Prepaid fuel is never a good deal, unless you're just lazy
How it works: you pre-purchase a full tank of gas so you don't have to worry about refueling before you drop off the car. Some companies also offer partial tanks and yadda yadda; the thing is, it's not that hard to fuel up close to the rental drop-off and avoid being charged the upwards of $10-per-gallon refueling penalty. (One agent recommends filling within 10 miles of the drop-off location and keeping that receipt as proof.) Purchasing fuel in advance only pays off if you somehow manage to drop the car off needing EXACTLY that much fuel. If you buy a full tank and drop the car off at two-thirds, you do not get a refund for the unused gasoline. It's also a complete rip-off: not only is it subject to the local gasoline tax but also all the taxes and fees that the airport tacks onto every purchase there. This is strictly a convenience purchase, and it's not smart.
Waiting until the last minute will NOT get you a better rate
More likely than not, you will get a worse rate by procrastinating. Yes, taking a chance on walk-up rates might pay off on a slow, off-season weekend when companies are overloaded with cars, but most of the time it's not worth it. If you don't care about the car you rent or the company, you can also roll the dice with Priceline's "name your price" bidding option. Either way, you're taking a gamble with last-minute booking, and you will rarely benefit.
And finally, the biggest FAQ... INSURANCE
Every person who has ever rented a car has at some point panicked over the additional insurance offered, especially as over-aggressive counter agents strike fear into you with mention of $100-a-day "loss of use" fee should the car be damaged in an accident (which they can, and will, charge). Allow us to parse this out for you, 'cause Lord knows the rental car companies would like to keep it as vague and ominous as possible.
The "insurance" that is sold to you is typically one of three different kinds:
1. Damage waiver
This is a waiver of responsibility for the car without paying a deductible. The simplest way to find out if you really need this is by doing a bit of phone dialing. First, ask your car insurance company if you're covered for rental cars, if you have a deductible for rental cars, if there is there a dollar limit to that coverage, and if there are any exclusions. Then ask them if they cover "loss of use" from car rental companies. THEN call your credit card company and ask them the same questions.
For example, certain American Express cards offer A+ premium insurance for very little per trip if you notify them in advance. Many Chase cards offer full car rental coverage in excess of anything not covered by your insurance company so long as the card was used to book and pay for the rental and the rental period does not exceed 30 days (for longer rental periods, you would need to break up the booking). Many cards will require you to go through your insurance first, but some don’t -- so find out.
Then again, sometimes it's just not worth the hassle of going through your insurance provider and credit card company in the event of an accident, and being able to just turn in the wreck with the keys is a nice convenience. Additional coverage costs anywhere from $10-25 per day, which is economical for short weekend trips. However, for longer trips it becomes cost-prohibitive, and as long as you know that between your insurance company and your credit cards you're fully covered, you shouldn't feel that you need to get it -- because you don’t.
2. Liability coverage
This is coverage for damage you cause to someone else's person or property. In this case, car rental coverage can be a good deal: it offers $1,000,000 in coverage to expend before you ever contact your own insurance. It doesn't cover the car at all, but it covers other people you hurt or cause loss to. Again, contact your own insurance company and find out the specifics (and limits) of your own coverage in a rented vehicle.
This is coverage for any occupants in the case of injury, death, or damage to personal items from an uninsured or under-insured motorist. If you live in the United States and have auto insurance, it's not worth your time to even worry about this. But if you are visiting from another country, seriously consider this, as insurance coverage in different countries may differ widely.
All of these insurance options are just that: OPTIONAL. You are not required to purchase any of them, and most credit card-carrying American motorists are already covered for everything these added plans offer.
If you do decide to add insurance, here's some advice from one of our experts: "Never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever prepay insurance through a third-party site. Most of those policies are complete trash and will serve as nothing other than peace of mind -- until something happens. Whomever you rent with will still charge you, directly, for any and all of the damages and YOU will have to track down somebody at Priceline or Joe's Car Insurance or whoever to get things covered. And frankly, no one ever reads the terms and conditions and they are masters at hiding stuff in fine print that makes their contract virtually worthless." So, there you go.
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Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer and a frequent traveler who really wishes she had been told all this several years ago. Follow her on Instagram: @eatsdrinksandleaves.