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The Best Car Rental Companies of 2023

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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1. National Car Rental National
Credit: National by National.com

1. National Car Rental

  • Average True Daily Cost: $132.37

  • Average Max Cancellation Fees: $0

  • Average Pay Now Discount: N/A

  • Average Fee Percent of Total Price: 14.4%

  • Google Review Score: 4.59

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The spread among the top three rental car companies is close, but National Car Rental is the best car rental company in the country, according to our data. On average, it is the second most expensive option but ranks high on the other 12 metrics we examined, including transparency, customer satisfaction, fees, and more. 

National Car Rental does not charge cancellation fees, even for no-shows or last-minute cancellations, nor does it offer a “Pay Now” option. Prepaying for rental cars upfront is usually not worth it when weighed against hefty cancellation fees. Even though National did not score any points for offering “Pay Now” discounts, it still ranked #1 in our algorithm for transparency, booking and cancellation fees, availability, customer satisfaction, and more.

National Car Rental charges the least fees in proportion to the total checkout price, averaging 14.4% of the total cost. 

National Car Rental is one of the most transparent car rental companies. The total quoted price at car selection is always the total checkout price. National clearly states charges to add a driver on the checkout page, usually $15 per driver daily, and is free for domestic partners and spouses. It charges $2.28 more per driver than the study average but does not charge to add drivers for rentals in California.

National Car Rental came in #2 on the most recent J.D. Power North America Rental Car Satisfaction Study and scored #1 in our Google review analysis of the five most prominent U.S. airport locations. You are also more likely to find the best deals on better car classes like premium cars or SUVs with National than any other car rental company. Higher class options with National were more frequently the cheapest rental cars while still comparable in price to economy selections with other companies.

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2. Alamo Rent a Car Alamo
Credit: Alamo by Alamo.com

2. Alamo Rent a Car

  • Average True Daily Cost: $111.39

  • Average Max Cancellation Fees: $90.90

  • Average Pay Now Discount: $23.85

  • Average Fee Percent of Total Price: 16.08%

  • Google Review Score: 4.56

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Alamo Rent a Car is a fantastic option for those who want to avoid National Car Rental’s higher price while still booking through a reliable company. Alamo has the second cheapest average daily cost at $111.39 per day and the most affordable overall average price across all our mock bookings.

Alamo does charge cancellation fees for no-shows and last-minute cancellations when booking with the “Pre-Pay” option. The max cancellation fee is always $100, far less than the average fee of $374.

Of the six rental car companies in our study that offer “Pre-Pay” discounts, Alamo Rent a car has the smallest average deal at $23.85 per booking. Booking with Alamo using the “Pre Pay” option has less upside and less downside since Alamo charges the least cancellation fees.

Alamo Rent a Car ranked #3 in our Google review analysis and the J.D. Power Rental Car Survey. It scores high transparency by displaying the total booking cost when selecting your car and showing the charges to add a driver at checkout. Additional driver fees with Alamo are usually $15 per driver daily, except for spouses and domestic partners. However, Alamo could be more transparent with cancellation fees by automatically displaying them in a table upon checkout.

Alamo Rent a Car does charge more fees as a higher portion of the total cost, 16.08%, with only Thrifty charging more. Still, it is the second-cheapest car rental company in average actual daily cost at $111.39 per day and had the lowest average checkout price of our 176 mock bookings.

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3. Enterprise Rent-A-Car Enterprise
Credit: Enterprise by Enterprise.com

3. Enterprise Rent-A-Car

  • Average True Daily Cost: $119.03

  • Average Max Cancellation Fees: $0

  • Average Pay Now Discount: N/A

  • Average Fee Percent of Total Price: 15.19%

  • Google Review Score: 4.57

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Enterprise Rent-A-Car is similar to National Car Rental; it doesn’t charge cancellation fees or offer “Pay Now” options. Enterprise also scores high in customer satisfaction, placing #2 in the J.D. Power survey and our Google review analysis. 

Enterprise scores were high in transparency for displaying the actual total booking cost when selecting your vehicle. Additional driver charges with Enterprise are similarly high to National, usually $15 daily per driver, excluding spouses or domestic partners. Although Enterprise does not readily display these charges on the checkout page, the information is in the policy section at checkout, which is more than many companies provide.

Placing #4 in average daily cost, Enterprise is cheaper than National at an average daily rate of $119.03. At an average checkout price of $527.70, Enterprise had the second-cheapest average total cost across all mock bookings. 

At 15.19%, Enterprise charges higher fees than National proportional to the total price. It also has fewer low-cost, non-economy, or compact car class options. But like National Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car always had availability in all mock bookings, including the six days before Thanksgiving.

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4. Dollar Rent-a-Car Dollar
Credit: Dollar by dollar.com

4. Dollar Rent-a-Car

  • Average True Daily Cost: $114.18

  • Average Max Cancellation Fees: $292.30

  • Average Pay Now Discount: $131.24

  • Average Fee Percent of Total Price: 15.24%

  • Google Review Score: 4.04

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Dollar Rent-a-Car is your best bet for prepaid car rentals. It averages a $131.24 “Pay Now” discount across all our mock bookings, almost twice as much as the study average. In addition, Dollar car rentals have low cancellation and no-show fees, with only Alamo Rent a Car charging less on average out of those that charge these fees.

It’s worth noting that although all rental car companies claimed car availability 98.3% of the time in our study, Dollar was one of three companies that did not have availability for a Thanksgiving in Atlanta booking. 

Dollar Rent-a-Car had the second-least affordable non-economy or compact class options and charges less than most for additional drivers. The company does not list additional driver charges on its site, but they are usually $9-12 per driver daily, according to VroomVroomVroom.

Dollar wins transparency points after updating its website mid-study to display a cancellation fee table for its “Pay Now” option at checkout. Although the table is not automatically shown, like Hertz, it is easily accessible from a dropdown menu.

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5. Thrifty Car Rental Thrifty
Credit: Thrifty by Thrifty.com

5. Thrifty Car Rental

  • Average True Daily Cost: $110.34

  • Average Max Cancellation Fees: $345.70

  • Average Pay Now Discount: $54.15

  • Average Fee Percent of Total Price: 17.65%

  • Google Review Score: 4.19

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Look no further than Thrifty Car Rental if cheap car rentals are your main objective. On average, Thrifty’s actual daily rates are nearly 20% cheaper than Avis, the most expensive option in our study. Although it has the fewest deals for non-economy or compact car classes, at an average daily rate of $110.34, thrifty is the cheapest rental car company in the U.S.

Thrifty Car Rental lands in the middle of the pack with most other metrics we examined. You will average a $54.15 per booking discount when you use Thrifty’s “Pay Now” option. If you are a no-show for a “Pay Now” booking with Thrifty, you forfeit the entire prepaid amount, which averaged $345.70 in our study. The amount is usually the total cost of the rental minus taxes and fees, so as with any “Pay Now” option, renters must carefully consider the benefits of a discount against the worst-case scenario.

When booking through Thrifty’s site, the quoted total price at car selection is always the checkout price. However, Thrifty needs to display information about cancellation or no-show fees during booking; it is even challenging to source that information outside the booking process. 

In addition, Thrifty does state that additional drivers will incur additional charges but does not state the amount in the Terms and Conditions section on the checkout page. This information is also difficult to source, but the cost is usually $13.50 a day to add a driver, according to VroomVroomVroom.

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6. Avis Car Rental Avis
Credit: Avis by Avis.com

6. Avis Car Rental

  • Average True Daily Cost: $136.60

  • Average Max Cancellation Fees: $496.50

  • Average Pay Now Discount: $82.70

  • Average Fee Percent of Total Price: 14.81%

  • Google Review Score: 4.29

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Avis Car Rental averaged the highest max cancellation fees in our study at nearly $500 per booking. You could incur this loss upon a no-show for a “Pay in Advance” reservation. Avis has the highest average max cancellation fees because they charge taxes and fees when booking a pay-now car rental. Many companies do not issue refunds for no-shows, but not all charge taxes and fees when booking. Since Avis Rental Car also averaged the highest actual daily rate in our study, it is logical that the max cancellation fee should also be the highest.

With only an average savings of $82.70 per booking when opting for the “Pay in Advance” option, Avis Car Rental is only slightly better than the study average. However, when stacked against an average no-show loss risk of $496.50, choosing to prepay for an Avis rental car might not be worth it. 

Avis Rental Car ranked #3 in our fee analysis and always had car availability during our study. While typically not the best source for deals on intermediate car rentals or better, their low-cost economy options tend to be bigger than competitor economy classes and fit more people and bags. Avis tied #1 with Budget for the average number of seats in a rental and placed #2 in suitcase storage space.

Unfortunately, we docked Avis transparency points for not displaying the actual total cost of booking when selecting your car. Checkout prices averaged $163.75 more than the initial quote. However, Avis automatically displays a cancellation fee table upon checkout, which sets it apart from other car rental companies.

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7. Hertz Hertz
Credit: Hertz by Hertz.com

7. Hertz

  • Average True Daily Cost: $131.02

  • Average Max Cancellation Fees: $493.70

  • Average Pay Now Discount: $119.57

  • Average Fee Percent of Total Price: 14.70%

  • Google Review Score: 4.42

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After National Car Rental, Hertz is the second-best source for deals on midsize car rentals or better. It even had a Tesla Model 3 available as the cheapest option for our mock Christmas in Chicago, booking at a reasonable price of about $80 per day. However, Hertz fell short of availability for one of our Thanksgiving mock bookings, along with Dollar and Thrifty.

Hertz has the second-highest “Pay Now” discount out of the eight companies, averaging $119.57 per booking. However, it also has the second-highest max cancellation rate, primarily due to having the third-highest actual daily rate. 

What sets Hertz apart from all other companies on this list is they charge cancellation fees for “Pay Later” options. Most rental car companies do not take your credit card information when booking a pay-later rental, but Hertz does and will charge an average of $101.15 if you are a no-show. 

Hertz gains transparency points for displaying the real total cost of booking when selecting your car and automatically showing a cancellation fee table at checkout. Adding a driver with Hertz costs $13.50 per day and maxes at $189, but it does not reveal this information during the booking process.

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8. Budget Rent a Car Budget
Credit: Budget by Budget.com

8. Budget Rent a Car

  • Average True Daily Cost: $121.63

  • Average Max Cancellation Fees: $492.90

  • Average Pay Now Discount: $40.85

  • Average Fee Percent of Total Price: 16.04%

  • Google Review Score: 4.21

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Budget Rent a Car tied #1 with Avis for renting cars with the most seats on average and placed #2 for the best deals on cheap full-size car rentals or better. Budget car rentals came in #4 for bag space, and it always had car availability during our study.

Budget placed #5 in true daily cost, averaging $121.63 daily. The company’s max cancellation fees are steep, with only Hertz and Avis charging more on average. However, the average max cancellation rate for all three companies is close, between $492-$496.

Of all the companies that offer “Pay Now” options, Budget’s deals are next to last, averaging a $40.85 discount per rental. As usual, when stacked against a steep average max cancellation rate of $492.90 for the worst-case scenario — a no-show — drivers must carefully decide if this is worth it. Budget has one of the highest cancellation rates and lowest prepaid discount rates.

Regarding transparency, Budget Rent a Car lost points for not quoting the actual total cost of booking when selecting your car. The average discrepancy between the quote and checkout was $151.27 more at checkout. The company readily displays a fee table at checkout, which earns it some transparency points. Additional drivers with Budget cost $13 per driver per day, maxing out at $65 per rental, though this information is not on the checkout page.

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