There are some places on earth that were just meant to be seen from a convertible. Big Sur on the northern California coast is one of them. This is a place of unparalleled beauty. I did the drive in 2014 with my friend, and she and I agree that it was one of the most amazing experiences of our lives
But a convertible isn’t cheap, especially if you want to rent it during the best convertible-driving time, summer. Check out Kayak’s rates for a 1 week convertible rental during the peak of summer, 10th July -17th July, at SFO airport.
Upwards of $104 a day ($70 USD approx), and that’s without any insurance. So should we bite the bullet and pay what they’re quoting?
If reading this site has taught you absolutely nothing.
Be ashamed for thinking that and go home now.
In the true spirit of travel hacking, let’s look at the ways you can get a convertible without busting the bank.
(1) Don’t bother with the traditional agencies
There are many new and exciting startups trying to bypass the traditional car rental agencies and allowing people to rent out their own cars.
This is beyond impressive. So you can get a BMW convertible (if you rented from the agency you’d almost certainly get a Ford Mustang or Chevy Camaro, both good cars but still…) with GPS, with delivery, at a price less than renting from the airport. What’s there not to like?
Note that there are 2 types of arrangements on Turo- delivery and non-delivery. With delivery ,the car owner will drop off the car to you, wherever you are (ie airport). Without, you need to venture to the owner’s location to pick it up.
Also, I’d advise that you take Turo’s basic insurance, which comes with a deductible of $3,000 and costs 15% of your total rental price. Because Turo is not an “official” car rental company, I am doubtful that any of the discounted car rental insurance options offered here will cover damage.
Before you ask, yes, Turo does allow people with non-US licenses to rent. There’s a little additional red tape to do, so make sure you get that done upfront.
If you want to use Turo, here’s my sign up link for $25 credit for both of us.
(2) Use National Car’s executive aisle and upgrade yourself
National Car operates something known as the Emerald Aisle. I’ve covered it before, but here’s a reminder on how it works. If you’re an Emerald Club member and you book a mid-sized or larger vehicle, you can go directly to the aisle, pick any vehicle you want and drive off. The aisle will typically have a range of cars, including SUVs, MPVs and perhaps the occasional convertible. Keep in mind that the popular cars will be quickly snapped up, so this is by no means a guaranteed method of snagging a convertible. It also depends on the time of year, people are less likely to want a convertible during the chilly winter months, and good luck snagging one during summer.
There is no logic as to what cars will appear on the aisle, it is more up to whatever inventory they have in stock at the moment. Therefore, this wouldn’t be my primary option, but since all car rentals are fully refundable (and don’t even require your CC details at the time of booking) there is no harm in making 1 booking with National to check out the aisle, and 1 booking elsewhere.
Here’s the trick I use. I frequently fly into the US from SFO, which is one of the busiest international gateways to the US. The National Car aisle there is usually filled with rather uninspiring choices (think Toyota Corollas, Chevy Malibus, Chrysler 200s).
But just 45 minutes south of SFO is SJC airport, which also has a National Car aisle. It’s an international airport, but much less busy (I think ANA is the only international carrier of note flying there). I normally pick up a car from SFO, drive to SJC, tell them that the car “sounds funny” and they swap me out for a new one, no questions asked. I can then examine the National aisle there and leisurely pick whatever car I want (vs SFO where it’s usually a sprint to the nicest, best car before the next AirTrain of passengers comes in. Why not just rent from SJC? Because I fly in and out from SFO and doing a 1 way car rental would be prohibitively expensive. Besides, I need to somehow get from SFO to SJC)
(3) Bid with Priceline to get a discounted car
Priceline works great for hotels, but did you know it works for car rentals too?
Go to the Priceline site, click on rental cars and name your own price. Enter your details and you’ll get the summary below
The trick of course, with Priceline, is that you don’t know which rental agency they’ll give you. But if we follow the premise that a convertible is a convertible is a convertible (not strictly true in the sense that National, Avis and Hertz have the nicest, newest models while Dollar, Fox and Advantage have the worst) then we should be fairly indifferent.
I’d recommending using Kayak to search for your exact dates and location to get an idea of what the prices are, then start your bidding a few months in advance at 30% of the quoted price, working upwards $2-$3 at a time per day (Priceline will only allow 1 bid per 24 hour period unless you change your location or type of car)
Note: the website will say that name your own price is only possible if you have a US billing address. I’ve entered any random address and it still accepted my Singapore credit card.
When playing the upgrade game, the higher your status, the better a chance you have. All major car rental agencies will match your status (Sixt, Avis, Hertz etc) with another car rental agency, see National’s status match here for example. The problem is getting status with one rental company in the first place. Milepoint used to have a Premium package which gave you National Executive status when you registered, but that’s not available currently. I’ll keep my eyes open for opportunities to buy/get free status and keep everyone informed as and when I see them.
Getting the lowest rate for car rentals is always a game of rental codes- look on sites like MouseSavers, Flyertalk etc for discount codes you can enter and experiment with each one.
If all else fails, you can always ask at the counter for a discounted upgrade. But be sure to educate yourself beforehand what a convertible should cost, otherwise you might end up paying the difference in price instead of getting a genuine discount.