To avoid the worst rental car fees, you'll need to do a bit of homework and practice saying "no."
Rental car fees explained
For many travelers, nothing beats a great deal on a rental car.
Nationally, the average car rental clocks in at $91 per day, according to J.D. Power’s 2023 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study. However, rental car costs can vary widely depending on the type of vehicle, the company, and the pickup and dropoff locations customers choose, with rates running anywhere from as little as $30 a day for an economy car to over $200 a day for a luxury vehicle.
Unfortunately, pesky fees can quickly drive up the cost of your rental car, turning what may have seemed like a budget-friendly deal at first into a costly venture. On the bright side, though: some rental car fees are avoidable.
Here’s how to dodge seven hidden fees and add-ons for your next car rental.
1. Airport pickup
Some rental car companies charge an “airport concession fee” or “concession recovery fee.” These airport pickup fees can range from a few bucks to $10 or more a day. You can avoid them — and potentially get a lower rate overall — by renting from a facility a few miles away from the airport.
Pro tip: When comparing the cost of an airport rental car with an off-airport rental car, make sure to factor in the cost of transportation, such as an Uber or taxi, to pick up the vehicle and to return to the airport after you drop the car off.
Agents often try to upsell customers on car insurance at the counter — and insurance can sometimes double the cost of your rental. But your primary car’s insurance policy likely covers damages to rental cars and other property damaged in an accident. (Contact your insurance agent to double-check.) Moreover, some travel credit cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the United Explorer, and the Capital One Venture X Rewards, provide collision damage coverage up to certain limits. (Check out Kiplinger's guide to credit cards that cover rental car insurance.)
3. Additional drivers
Your rental car company may charge extra for you to add an authorized driver, from around $5 to $15 a day per driver. Joining the company’s loyalty program can sometimes eliminate additional driver fees for spouses or domestic partners. For example, Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty offer this perk to their members. If you’re a Costco member, Avis and Budget waive the additional driver fee if you rent a car through Costco Travel.
Rental car agencies often charge a higher price-per-gallon than market value to refill the tank when you return the vehicle. It’s known as a “prepaid fuel” charge, it’s another instance where convenience comes at a price. (To Enterprise’s credit, the company is transparent on its website about its refueling rates being typically higher than the local pump price.) A simple solution: fill up the vehicle yourself at a nearby gas station before you return the car.
5. Extra miles
Many rental car companies let you choose between an unlimited mileage or a limited mileage policy. The allowance for a limited mileage policy can vary, but after you reach the cap, you’ll be charged for each additional mile, usually around $0.10 to $0.25 per mile, according to Kayak. Therefore, calculate roughly how many miles you expect to drive before selecting a limited mileage policy. And, be aware: You may see different mileage restrictions within the same rental company for certain cars, with lower mileage allowances for luxury and exotic vehicles, says AutoSlash, a car rental deals website.
6. Toll transponders
Many rental car companies charge a daily fee for using their toll transponder, typically running between $5 and $10 a day. So, bring your own transponder — or use Google Maps or Waze to avoid toll roads when possible.
7. Satellite radio
Most rental car companies charge a fee for SiriusXM, including Budget ($8 per day or $30 per week), Enterprise ($6 per day or $25 per week), and Hertz ($5 per day). Generally, this fee is easy to skirt, since car rental companies usually require you to opt in for satellite radio service.
Daniel Bortz is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va. His work has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Consumer Reports, Newsweek, and Money magazine, among others.
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