It's hard to believe but satellite radio is only a function of the current century -- the first satellites for XM were launched in 2001, with Sirius coming online in 2002. Those two companies merged into a government-approved monopoly in 2008; if a driver wants access to satellite radio, there's only one provider of satellite radio. SiriusXM and the rental car companies each know this. Every major rental car company has a provision to sell you satellite radio because it's a very lucrative endeavor for the rental car companies and the commission-based agents! And any activity that's lucrative for a rental car company is an activity a renter wants to avoid!
The AutoSlash team spends a lot of time in rental cars, often driving areas where radio stations don't exist or otherwise don't meet our listening needs. We’re an exceptionally connected group – usually online but also engaged in news and current events. We frequently listen to the news on the road until we get frustrated with the state of the world (translation: we hit the tunes for most of our trips) but like many other travelers, we really do see the availability of satellite radio in our rental cars as a net positive. It just hurts our heads to unnecessarily spend $6-7 per day (plus all those airport taxes we rail against) for the privilege of listening to content we enjoy!
When cutting down rental car costs, little decisions by renters matter. Opt-in to satellite radio on the rental, add taxes and fees, and the cost of even a two-day satellite radio rental can easily exceed the $15.99 per month mid-tier XM Select package that includes music, news, and sports many individuals pay for at home. Some of the rental car companies do cut discounts when a reservation is a week or longer -- for instance, Alamo, Enterprise, and Thrifty set pricing at $5.99 per day, $24.99 per week, and no more than $49.98 on a 30-day rental but those rates still greatly exceed the base rate of the service for home users (and the discounts many home users receive by "negotiating" with SiriusXM).
We've told you why paying the rental car company for satellite radio is bad for consumers (but good for the rental car companies) but that we really do enjoy having access to the service. Now, we'll mention many of the alternatives to forking over money to the rental car companies!
Bring One's Own SiriusXM Subscription
Already a customer of SiriusXM? You might already have a way to avoid the fees charged by the rental car companies.
For those customers with a removable SiriusXM radio in their own private vehicle, there’s an option with no incremental cost. Our team has a number of "vintage" automobiles where satellite radio was not an option at the time of purchase. That worked out well, as many of us have portable radios such as the XM Onyx that we can happily pack up for road trips. That model works via FM modulation (where the XM signal plays over a blank radio station) or through an auxiliary cable (which we prefer). Paying a little under $7 a month for satellite radio at home, the bit of effort needed to carry along my own satellite radio to put in a rental is extremely cost effective.
Moving one's own radio is just one possibility. AutoSlash founder Jonathan has the higher tier XM All Access subscription, where he can bring an auxiliary cable and stream from his cell phone's unlimited data plan to the car's radio system. He does drop a few dollars more per month for the privilege but gets to avoid the rental car companies fees for the service and doesn't have to lug around a radio receiver (and all of the accessories).
Alternatives to SiriusXM
Not tied to SiriusXM but have access to a streaming service like Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, or Spotify? All of these services have apps and -- with an unlimited data plan plus continuous cell phone coverage -- can meet entertainment needs on long road trips.
Our Take on Renting While Maintaining Access to Tunes
Anytime we want to use our personal technology in a rental car, privacy is one consideration we always consider. Sure, the car itself might recognize our phone as a media player if we connect using Bluetooth or a USB port. However, our take is that we don't want the rental car to remember anything about us -- we might be in a time crunch at the time of return, without the ability to clear our data from the car. For us, it's an auxiliary cable, FM modulation, or nothing!
What are our other tips?
- Avoid paying for the SiriusXM service in the rental car unless there's a compelling reason to do so. Our team members tend to pay for the service one time per year, when there's often a big bonus during National's annual One-Two-Free Promotion.
- Think about the power and connector needs in advance. If one's bringing a satellite radio with a 12-volt adapter, a cell phone charger with a 12-volt adapter, and needs an AUX IN connection, the renter's going to want a car with two 12-volt adapters and an AUX IN connection!
- Bring all the cables you need. Many rental car companies now have boxes of cables for sale on the counter, at entirely non-competitive prices (of course).
- Following up on the previous points, use the rental car companies frequent renter programs (especially at airports). There are two different reasons. First, at airports with Avis' Select & Go, Hertz Gold Choice, or National Emerald Club Aisles, a renter in those programs can choose the vehicle. Rather than being assigned a car, one can check multiple cars to find one with the entertainment solution chosen. And the second reason is just a simple benefit of the rental programs -- our team members can almost always find a SiriusXM-equipped vehicle at Hertz due to our status in the Gold Plus program.
Rental Car Company SiriusXM Policies and Pricing
- Payless - must ask at counter for details
Ready to book your next cheap rental car? Adding on the fees for SiriusXM makes a cheap rental car much more expensive; consider alternatives before your rental. Click below to request a quote now, and remember to bring your own tunes!