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Road Trippin': Save Big Bucks on a Rental Car

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Summer is here, and my kids and I felt like going on a road trip. We planned a two-week extravaganza hitting a bunch of national parks and staying with some friends and relatives along the way. My husband was less than enthusiastic, remembering long, nauseating childhood rides in the waaay back of an un-air-conditioned station wagon. He said he would join us somewhere along the way.

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We have a Prius, and I thought that would be perfect for the road trip. We would hardly use any gas! We would be eco-friendly! And thrifty! A week before we were set to leave, I drove across town with all three kids in the Prius. They just about killed each other. I pictured how it would be for 4,000 miles. We needed a minivan -- fast.

I went on all the websites of the major car-rental agencies. I found plenty of deals for smaller cars, but minivans are a hot commodity. When searching for prices, most websites allow you to enter a corporate ID code and a separate coupon code. A bunch of corporate codes can be found on these sites: FatWallet and MouseSavers.

Now, although you may be able to get a phenomenal rate by posing as a Michigan Farm Bureau employee, I recommend that you only use a code for which you legitimately qualify. For instance, the code for Car and Driver comes from the magazine and is a general code for their readers. It often gives very good rates, as do American Express, Visa or AAA codes. The corporate codes can often be combined with a coupon code for a free day or a dollar-amount off. Those codes may be found on the "Specials" page of the website, in a publication like The Entertainment Book or by Googling the car-rental name with the word "coupon."

That worked to bring my amount down, but it was still over $800, which I thought was too steep. I tried Priceline and Hotwire, to no avail. I offered to rent my friends' minivans, but no one had one available with less than 100,000 miles on it, and I was a little worried about driving alone in remote areas with those cars. Time was getting tight, and I was getting worried.

I started checking other locations -- local offices and airports farther away. Ultimately, I was able to find just what I needed through a last-minute special I found on the car-rental company's website. I had to drive an hour out of the way to pick up the car (and to drop it off), but we all felt it was worth it. The price was just over $500 for two weeks, including taxes. That would be about the price for one of us to fly somewhere.

And no price can be put on family harmony. (But I wasn't willing to spend $800 ....)

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
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