Cheap Car Rentals: Part 13 – How to Find Cheap One-Way Car Rentals

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Sometimes you need a 1-way car rental where you pick-up the car at one location (say Los Angeles), but return the car to a different location (say San Francisco).  But 1-way rentals cost a lot more than regular rentals.

Cheap one way car rental

One Way Rentals Can Cost A Lot of Money!

Cheap Car Rentals Series:

Fees

Most rental car companies charge a drop-off fee when you pick up a vehicle from one location and return it at another.

Alamo charges both a drop-off fee and a mileage charge which they call an “inter-city” fee.  Alamo’s drop-off fee varies by location and time of year, so you could pay more if you drop off in one city than another or if you drop the car off during the holidays.

Rental car companies are very sneaky about fees, so always compare the TOTAL cost of a rental after all fees/charges/surcharges are added.

1-WAY RENTALS COST MORE

1-way rentals are more expensive than roundtrip rentals.

When you rent a car for only 1-way, the rental car company has to get the car back to its original location so they pass on these costs to you.

For example, you will pay $1,034 for a 1-way rental from San Diego to Salt Lake City from April 11, 2014 to April 16, 2014.

Cheap one way car rental

$1,034 For A Rental From San Diego To Salt Lake City

But the same rental picked up and returned at Salt Lake City only costs $354!  That’s $680 MORE ($1,034 for a 1-way rental – $354 for a same city rental)  for dropping off the car elsewhere.

Cheap one way car rental

Picking Up And Returning To The Same City Is $680 Cheaper!

Not All Companies Allow 1 Way Rentals

Most rental companies allow 1-way rentals, but they may not be available from all locations so you need to check before renting.

Alamo does not allow international 1 way rentals while Enterprise only allows 1-way rentals from select locations.

Finding Cheap 1 Way Rentals

You can book inexpensive 1-way rentals through Costco Travel, Car Rental Savers, and the Capital One portal.  Unfortunately, you can’t book 1-way rentals through the Ultimate Rewards portal which often has the best rental deals.

I find that Capital One usually has the lowest 1-way rentals, but that is not always the case, so you should check the rate on different sites.

I compared 1-way rental rates using Capital One, Car Rental Savers, Costco Travel, Hotwire, and USAA.

A)   1 week rental from Los Angeles to San Francisco

I checked the prices for a 1-Way Rental From Los Angeles to San Francisco from January 5, 2014 to January 12, 2014.  This is a fairly common rental route because folks drive down the Pacific Highway.

 Capital OneCar Rental SaversCostcoHotwireUSAA
1-Way Weekly Rental From Los Angeles to San Francisco $310$317$342$316$377

The Capital One portal had the cheapest rate of $310, but Hotwire was only $6 more!  So you’d be able to get a good price even if you didn’t have a Capital One card.

Cheap one way car rental

1-Way Rental From Los Angeles To San Francisco For $316 on Hotwire

B)   4 day rental from Kansas City to Austin

I also checked the rate of a more unusual 1-way rental route, which often have high prices.  Sure enough, this 4-day rental from February 14, 2014, to February 18, 2014  was VERY expensive!

 Capital One Car Rental SaversCostcoHotwireUSAA
4 -Day 1-Way Rental From Kansas City to Austin $942$560$802$560$592

The cheapest rate was $560 on Hotwire, which is a lot for a 4-day rental!  And in this case, the Capital One portal was $400 more so you should shop around for the best deal.

1.  Splitting Up A Rental

You can save money on 1-way rentals, by splitting your rental into 2 separate rentals.  This usually saves money on the unusual 1-way rental routes.

But make sure to factor in the “hassle factor” of returning the car to the airport and picking up a new rental car.

A)  Los Angeles To San Francisco

Instead of doing a 1-way weekly rental from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I checked to see if it would be cheaper to split the rental.  I would make 2 separate rental car bookings:

  • 6 days in Los Angeles and
  • A 1 day 1-way rental from Los Angeles to San Francisco

I would rent the car for 6 days from the Los Angeles airport and then return the car to the Los Angeles airport and rent another car for just the 1-day drive to San Francisco.

 Capital One (Thrifty)Car Rental SaversCostcoHotwireUSAA (Avis & Budget)
6 Day Rental Los Angeles
Jan 5 to 11, 2014
$146$196$274$271$200
1 Way Rental Los Angeles to San Francisco Jan 11 to 12, 2014$45$95$93$95$102
Total Cost$191$291$367$366$302

It was cheaper to book two separate rentals when booking through Capital One, Car Rental Savers, and USAA.  However, you should see if the savings is worth the extra time to drive the car back to the airport and pick-up another rental.

 Capital One (Budget & Thrifty)Car Rental SaversCostcoHotwireUSAA (Budget & Avis)
1 Way Weekly Rental Los Angeles to San Francisco January 5 to 12, 2014$310$317$342$316$377
6 Day Rental Los Angeles
Jan 5 to 11, 2014 + 1 Way Rental Los Angeles to San Francisco Jan 11 to 12, 2014
$191$291$367$366$302
Savings$119$26$-25 (Split rental will cost you more.)$-50 (Split rental will cost you more.)$75

By splitting the rental into two separate rentals, you’d save:

  • $119 with Capital One ($310 – $191)
  • $26 with Car Rental Savers ($317 – $291)
  • $75 with USAA ($377 – $302)

B.  Kansas City To Austin

Instead of doing a 4-day rental from Kansas City to Austin, I checked to see if it would be cheaper to split the rental.  I would make 2 separate rental car bookings:

  • 3 days in Kansas City and
  • A 1 day 1-way rental from Kansas City to Austin

I would rent the car for 3 days from the Kansas City airport and then return the car to the Kansas City airport and rent another car for just the 1-day drive to Austin.

 Capital One (Thrifty & Alamo)Car Rental SaversCostcoHotwireUSAA (Avis & Enterprise)
3 Day Rental Kansas City
Feb 14 to 17, 2014
$84$108$94$80$104
1 Way Rental Kansas City to Austin Feb 17 to 18, 2014$236$200$200$248$236
Total Cost$320$308$294$328$340

It was SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper to book two separate rentals for this unusual rental car route.

 Capital One (Alamo & Thrifty)Car Rental SaversCostcoHotwireUSAA (Hertz, Avis & Enterprise)
4 Day 1 Way Rental Kansas City to Austin February 14 to 18, 2014$942$560$802$560$592
3 Day Rental Kansas City
Feb 14 to 17, 2014 + 1 Way Rental Kansas City to Austin Feb 17 to 18, 2014
$320$308$294$328$340
Savings$622$252$508$232$252

By splitting the rental into two separate rentals, you’d save:

  • $622 with Capital One ($942 – $320)
  • $252 with Car Rental Savers ($560 – $308)
  • $508 with Costco ($802 – $294)
  • $232 with Hotwire ($560 – $328)
  • $252 with USAA ($592 – $340)

If you booked a one way rental from Kansas City to Austin on February 14 to 18, 2014, it would cost $802.

Cheap one way car rental

Costco Charges $802 For A One Way Rental From Kansas City To Austin

But if you split the rental into two separate rentals, it would only cost $294.

Rental One – 3 day rental in Kansas City from February 14 to 17, 2014 costs $94.

Cheap one way car rental

$94 For A 3 Day Rental In Kansas City

Rental Two – 1 day rental from Kansas City to Austin on February 17 to 18, 2014 is $200.

Cheap one way car rental

$200 For A One Way Rental From Kansas City To Austin

In general, unusual city combinations, such as Kansas City to Austin in my example, will be cheaper when you book two separate rentals.

2.   Using Points

Using car rental program points for 1-way rentals will save you a lot of money.  However, you likely won’t be eligible to use the car insurance from your credit card, so do the math to see if it makes sense for you.

Cheap one way car rental

Use Hertz Points to Save on 1-Way Car Rentals

For example, it costs 5,000 Hertz points for a 1 week 1-way rental.  You can usually buy Hertz points at a discount during the Discover America promotion at the start of summer.

If you frequently rent cars for 1-way trips, it is better to collect points in the car rental program instead of having your rental earn airline miles via the car rental program.

3.  Seasonal Specials

You can take advantage of cheap 1 way rentals from Hertz during the Spring and Fall for selected destinations such as Arizona and Florida.  Other rental car companies also offer similar promotions before and after summer or when they need to move cars from one state to another.

4.  Driveaways

Link:  Auto Driveaway

Link:  Go Nomad

Link:  CarsDirect

This isn’t really an option for most folks because the driveaway routes may not be the routes you want to drive!

Driveaway companies such as Auto Driveaway,  Go Nomad, and CarsDirect specialize in vehicle relocation and let you drive cars for free from 1 state to another.

Each company has different requirements to participate but in general you need:

  • To be at least 25 years old
  • Have a good driving record
  • Pay an upfront deposit
  • Pay for the gas

You also have a deadline, route and mileage restriction.  So keep that in mind before you sign on to do a driveaway.

Bottom Line

1-way rentals are more expensive than roundtrip rentals.  I usually search the Capital One portal, Car Rental Savers, and Costco Travel to find cheap 1-way rentals.

Splitting up a one way car rental into two separate rentals can be much cheaper than booking a single one way car rental – especially for unusual routes.

PS:  I’m on vacation so I won’t be able to get to the comments soon.

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36 responses to “Cheap Car Rentals: Part 13 – How to Find Cheap One-Way Car Rentals

  1. Always check the Last Minute to go specials on National’s website the week before you need your rental. I just picked up a one-way from SFO – PHX for a minivan for 12 days at just under $300. Killer deal! Also, if you join National’s Emerald Club, a spouse is counted as an additional driver for free.

  2. I have used http://zalyn.com/.

    You make a profile and then it finds any and all coupons relevant to your status, etc. I scored a good rental at SFO for a week at $171.

    Worth checking out if you haven’t before.

  3. thanks for this info–we had looked into doing a trip out west with the kids, starting in vegas and going to phoenix or denver and the rental was SO expensive to we will remember this!

  4. Wow this is a good series. I HATE using points on rental cars so this is super a super helpful resource I will refer to often.

  5. You can use the same logic to book 2 R/T tickets to LA (or any city) instead of one ticket. I once booked A/B roundtrip, followed by B/C roundtrip. It was a large enough saving vs booking A/C.

    City pairs were LGA/ORD/LAX.

  6. The splitting approach is helpful but is not really useful for true 1 way rental (i.e. you are not really staying in the origin or destination for more than a day). However in this case, it is useful to to split is up midway. A 5 day rental from an obscure Lafayette, Indiana to Portland, Oregon is extremely expensive. However if I rent 3 days from Lafayette to Salt Lake City and then 2 days from SLC to Portland, there would be a significant saving.

  7. For weekends, Enterprise has this special starting soon
    Enjoy our $9.99 Weekend Special.
    Our popular $9.99 per day Weekend Special starts on 9/6/2013. Book now and save big at a participating neighborhood location near you

  8. Very helpful! I’ve been checking into one-way rentals (Seattle to Spokane). The pricing is really weird (SeaTac to Spokane through Budget $340, but a close off-site location of Bellevue to Spokane is $1200; Bellevue to Spokane through Enterprise is $260). I thought off-site was always cheaper than the airport pickup. Will look into some of the tips listed in comments.

  9. You have said somewhere on your site that Capital One has good deals. I have never had Cap One and actually don’t understand which one of their cards would give me access to the low car rental prices. Which card would you recommend for me to sign up for? Thanks!

  10. This is a very good, comprehensive article on this type of car rental. I think this entire series has been very helpful in general, even for those, with lots of experience in renting cars.

    • @Chri – I’ve written about National’s Last Minute deals in another post in this series, and it never hurts to check around for the best price!

      @JRG – I’ve checked it out, but find it hard to use. i.e. I don’t like the user interface.

      @Holly S @Donnie Law – I’m sure you’ll save some money using the tips in this post!

      @dhammer53 – That’s very true!

      @asar – I’ve always had one-way rentals where I’m driving somewhere different on the last day, but your strategy for splitting works very well as well!

      @Soosie – Capital One Cards check your credit score from all three credit bureaus and their rental prices are not always the best (you still have to check around). I’d suggest the Capital One Venture Rewards card if you’re looking for a Capital One travel card.

      @milesforfamily – Thanks!

  11. One option that may work for some people is to to use their employer’s corporate rates, as they sometimes have arrangements that waive one-way charges. Be sure that your employer does not object, my prior employer was fine with it, my current I can’t find a straight answer so won’t do it, and be very clear on your insurance situation. Many corporate rates have their own insurance built in and you really do not want to file a claim on that for a personal rental. If you are not otherwise insured it can be a hassle to take off the corporate insurance and add the agency’s. With the costs in play it can be worth the effort, one time my colleague saved $800 on a one-way Canadian rental by going with the corporate rate.

    Also note with one-ways that this can break unlimited mileage rates and instead get hit for limited mileage, too, I have seen this more outside the US than in the US. Canada for instance like the above, though the rate savings were much more than mileage charges. Australia is a huge pain in terms of mileage of all kinds of rentals, roundtrip or one-way, especially outside the coastal states.

  12. I had to do two cross-country trips last year and rented one-way rentals both times. I found there was a significant cost difference when I rented airport to airport vs. renting outside airport to airport. My price searching found that most times renting non-airport to non-airport was impossible for one way rentals. However, in my situation I got a 5 day one-way rental outside PHL airport to Twin Falls, ID for $400 vs. the airport price of $890. Promotion Coupons helped, too.

    Not sure why that is, but it definitely helped. I used Priceline to book my rental.

  13. whoah this blog is fantastic i really like studying your articles.
    Keep up the great work! You already know, lots of individuals are looking round for this info, you can help them greatly.

  14. Splitting a one way international rental saves money in Europe. Using Hertz, Lille to Barcelona (7 days) 719 euros, Lille-Perpignan (6 days) then Perpignan-Barcelona (1 day) 444 Euros. Saving 275 euros, about 360 USD.

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  16. Darius,
    Any tips for one way rentals in New Zealand (30 to 24 day rentals) and Australia (2 to 7 day rentals).
    Thanks for all your great articles.
    Steve

  17. Good tips! One thing to keep in mind – the charge for a second driver. This can add a substantial amount to a rental. Budget never charges for the second driver (perhaps, but I am not sure, if the second driver is a spouse). On my last few car rentals, this has been the determining factor in producing the lowest price.

  18. This totally worked! We are under 25 and just used this to get our under 25 fee waived and 5% off our total. It saved us so much since we were renting in Las Vegas and dropping off in Denver. Thank you so much!!

  19. @Million Mile Secrets
    in your opinion, whats the best (cheapest) portal for finding one-way rentals in europe please? (BUD-VIE-PRG) thanks!

  20. I’m a FA based in Orlando and live in Miami. I have to use one way rentals quite a bit and found Priceline is the way to go. I religiously use them and I average $35 one way rentals (out the door). Always try Priceline and Orbitz. Priceline is also allows you to secure your rental without paying for it.

  21. nerd a car one way from Santa Clarita Ca to Carson city nevada

  22. Need a SUv from Las Vegas to Orlando August 2015..how can I get passed the $750+ drop off fee…?

  23. Of all major companies, Budget has, but FAR, the lowest one-way fee (about $375). SIXT is also good if you can drive far in a short time, as they do a daily rate with imbedded one-way fee instead of a tack-on. SIXT is pretty cool if you are going major city to major city.

    All other rental companies are criminals with their nearly $1000 tack-ons!

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  25. Thank you!!! I am taking my son on a vacation driving down the coast of CA. I was really frustrated at the rental fees that were 3 times the typical rate because we were picking up at SFO and dropping off at LAX. Thanks to this article, I rented a car through Capital One, which saved me over $1100!!! I am soo soo grateful!!

  26. Thank you so much! I just saved $40 with your tip to use the Costco link. My husband already had the membership but I had no idea you could save on car rentals. I used your link too. Much appreciated!

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  30. Darius,

    Thank you for such a comprehensive article about the one way rental. I am planing to rent a car from San Francisco and return to Los Angeles, checked everywhere, cheapest one week rental is at least $500. could you check capital one real rate before I apply a credit card? Renting from 04/25/16 to 05/02/16. Thank you in advance.

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