That’s right. Before my travel writing days, I was kinda/sorta/not really in the travel industry as a management trainee with Enterprise Rent-a-Car at a California airport. I learned that I hated wearing a shirt and tie to work, but also picked up tips on how to save a buck on a rental.
Enterprise employees may walk and talk like they’re your friend, but they’re really just trying to butter you up so you’ll dig deeper into your pockets. One of the best kept secrets in the rental industry revolves around taking advantage of this aggressive approach.
When I was at Enterprise, one of my regular sales goals was centered around getting the customer to spend more money than their reservation intended. This was accomplished by selling insurance, pre-paid fuel, or through upgrades at the counter. Even if it was just a little more money, like a dollar or two, it was to my benefit to upgrade customers in order to increase my numbers so long as we had the cars available.
Because of this, one of the best things a customer looking for a deal can do for themselves is book an economy car and upgrade at the counter. This is a tried and true approach, one you should definitely utilize if you have a reasonable amount of flexibility. Because this trick is dependent upon availability, you shouldn’t do this if you have to have a certain type of vehicle — it all depends on what they have on the lot.
The biggest money saver here is when it comes to specialty vehicles, like SUVs, whose prices tend to be very high online. Last year in Denver as a customer, I booked an economy car for $7/day and then upgraded to an SUV at the counter for $15 more per day, making the SUV $22/day. Online, it was over $80/day! This is extremely typical of car rental facilities, and often times those high-priced vehicles (SUVs, minivans, pickup trucks, sports cars) don’t sell that well online because of their high price tags, and thus they tend to stack up on the lot, making them prime targets for upsells at the counter.