Last updated: 02:53 PM ET, Tue September 01 2015

Industry Insider: The One Tip You Need to Know To Upgrade Your Car Rental

Car Rental & Rail | Will McGough | August 31, 2015

Industry Insider: The One Tip You Need to Know To Upgrade Your Car Rental

On a trip to Vail last winter, I wanted to get a rental car that was big enough to hold my skis and all the junk that comes along with it, and also one that could handle the mountainous drive from Denver to Vail. Yet when I checked online, SUVs were $80 a day, and I was on a budget.

Economy cars, on the other hand, were $7 a day. I knew damn well that the economy car would be sketchy on the snowy roads and uncomfortable with my ski equipment. But I had a plan.

When I approached the counter and checked in for my reservation, I asked the rep what other cars he had available. I told him I had reserved an economy car, but think I’ll need more room with all my luggage. I said that I had seen a bunch of bigger cars and SUVs out on the lot.

Happy to hear this, the rep told me they were running an “upgrade special.” He said if I wanted an SUV, he could do it for an extra $15 per day, on top of the $7 reservation I already held. I accepted this upgrade offer and drove off the lot with an SUV for just over $20 a day. Remember, they were $80 per day if you reserved one online.

This little trick is one that I learned from my days working in the rental car industry as a management trainee for Enterprise. There are two things at play here: One, specialty vehicles (SUVs, trucks, convertibles, luxury) have a tendency to go unreserved, and two, rental car companies judge employees by their average rates and income per car.

This creates a nice combination where 1) specialty vehicles are often available as upgrades and 2) car rental employees are personally motivated to rent them for upsell credit. At Enterprise, our goal as employees was to get the customer to spend more money, period, meaning we were able to negotiate our own prices so long as it did not complicate any future reservations (i.e. cheaply upselling a customer into a reserved car… which often happened anyway).  This routinely led to five, ten, and twenty dollar upgrades.

Now, there is obviously one large caveat to this trick. It is very possible that you could show up and the car rental company could be nearly booked, or simply out of your desired vehicle, making this entire scheme useless. So, you really only want to do this when your plans are flexible, and when you are prepared for it not to work.

 I view it as a nice way to “see what happens” when I arrive wherever I’m going. Maybe I can get a good deal on a car that will enhance or spark my trip, like an SUV in Colorado or a convertible in California.

Try it. Book an economy car, put on the charm, and ask the person behind the counter what else they might have available that day. I think you’ll be surprised by what you can save.  


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