Should you pre-purchase gas with your next car rental? We weigh out the pros and cons.
It may seem silly to worry about something as small as gas prices when you're on the trip of a lifetime. Why sweat the small stuff when you can be out there enjoying yourself? But small steps can add up to huge saving - savings you can use to make your trip even more unforgettable.
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!
Even if you're all 'devil may care' with your finances, you'll probably join me in cringing at the thought of returning a rental car devoid of gas. The cost of having the rental agency refuel the vehicle for you is astronomically high - my research turned up one case where a traveler was charged $9 a gallon! Your empty tank should never cost more than your hotel room! Fortunately this frightening fee is easy to overcome.
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.
The other option to avoid a gas-tastrophy is to pre-purchase a tank of gas when you sign your rental agreement and pick up your vehicle. Pre-purchased gas is often sold at 20% off the retail price - maybe more. And in a time of fluctuating, volatile gas prices, there's added peace of mind in knowing that your price remains stable regardless of what happens at the pumps.
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.
During one of my first ever blog posts, I talked about flying with carry on bags and redirecting luggage fees to a nice bottle of wine and cashing in your coin jar for splurges on coffee. And I've never stopped advocating that little savings can add up to special splurges. I still believe the most meaningful travel experiences are found in special every day moments that don't have to cost a fortune. I hope every time I share some travel tips or some lessons learned that it helps make your trip not only more enjoyable but also more affordable; letting you get back on the road just a little bit sooner.
What are your best tips for saving on transportation costs?
Planning your next big road trip? Here are some of our favourite posts!
Car Rental 101: 10 Tips to Save
Exploring the Rural Belgium Countryside
Our Ultimate Roadtrip from Casteau to Arras