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Do you need to rent a car during the coronavirus pandemic? Here's what you need to know about booking a rental car during uncertain times.

Due to local government mandates for "sheltering in place" in certain states and areas due to coronavirus (COVID-19), some rental locations are now temporarily closed. Always check with the branch directly to make sure your pickup and dropoff locations are open.

 

Don't Opt for the Prepaid Rate

 

In normal times, you may typically opt for a prepaid rate to lock in what looks like a favorable price. But that's not a good strategy if there's a chance you will have to cancel your trip.

A prepaid rate is non-cancellable and you will pay up front in full when you make the reservation. In most cases, you'll get a better deal by booking a publicly available discounted "pay later" rate and then watching for price drops.

Booking the "pay later" rate is a zero-risk option, since you don't pay up front.

 

Cancellation and No-Show Policies for Car Rentals

 

The best way to cancel a reservation is through the company's online portal. The two issues to think about are cancellation fees and no-show fees.

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If you've opted to "pay later" for your rental car and you did not book with your credit card number, then you won't be charged a cancellation fee and you are in the clear for no-show fees. If you booked with your credit card or have your credit card on file—say, with the loyalty program—it's a good idea to cancel your reservation in advance, even if it's at the last minute.

If you booked a prepaid rate, you should definitely cancel your reservation in advance. The no-show fee typically depends on how far in advance of the pick-up time you cancel. While most rental car companies will impose a fee for no-shows, several major companies charge no-shows for the entire booking.

 

Skip the Counter

 

You'll come into contact with fewer individuals if you can avoid standing in line. There's usually no reason to join the queue when you pick up a rental car at a major airport location. The easiest way to skip the line or or stand in a shorter line at the rental car counter is simply to join that company's rewards program.

To take advantage of Alamo's line-skipping program, you simply need to check in online. When you get to the airport location, you can go straight to your car. With most other companies, you need to sign up for the rewards program to be able to take advantage of queue-skipping programs.

 

Sanitize

 

Major car rental companies clean vehicles after each rental, but if you're concerned, it never hurts to bring your own disinfectant wipes and give some extra attention to the key fob, door handle, steering wheel, control buttons and other high-touch areas of the car.

The Avis and Budget websites say "We are paying special attention to interior customer touch points such as seats, steering wheels, door handles and other hard surfaces. We are also cleaning our facilities frequently with recommended sanitizing products. In addition, we are taking steps to ensure the welfare of our employees. This includes instructing employees who feel ill to stay home and consult their healthcare providers. We are also urging all employees to be vigilant about frequent hand washing."

 

Bring Your Own Toll Transponder

 

Even during more normal times, it pays to use your own toll transponder in a rental car, since it allows you to avoid renting a more expensive one from the rental car company. But in these times, having your own transponder also helps you avoid interacting with toll booth attendants, who in turn come in contact with hundreds of motorists per day.

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Wherever you are driving, there's a good chance you'll hit at least one toll road. There are three major groups of toll agencies around the country, plus a few states that run their own toll programs independent of any reciprocal affiliation with other states.

The largest toll consortium is E-ZPass, which oversees basically all of the tolls in a region stretching from Illinois to Virginia and up to Maine—the entire Northeast and a good chunk of the Great Lakes region. An E-ZPass transponder is almost certainly a plastic box that's mounted to your windshield with velcro—so it's portable and easy to use in any other car.

Whether you're traveling in the Southeast, Texas or the Chicago area, it makes sense to buy a toll pass before you go.

 

Coronavirus Policies at Major Car Rental Companies

 

All of the major rental companies have policies in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Alamo: Has extended its existing no-fee cancellation policy to include customers with pre-paid rentals booked directly through Alamo. Customers who have booked a rental through a third-party are encouraged to contact that party directly.

Avis: If you need to change a reservation, you can do so without incurring any change fees.

Budget: If you need to change a reservation, you can do so without incurring any change fees.

Dollar: Customers with pre-paid rentals booked directly with Dollar prior to March 13th can cancel their reservation for no fee and transfer their balance for use toward a future booking to be used within 24 months. Customers who have booked through a third-party are encouraged to contact that party directly.

Enterprise: Has extended its existing no-fee cancellation policy to include customers with pre-paid rentals booked directly through Enterprise. Customers who have booked a rental through a third-party are encouraged to contact that party directly.

Fox: Free cancellations or travel credits on all existing "pay now" reservations with a pick-up date prior to April 30. No cancellation fees for any new "pay now" reservations booked before April 30 for travel within the next 12 months.

Hertz: Customers with pre-paid rentals booked directly with Hertz prior to March 13th can cancel their reservation for no fee and transfer their balance for use toward a future booking to be used within 24 months. Customers who have booked through a third-party are encouraged to contact that party directly.

National: Has extended its existing no-fee cancellation policy to include customers with pre-paid rentals booked directly through National. Customers who have booked a rental through a third-party are encouraged to contact that party directly.

Sixt: If your rental was made for a location in a highly affected Coronavirus area (e.g. Italy and specific areas in France) or in countries with travel restrictions (e.g. USA or Israel), you may rebook or cancel your prepaid reservation.

Thrifty: Customers with pre-paid rentals booked directly with Thrifty prior to March 13th can cancel their reservation for no fee and transfer their balance for use toward a future booking to be used within 24 months. Customers who have booked through a third-party are encouraged to contact that party directly.

 

Snag a Super Deal on a Future Rental

 

Some car rental companies are slashing prices on future rentals, so if you've got a trip on the distant horizon, now might be a very good time to book.

For example, Fox has just made its "pay now" rates fully refundable and deeply discounted. You can save up to 50 percent on all rentals at all of U.S. corporate locations. Use discount code PAYNOW50 on bookings made through April 1 for pickups between April 1 and August 31, 2020.

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