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

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

Million Mile SecretsCheap Car Rentals: Part 13 – How to Find Cheap One-Way Car RentalsMillion Mile Secrets Team

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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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Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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Want to rent SUV one way Kansas to Alaska in August.

Checked this in the past. Nobody seems to want their rentals left in Alaska!

Hm, strangely enough I find most of the information on this site wrong. One way rentals using Costco travel or Capital one travel? Good luck, prices are a lot higher than many other online retailers. I’ve never found those two to be competitive. Furthermore, there isn’t one company that’s more competitive than others. Things simply change depending on the specials they are running. That’s why you don’t have a choice but to check every site possible. Hotwire had the best deals for awhile on car rentals when they were running their sale. That’s over now, and I’ve found Priceline to have the best deal consistently. That will change as well, I’m sure, so you just have to do your homework and check all before you make a booking.

we are fling to san Francisco on the 25 on july we want to rent a car preferrably a convertable and drive up the coast to Yakima wa for a few days to visit friends then going east to when ever we get tired them fly the rest of the way to dallas, tx where we started. whats the best rent conbo

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.

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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