One-Way Car Rental

Leann Rimes bought a one-way ticket on a westbound train, to see how far she could go. Eventually, she might want to make a return trip back east! If she's collected a lot of new possessions while out west, the cheapest option might be a one-way rental vehicle, where she rents a car at one location and returns at another.

One-way rentals are fairly prevalent in the rental car industry. Although once uncommon, almost all rental car companies are now equipped to handle one-way rentals! In fact, approximately one-eighth of all AutoSlash rentals are booked as one-ways!

Whether the reason is planned (such as a college student moving away with a number of possessions) or unplanned (such as a flight cancellation), there are many reasons to contemplate a one-way rental and we're always happy to help!

How do I Request a One-Way Quote?

A search for a one-way rental at AutoSlash is almost identical to searching for a round-trip rental. The only difference is selecting the option to Return at a different location. Looking for a Fort Lauderdale Airport to Orlando International Airport rental? That's a breeze when requesting an AutoSlash quote - simply select the Pick-up Location and then opt for a Different Drop-off Location.

Select the Pick-Up location

Select "Yes" for "Return at a different location?" and add the return site.

Complete the rest of the required information (dates, times, car type, and contact information) and quotes for the one-way rental will be in your mailbox within minutes!

Are One-Way Rentals more expensive than Rentals Returned to the Same Location?

Often, yes. What renters will frequently see in a one-way rental is the daily rate (time and mileage), taxes and fees, and a drop charge. In the example below, we were able to find a one-way rate without a one-way drop charge.

Not only do these potential drop-off fees vary from one rental car company to the next, the fees can even vary within a single rental car company, especially for those who are members of organizations such as AAA, AARP, Costco, or USAA. When AutoSlash does a search, we always return the lowest total prices - the AutoSlash rates already include any drop fees required by the rental car companies.

Expensive one-way car rentals are one of the common misconceptions about one-way rentals. In fact, the Senior Travel Guide at About.com inadvertently perpetuates that stereotype. In the case above (Fort Lauderdale to Orlando), the one-way rental is only $4.47 more than an identical rental picked up and returned to Fort Lauderdale.

On the same day as our one-way rental, a local rental is almost the same price.

So how do one-way rentals get a bad rap in terms of pricing? Everything done by a rental car company is about supply and demand and the rental car companies manage their fleets remarkably well. If a one-way rental takes a vehicle somewhere undesirable for a rental car company -- for instance, taking a rare 4WD vehicle away from an area with snow -- the one-way rate will be horrendously expensive! On the other hand, there are times when a rental car company needs to get vehicles from one region to another. Those rentals will see comparatively cheap pricing!

In daily practice, the AutoSlash team sees rates ranging between $20 and $120 per day on one-way rentals. Like with all other rentals, we're consistently searching for the best possible rates on behalf of our fellow travelers.

Are One-Way Rentals Ever Restricted?

There are some limitations with one-way rentals, usually related to high-demand timeframes or international borders. In those situations, it's possible to see vehicles available for a local round-trip but no availability for a one-way rental.

In periods of exceptional demand, a site manager can restrict the ability to make one-way reservations. AutoSlash saw this after 2016's Hurricane Matthew and for weeks near Labor Day in Denver; the rental car companies simply couldn't get enough vehicles to those regions to meet rental demand.

International borders are another common restriction on one-way rentals. While much of the European Union allows one-way rentals across country borders, one-way rentals between the U.S. and Mexico are not allowed (at all). Rentals between the U.S. and Canada are possible but often require a transition at a "gateway" airport to find an allowed rental.

For instance, AutoSlash recently helped find the easiest path for a customer between Yellowknife and rural Texas. That trip required three cars; the first from Yellowknife to Vancouver, the second from Vancouver to Seattle (a cheap, approved border gateway), and the third from Seattle to rural Texas. 

Possibilities of Exceptionally Cheap One-Way Rentals

When there are thousands of vehicles that must be moved from one region to another, the rental car companies have two choices:

  • Pay an auto hauler to move those vehicles from one region to another (a cost without any rental revenue), -or-
  • Set the rates so low that renters will be incentivized to consider one-way rentals (called a drive out program).

Just like North American migratory birds, convertible cars head south for the winter. The rental car company post discounts on these vehicles to get them from the north to regions with warmer temperatures. If requesting a winter convertible and you're not in a region bordering the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Southwest U.S., there's likely no availability.

Cars also migrate from the Northeast to the Southeast United States starting after Labor Day, with rates that are often just a few dollars per day. In the Western U.S., cars are moved from the Plains to Arizona for the winter. The opposite patterns occur in the early Spring.

The hypothetical mid-December rental listed on About.com? If that rental had occurred a few weeks earlier in November, the rates very likely would have been 1/4th the cost! Why? November is part of Hertz's repositioning of vehicles from the Northeast to airports in the Southeast (Florida and Georgia), usually at a rate of $10 per day. In the Western U.S., Budget publishes a similar promotion.

Budget's Fall 2016 drive out offer to get cars moved to Arizona.


Shorter-Term One-Way Rental Promotions

In some cities, there's an additional concerted effort to get cars from airports to neighborhood locations and vice versa on certain days of the week to meet consumer demand. The goal is to keep a vehicle in use (and generating revenue) rather than sitting idle in a parking lot all weekend; the participating locations on these promotions are very limited. These specials often work extremely well for business travelers, as the cars move from the airport at the end of the week and to the airport at the beginning of the week.

Avis has 4-hour specials on some one-way rentals, including fuel.

What if One-Way Rentals are Very Pricey?

Depending upon the distance and the city pairs, rates above $100 per day for a one-way rental do arise at times. In those cases, we still have tips and tricks available to minimize costs to the renter.

Looking for a one-day, one-way rental?

For renters who have accrued free days in National's Emerald Club program, this is a spot where the program excels! Whether a free award day is used for a local rental or a one-way rental, most renters can expect to incur only minimal local taxes. On a last-minute, one-way award rental I made in November 2016, I ended up paying $12.03* for a rental that would otherwise cost almost $180 (an expensive rate plus five taxes totaling more than 23.5% and a daily CFC)!

* And most of the $12.03 total was actually my choice to add satellite radio!


National is not the only company that allows the redemptions of awards on one-way rentals. Some other loyalty programs, including Hertz, provide the option to redeem points for one-way award rentals but those reservations require more points and must be booked at least 24-hours in advance.

We consistently remind renters that it's beneficial to join the loyalty programs of their preferred rental car companies. After accruing a few free days and avoiding the lines at the airport rental counter, it's hard to imagine not participating in these programs!

What about an expensive, multiple-day one-way rentals?

One of the oddities we fight in rental car pricing is the insistence by some companies of charging an inflated per-day rate on all one-way rentals, regardless of trip duration. For instance, a Chicago to Nashville trip might price at $80 per day for a one-day rental, yet also still price at $80 per day if a renter selects a seven-day rental!

If the renter knows when the car will reach the destination city, it's often much cheaper to schedule the trip as two different reservations! For instance, a one-day rental (Chicago-Nashville) followed by a six-day local rental in Nashville might yield substantial savings!

Do Some Unscrupulous Agents / Managers Send Undesirable Cars on One-Ways?

There is a lingering perception that station managers will - at times - send cars with pending maintenance on one-way rentals, as the oil change (or other needed maintenance) would then be done at the receiving station. Given the ownership of the vehicles, this might indeed occur at times but is not a default practice or policy of any reputable corporation.

Still harboring some concerns about the possibility of receiving the worst car on the lot when renting at a major airport? If the airport has a National Emerald Aisle or participates in Hertz's new Ultimate Choice program, renters who are part of those programs can choose the vehicle for the rental! The perceived possibility of being assigned an undesirable car by an unscrupulous agent completely disappears!

Ready to Try a One-Way Rental?

Looking for a cheap rate on your first (or next) one-way rental? Request a quote from AutoSlash and you'll quickly receive the best rates possible via e-mail!

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