From chip and car shortages to bad PR (to say the least) and bankruptcy — the last few years were rough on the car rental industry. Still, it’s a new year, and travelers still need to rent cars! So like many vacationers, we’ve been wondering – who are the best rental car companies in the U.S. and which ones have the best deals and cheapest rates on rental cars?
Finding the best deals to rent a car takes work. Do you pick the cheapest or more reliable rental car company? Should you pay now or later for a rental car, and what are the associated risks with each option? What if you need to cancel your reservation last minute — which company has the highest cancellation fees?
These are all critical questions to consider when selecting the best rental car company, but it can be challenging to examine all these options holistically. That’s why Trips to Discover completed a month-long analysis of the eight most prominent car rental companies to find the best car rentals in the U.S.
We used a proprietary ranking system utilizing 12 variables to find the best car rental company in the country. The algorithm not only considers price but transparency, average fees, cancellation costs, availability, pay-now discounts, car class, size and baggage space, and more. See our methodology for the full explanation.
Here is a breakdown of everything you’ll learn on this page:
Table: The Best Rental Car Companies of 2023
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The Eight Best Car Rental Companies in the US
The data is gathered, crunched, and analyzed; we looked at everything you need to know about renting a car from the eight major car rental companies in the US. Take advantage of this resource to find the best car rental company for your travel style!
We completed and analyzed 176 mock rental car bookings for the nation’s eight largest companies. We used the five largest US airports based on passenger traffic as the pickup destinations for these bookings across five upcoming holidays. Rental durations ranged from three to nine days, depending on the holiday, and we always selected the busiest travel days.
One metric below that is less self-explanatory is the Average True Daily Cost. Car rental companies often quote a daily rate. Still, most of the time, these are base rates without taxes, fees, and other miscellaneous charges, and the meaning of daily rates are lost at checkout — this can make rental comparison shopping even trickier for drivers.
We used the final checkout price for each of the 176 bookings to calculate a “true” daily rate for each company, averaged and used it as the basis for our cost comparison. Because we booked in five different states over five holidays with varying rental durations, comparing the average total cost is less helpful. An accurate daily rate better reveals which rental car company is the cheapest for anyone’s trip duration.
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The Best Car Rentals by Category
Price: Cheapest Rental Car Companies
There are two ways to calculate who has the best deals on car rentals. The first is to average the total checkout cost of all bookings for each company.
Alamo has the cheapest car rentals when examining the average checkout price; Hertz has the most expensive.
Since the daily rate for car rentals drops the longer you book a car, another valuable way to look at the cheapest car rentals is to break the average checkout prices above down into a daily average.
At an average of $110.34 per day, Thrifty Car Rental has the best car rental deals when looking at the actual daily average rate across all bookings; Avis Car Rental has the most expensive average daily rate at $136.60.
If finding the cheapest car rental is your goal, Thrifty is the cheapest for shorter trips of six days and less, and Alamo is the most affordable rental car company with bookings seven days and up.
Fees: Rental Cars with the Least Fees
The base fees for rental cars are consistent across all rental car brands. In our study of 176 mock bookings, we only found a roughly $10 difference between the company that charges the most fees and the one that sets the least.
It’s close, but Alamo Rent a Car charges the least fees, averaging $78.01 per booking, while Hertz charges the most at $89.34. The spread is only roughly $10, so it makes sense to focus less on standard fees when choosing which car rental company to book.
Pay Now: The Car Rentals With the Best Pay Now Deals
Unlike base fees, the distribution in average pay now discounts is substantial among the car rental companies that offer pre-pay deals.
At an average of $131.24 per booking, Dollar Rent-a-Car offers the highest average discount for booking a prepaid rental car; Alamo Rent a Car provides the smallest at an average of $23.85 per booking.
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Independent: Our research team operates independently to recommend the best car rental companies using data analysis. Our top recommendations are based solely on primary research and a proprietary ranking algorithm that weighs 12 metrics we found essential to the rental car selection process.
Preliminary Research: We used the most recent J.D. Power’s 2021 North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study’s Overall Customer Satisfaction Index Ranking as one of the 12 metrics. This study became the basis for determining the rental car companies we would include in our analysis. Rental car companies were selected purely at the author’s discretion with no outside influence, financial or otherwise.
Mock Bookings: Trips to Discover completed 176 mock rental car bookings Between 11/15/22 and 12/9/22 for the eight companies of interest — 22 per company. A mock rental car booking in this study means using the main website for each company to book a rental car, completing all the checkout steps except the actual final booking step. No add-ons, insurances, or extras were ever selected. We collected information from this process to later use in our algorithm.
Booking Parameters: We used five car rental airport locations and selected locations based on the busiest US airports, according to WorldAtlas. Five typically busy travel holidays were used as the basis for car rental dates, including Thanksgiving and Christmas 2022. Our booking dates varied depending on the busiest travel days, according to the TSA. We always used the most active travel days to create more competitive results.
Booking Details: Since car rental prices fluctuate daily and even hourly, we collected booking data for each holiday-airport combination for all eight companies within less than one hour of each other and typically within 15-30 minutes. We selected the cheapest car available for each booking and always chose the highest car class if multiple options were available at the same lowest price. We never chose manual vehicles and used the next cheapest option. We always used the car rental company’s quoted baggage and person capacity for each car rental. If not provided, we averaged the claimed passenger/baggage capacity for the same car example from all other companies to arrive at a figure. We never selected any additional protections, insurances, or upgrades; all bookings were completed at the base rate.
The 12 Metrics: During the mock booking process, we collected information that became our algorithm’s building blocks. This information includes:
- Car Availability.
- Car Class of lowest priced option.
- The number of bags and people the car fits.
- The quoted Pay Later Daily Price when selecting your vehicle.
- The quoted Total Pay Later Price and Total Pay Now Price (if applicable).
- Calculated Total Fees with no add-ons as provided by the companies (not including taxes).
- The Total Pay Now Discount (if applicable).
- The Total Pay Later Checkout Price.
- The calculated difference between the Total Pay Later Checkout Price and the quoted Total Pay Later Price (if applicable).
- The maximum fees for cancellation or no-show — typically just no-shows.
- Additional Driver Fees.
- The Google Maps review score and number for each company’s car rental airport location that we used in the study.
Formula: We used the above data to make additional calculations, such as converting fees to a percentage of total cost; calculating a True Daily Cost based on the total Pay Later checkout price divided by the number of rental days; Creating a total weighted Google Review Score for each company based on average review score and count. We used min-max normalization on all data points and calculated a weighted sum of these 12 variables to arrive at a final ranking pool. Our ranking algorithm considers each rental car company holistically based on our samples with varying degrees of weight for each variable; we prioritized elements of renting cars that we found most important. Others might discover different aspects of car rental companies important; car rental companies lower on our list could be your #1!
Replicability: The complete data behind our study can be found via the link below in the “The Data” section. Since car rental rates change daily and often in real-time, a study replication could yield varying results. Other factors, such as whether some car rental companies change to provide an accurate total cost of rental during the car section, would also influence a study replication as our algorithm penalized such pricing models.
Conglomerates: In reality, there are only three rental car companies in this study. We still ranked all eight companies independent of this conglomeration. The three conglomerates and their subsidiaries are:
- Enterprise Holdings Owns: Enterprise, National, and Alamo
- Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. Owns: Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty
- Avis Budget Group Owns: Avis and Budget
Disclaimer: We ranked the best car rental companies based on our sample of 176 mock bookings, a Google Review analysis, and the JD customer satisfaction survey. We make no claims that these are the best car rental companies for everyone in every situation.
Timeline: This analysis was conducted between 11/14/22 and 1/3/2023. Mock bookings were completed between 11/15/22 and 12/9/22.
The Data: You can download a CSV spreadsheet containing the information and scores of the eight companies we analyzed here. We have removed all proprietary formula calculations from the books. If you want to build a similar project and would like to talk about our process or have questions regarding our rankings system, please don’t hesitate to contact [email protected], and we can walk you through the steps. Please feel free to use or share this data with whoever may find this helpful — we ask that your purposes are noncommercial and that you link back to this page so its contributors can receive proper credit for their work.
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