How can I save money when I rent a car?

You’ve had this happen to you, I bet: you book your airline reservation and before you hang up, the airline employee asks politely, “May I connect you to a car rental company?”

Don’t do it!

Even if you intend to rent a vehicle from either agency, Just Say No” to your airline “helper” and dial the rental company’s toll-free number directly. (Come on, you can do it!)

What seems to be a polite and convenient referral to a frequent-flier partner might result in your paying more than you have to for a rental car.

Here’s what may happen: you’ll get a really, super-duper, rock-bottom, lowball price over the phone, but when you arrive to pick up the car, the “helpful” counter person will try to convince you to sign up for a lot of extras.

This isn’t news, but it’s something we tend to forget: car-rental employees — even if they say “we try harder” — are salespeople. And what they’ll try harder to do is load you up with as many extras as possible…regardless of whether you really need them.

The most common “overcharge” is for insurance that is already provided by your credit card. Check with your credit card company before you travel to find out what coverage you already have.

Be a Control Freak

There’s what you can’t control (fees that you can expect to pay above daily rental rates are outlined below, but there’s also what you CAN control — rejecting costly options and demanding (in the nicest possible way) your discounts.

AAA and AARP Have A-1 Discounts – Use ‘Em!

If you belong to the American Automobile Association and the American Association of Retired Persons, and other similar groups, you may be entitled to discounts up to 25%, depending on the size of the car, the location and the time of the year…as well as which organization you belong to.

Damage Waiver – Take It or Leave It? (Leave it!)

Don’t be confused: CDW (collision-damage waiver) — also known as LDW (loss-damage waiver) — is not insurance. CDW relieves you of responsibility for damage or theft of a rental car and you are probably already covered by your personal auto insurance policy.

Credit cards often provide this coverage free for 15 to 30 days.

Let’s Get Personal

Personal-injury insurance is for protection for injuries to you or your passengers in the event of an accident. Your own health insurance or the personal-injury coverage in your auto insurance policy is usually sufficient

Personal-effects coverage protects you against the theft of anything left in the car — like your suitcase, a camera, or even golf clubs. Sounds good, but if you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, you’re probably already covered. Check your policy for exceptions/exclusions which may include computers, furs and jewelry.

Insurance That’s a Liability

Liability insurance coverage (at about $10 per day) is usually a duplicate of coverage in your umbrella homeowners policy.

It’s Cool to Re-Fuel

Never buy fuel from the rental company if you can avoid it — you’ll usually pay up to a dollar more per gallon. You best bet is to ask for the car with a full tank and then return it full, after purchasing an affordable (but car-friendly) fuel.

Not-So-Secret Agents

Travel agents can scan their computer screens and see who’s offering short-term deals in the city you’re heading to. They also get free upgrade coupons for domestic rentals from the car-rental companies. If they don’t offer you one, ask for it.

Late Fees – Not Just at the Library

Keep your eye on the clock — most rental companies allow a 59-minute grace period (or less!) after a rental period is over. If you’re a renter-come-lately, you’ll pay exorbitant hourly rate until you reach an equally hefty per-diem rate.

Pick ‘n’ Choose

Comparison-shopping is critical, so get quotes from several companies before you make your reservation. Tell one company what another is charging to encourage them to “match” or “beat” their competitors’ rates.

Don’t Be Scared…Be Prepared! (Expect the Unexpected Fees)

Additional charges, such as airport taxes, facility-use fees, and premiums levied by off-site car-rental companies, are par for the course. Consumer Reports Travel Letter has said that these taxes and fees can pad your bill from 10 percent in Memphis to a staggering 26 percent in Phoenix. (Ouch!)

Be sure to ask about these charges when you make your reservation so you don’t get an unwelcome surprise when your credit card bill arrives.