The lines at the car rental counter can be long, and everyone standing there has a target on them.
For a lot of travelers, by the time you get off the plane and make it to the car rental counter, you're either tired or eager to get where you're going -- or both. And that's just the way the folks who rent you cars want it.
The less in tune you are with what they're doing and the less focused you are on what they're trying to sell, the more likely you are to spend money on unneeded upgrades and get stuck with other charges that you can -- and should -- avoid.
Car rental agents are rewarded for how much they can get you to add. Here are five areas to pay close attention to when renting a car, or you'll run the risk of paying far more than necessary:
1. The fine print. Understand the terms of your rental. If you rent a car for a week for $200 and bring it back after six days, what will you pay? The deal you might have gotten was based on a seven-day rental. You could be charged a far higher rate or even face a penalty for bringing it back too soon. Maybe not, but you ought to know that before you drive away. Make sure what is included in the price and what isn't. Sometimes, airport fees and additional charges can make what seems like a cheap rental expensive.
2. Insurance. Car rental agents can be relentless in their push to get you buy their insurance, which is couched in confusing terms like "collision damage waiver." The best defense against that is to call your car insurance company before you leave home and see what it covers. Then follow up with a call to your credit card company, since many cards offer supplemental coverage to what your auto insurer covers. Car rental companies will charge you for roadside assistance (millions of Americans have access to that through AAA and other services) and the time a vehicle can't be rented because it's being fixed (ask your insurer about "loss of use" coverage).
3. Damage charges. The complaints are repeated over and over again. A consumer gets a bill from a car rental company for damage that they didn't think they are responsible for. If you can't make the case with any evidence, you'll not likely to get off the hook. Be sure to thoroughly inspect the vehicle prior to pulling out of the parking spot, and make sure any damage is noted before leaving. Take photos of the vehicle using a camera or smartphone that has a time stamp, paying particular attention to any existing damage.
4. Gas charges. Prepaying for a tank of gas is a sucker's bet. But be clear about the rules for how much gas has to be in the car when you return it and whether you need a receipt, as well as how far you're allowed to drive from a gas station. Seriously. Driving more than 10 miles after filling up your tank could lead to a penalty. Or failing to show your receipt could negate bringing it back full.
5. The upsell. That could be anything from getting you rent a bigger car to paying a daily fee for a GPS or a toll transponder. Anything you're going to get charged for on a daily basis or prepay from a car rental agency is going to be money you could have saved. Do you really need to rent a GPS in today's world of smartphones? Do you really want to pay a premium to pay tolls? Need a car seat? Bring one.
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"August is a traditional month when next year's models are rolled out, and the rush to sell last year's inventory heats up," says John Ganotis, founder of CreditCardInsider.com. "For instance, General Motors (GM) promoted Chevrolet sales with a 'Love It or Return It' campaign that allowed customers to return new cars within 60 days of purchase. GM's no-haggle equivalent was called 'Total Confidence Pricing.' Cars were offered at about the same price GM gave its employees." Ganotis says that consumers can expect these and similar programs and specials this month.
Whether you're shopping for a pre-K or collegiate living, back to school sales are your best friend. "Many stores have already cut prices on supplies by up to 30 percent and are offering [buy one, get one] deals now," says DealScience.com, which delivers shopping intelligence. "Department stores like Kohl's (KSS) and Target (TGT), and office supply stores like Office Depot (ODP) and Staples (SPLS), are among those that have great seasonal savings." DealScience says some of the best savings on back to school goods are at office supply stores. Shop online for the best prices.
If you live where it stays hot, now's the time to take advantage of summer clearance sales. Of course, you can shop for next summer's wardrobe, too. Expect to find deals on sandals, tanks, swimwear, shorts and airy maxi dresses both online and at brick and mortar stores.
If you live in a cooler climate and buying summer duds at this time of year doesn't appeal, don't fret. Loads of retailers start fall promotions at the end of July and run them for several months. "Stores like Lucky Brand, Levi's and Lee offer up to 80 percent off before the summer is even over, so now is the time to purchase that new pair of jeans," says DealScience. "Gap (GPS) and Old Navy often cut prices on school styles by 40 percent." Check for specials on outerwear, boots, scarves, cardigans, denim and even belts.
According to DealNews.com, mainstream laptops are at rock bottom prices. The site says you can find a notebook for under $400 "with a 15" to 16" screen, at least 4GB of RAM, at least a 500GB hard drive, and Intel's (INTC) Haswell Core i5 processor, which is the company's mainstream chip capable of handling everything from HD movie streaming to casual gaming."
"Last month, brand-name 42" LCD HDTVs hit their lowest price of the year, coming in at an impressive $299, which is roughly $40 under 2014's average for this size category," reports DealNews. "Meanwhile, off-brand models of the same size, such as those from Insignia, Sceptre and Sanyo, hit $250, which is the best price we've seen all year for this category." The site says prices will continue to drop in August and -- perhaps -- through November.
Linens are a hot buy for both dorm-dwellers and newlyweds. With an uptick in both come August, retailers have blankets, sheets, pillows, shams, duvets, towels and washcloths marked down.
Wine grapes are typically harvested in early through late fall, which means that wineries all over the world are putting last year's bottles on sale to make room for the new stuff. Subscribe to your local wineries' newsletters and Facebook pages to stay up to date on specials. Wineries, grocers and major retailers often provide a discount when you buy at least six bottles at a time.