited checkout, this rewards program includes options like free vehicle upgrades and expedited drop-offs.

As is standard for rewards programs, you earn one point for each dollar spent at Hertz. These rewards are also earned for add-ons like car seats, insurance and other optional services, and if you regularly hire cars, you've got the chance to climb the reward ranks and become a Five Star or President's Circle member too. Here you'll get more points on your rental spend, and the chance of upgrades and even more lavish rewards on which to spend your points.  

Hertz has around 3,000 locations in the US, and a huge presence across the world too - this is worth remembering as rewards apply outside of the US as well. And as the choice of vehicles that Hertz has to offer is wide ranging too, you should have little problem finding a car that suits you. 


4. Dollar: Best for weekly car rentals

Dollar is the best car rental site for weekly rentals

(Image credit: Dollar)

Dollar

Dollar offers great rates on its weekly car rentals.

Low weekly rates
No blackout dates on rewards
Only has 230 locations
Smaller choice of vehicles than elsewhere

If your car rental requirements are likely to span a week or longer, Dollar is a good place to start your search. While setting the standard for weekly rates, the Dollar website usually has a number of offers that you can take advantage of as well, in particular the saving of 25% if you're happy to prepay for your car.

There's an excellent rewards program on offer too, with achievable points targets and no blackout dates to confuse matters when you want to cash in what you've earned for a free rental. The one thing that might hold Dollar back is its relatively small presence of just 230 US locations. However, if you find one nearby, and are looking to rent for the longer term rather than just a day, Dollar is a great car rental choice. 


5. Avis: Best for international car rentals

Avis is best for international car rentals

(Image credit: Avis)

Avis

Avis is always on hand if you need to rent a car when abroad.

Locations in 165 countries
Competitive weekly rates
Rewards program not as generous as others
Cheaper rentals are often available

With more than 5,500 locations in over 160 countries worldwide, Avis is the familiar name that provides car rental solutions for international travelers everywhere. Even if you're still at home, and looking to hire in the US, there's getting on for 2,000 offices from which you can rent, enough to make Avis one of the largest car rental companies in America.

The vehicle choice is exceptional as well, with all bases covered from economy through to luxury cars, along with vans, SUVs and much more. If you want to go green, hybrid vehicles can be rented too. 

While you'll probably be able to find better prices elsewhere, charges are no worse than average and the weekly rates are sometimes better than what you'd find at other rental companies. There's a rewards program to inspire your loyalty too, although with points thresholds slightly higher than what you'd find elsewhere, you'll need to be a frequent traveler to take proper advantage. 


Why trust us

At Top Ten Reviews we’ve been writing about car rental services for over a decade. We chose to review companies with the largest presence in the U.S., though most also operate internationally. Most of them have both airport and city locations, though some of the smaller services operate primarily at airports.

Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are an attractive alternative to renting a car, but they don’t fit into the car rental category, so we didn’t include them. We asked Ed Perkins, an editor at SmarterTravel.com, about the advantages that renting a car offers over using a rideshare service. He told us that rideshares can help you avoid problems with finding parking if you’re making a lot of stops in a city, but a rental car can help you avoid costs associated with multiple trips. If you’re planning on driving through the suburbs or the country, renting is the best option.

How we compared car rental services

We compared pricing for three types of cars in three different cities for a one-day and a week-long rental. The cities we used were Los Angeles, New York City and Houston. We looked at economy, compact and full-size cars. Most of the rental companies offer a wider range of vehicles, including luxury sports cars, SUVs and 15-passenger vans, but the cars we looked at represent what most consumers will be looking for.

Another important consideration is a rental company’s rewards program. If you travel frequently, this is a good way to recoup some of your expenses. Most of these services offer points for each dollar spent, which can then be redeemed for free rentals. We looked at how many points are typically needed to get a free rental. Another perk of joining the rewards program is an opportunity to get quicker service when checking out your car. Some rental companies have a line or kiosk specifically designated for its rewards members.

We looked at the broad availability of a rental service. If you like a company, and especially if you join a rewards program, you’ll want to be sure you can use it wherever you go. Many of the largest rental companies have international locations in addition to U.S. stores.

How much does it cost to rent a car?

Car rental pricing fluctuates depending on a variety of factors, including time of the year, day of the week and how far in advance you book. Based on our research, we found that the cost for an economy car can range from $62 to $131 per day, and the cost of a full-size rental ranges from $74 to $153 per day. Taxes and airport fees can add another $15 to $30 to those daily rates. If you can, try to rent from a non-airport location to save some money.

Do’s and don’ts of renting a car

Do shop around for the best car rental deals
As car rentals are a competitive area, where business levels naturally fluctuate. This means there is usually various of deals going on.  If you’re primarily looking for the lowest cost and aren’t a member of a specific company’s rewards program, using a service like Hotwire or Priceline can get you the cheapest price.

Do take advantage of shuttle options
Many rental companies now offer pick-up services. If you’ve made a reservation in advance at a non-airport location, you can arrange for the company to pick you up at your hotel or office or home. They will drive you to the rental office where you can sign the paperwork and be on your way. This is a great way to sidestep some of the logistical hassles involved in renting cars.

Do sign up for rewards programs
These programs are free and offer benefits beyond rewards points. They typically offer quicker service, free upgrades and free additional drivers as well. Signing up to a car services’ reward program will maximize the value you get from your money.

Don’t rent from an airport
If you can avoid it, try to rent from an off-airport location. Airports often add their own concession fees on top of whatever fees and taxes apply to the city you’re renting in. The concession fee varies from airport to airport but can approach 10 percent of what you pay for the rental.

Don’t pay for insurance
Your current car insurance policy likely covers you while you’re in a rental car, and the credit card you pay with may include secondary collision insurance. Collision damage waivers offered by the rental companies are often expensive and unnecessary. Check the small print of your current auto insurance, if you have one, and do the same with your credit card. If you're not covered it's often far cheaper to buy excess car rental insurance from a third party than from the car rental company.

Is it better to rent a car or use a rideshare?

Whether you’re going on vacation or travelling for work, rideshare services may be a good alternative to a car rental. In fact, depending on the situation, a rideshare like Uber or Lyft can save you some money. A lot depends on where you travel and how you plan to get around while you’re there.

As you decide between renting and using rideshares, consider how often you’ll  need to use a vehicle at your destination. If you just need a car to get from the airport to your hotel, a rideshare may be the better option. Also, if you’re visiting a city with robust public transportation and many attractions within walking distance, for example New York City, renting a car can be a hassle – especially if you don’t want the stress of city traffic and trying to find parking. On the other hand, if you need to drive around your destination and take a lot of small trips here and there, a rideshare can end up costing more than a rental car.

When you travel somewhere remote or in the wilderness, like a national park, a rental is your only choice. Another reason to choose a rental over a rideshare is you have control over your own driving situation. Also, rideshare companies charge higher prices when there’s high demand, so during busier hours of the day, you’ll pay between one and half  to two times more than the base fee.