Should you pre-purchase gas with your next car rental? We weigh out the pros and cons.
Savvy travelers know that theirtrip budget needs to take into account more than just base prices. Hotel rooms require taxes and tips. Flight costs don't include luggage fees and airport meals. And car rentals are more than just an automobile's base price. There are taxes and fees, insurance options, upgrade possibilities, and even add on features like GPS rentals. And of course you need something to get around town - you need gas!
The next time you rent a vehicle, you will probably be encouraged to "pre-pay" for your final tank of gas. This promises to be not only a convenient choice but an economical one as well. But is it all too good to be true? Readers want to know what the most frugal choice is and I am all to pleased to do the research and run the math!
There are two ways around this exorbitant cost. In our experience, the most economical choice is to simply gas up at a station close by to the rental depot. You pay the fuel cost of the moment, nothing more, nothing less, and you never purchase more than you need. And if you plan ahead, you can squeeze out a few extra drops of savings.
The gas station closest to the rental depot is guaranteed to be one of the most expensive in town. Fill up elsewhere to save a few cents per unit (a nice savings if you are driving a bigger vehicle) and then top up the last little bit closer to the rental depot, if necessary. You can gas up several kilometers away and the needle will still be on full when you pull into the lot. Going to the station of your choice also means using the points card of your choice - always a nice treat.
But beware- some rental agencies have fine print that says you must prove you purchased your gas within 10 miles of the depot. So save your receipts just in case - especially helpful if a dispute arises in the future.
Economics are just part of the appeal of this option. Imagine the convenience of never having to worry about finding a gas station when you're running late on route to the airport. Or never being stuck in highway interchanges, trying to reach an impossible-to-find gas station before you catch your train. Or never stressing about available facilities when your drop your car off in the early wee hours of the morning. Surely this deal is almost too good to be true! Unfortunately, it is.
Pre-purchasing fuel is a good deal only if you plan on returning the car with an empty tank. For you're not agreeing to pre-purchase just the fuel you need but instead an entire tank's worth, regardless of how empty or full it is upon return. Coasting into a rental depot on just fumes is a level of wildness I just can't contemplate and I know I'm not alone. Very few people feel comfortable driving around with a very small amount of gas in the tank, even less so when you're in an unfamiliar destination. And herein lies the secret of how rental agencies can still profit by selling gas below retail price -you pay for a full tank no matter how much gas is in the car.
If you just KNOW that you are the kind of person who is always running late when they travel (no judging, I swear!) - or if you feel anxious about trying to find a gas station in an unfamiliar city when you're on a deadline - or if this is a routine trip where you feel very confident about your driving routes and know exactly how much fuel you'll use - pre-purchasing fuel is a good choice for you. This is an ideal option for a few travelers but for most the savings you'd see from filling up the old fashioned way will far outweigh any inconvenience you might have making one last stop.
What are your best tips for saving on transportation costs?
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Our Ultimate Roadtrip from Casteau to Arras