NOTE: this is NOT the correct thread to ask for deals on cars. Those should still go on the Matrix thread (http://www.fatwallet.com/forums/travel-discussion/790643/).
1) How to ask for help. When posting a request, be sure to give all the pertinent info: type of car you would prefer (and what you might settle for); dates and p/u times (along with how flexible you may be on this, and remember there isn't much of a grace period nowadays and that extra hour may cost a LOT) and WHERE you will be picking up and dropping off. Also, you MUST post a bare minimum of 3 codes and companies from the Matrix thread you have already tried (preferably something you can qualify for) and what the results were for each, including fees and taxes. Glance at the first page of the thread and thoroughly review the most recent 5-6 pages to see what's working well lately and what topics are under discussion This way, we don't re-create your work; your post may help someone else; and perhaps you will have learned something valuable doing your homework. Remember that this is all volunteer and it's just as much work for the old-timers to plug in the numbers as it is for the newbies. You must make an investment of time if you want to save money.-- pretty much like with everything else.
2) Flexibility. The more you have with your dates, times, and type of car you will accept, the better your deal power. Need a car from Tues to Thurs? Insisting on an SUV for that mountainous Florida excursion? Must have a convertible? You limit your options for a cheap rental. Short-term midweek rentals make you a business-class renter, the RAC's meat and potatoes. There is little incentive to offer you a deal. It will cost them more to turn the car over than they will make renting to you.
Unless you have saved up some reward points or days, your best bet for these cases may very well be Priceline or Hotwire. Refer to bidding educations sites like betterbidding, biddingfortravel, and tripducky to see what kinds of bids are being accepted for your approximate dates. Remember that if you use an opaque, there is a good chance you will lose the perks of your loyalty program (ie, Emerald Aisle, miles, free drivers, upgrades,etc) so that is one of the opportunity costs of the savings; and, of course, you don't get your money back if your plans don't work out, so don't lock yourself in too early.
Timing is important, so if you can be flexible here, that can work to your advantage. Usually weekly deals are available for a rental of 4 days + 1 or 2 hours. It may be worth it to play with your p/u and drop times to snag a weekly deal and use a weekly coupon on top of that. HOWEVER-- don't try to beat the system by dropping off early on a weekly deal. You could wind up paying the walk-up rate at $$$$$.
4) If you are going to use a code you that probably wasn't intended for your use ---say, State of FL Employee, or Red Cross, or Military personnel-- I suggest you don't, at least, not til you've exhausted other possibilities. Try other, safer codes FIRST which may very well produce similar or even better deals than the "iffy" ones. Why sweat it at the desk, wondering if you will have to present ID. This goes double if there is insurance included in the code . Many of the codes that include insurance are self-insured thru whatever company made the contract- do you think they won't check to see if you are an employee before paying out on a claim? There are plenty of codes listed that anyone can use. Join whatever's free to be able to use their codes-- you may even get a joining bonus.
ETA 7/7/10-- to prove my point:
I picked up my car at Emerald and drove up to the exit booth with my DL, Emerald Card, and the car's hang tag.
They wanted proof of my qualification for the rate code in my profile!
She ask me to produce an employee ID, but she accepted a business card showing my employment with the company on my profile.
I complained about the hassle and asked what was going on.
I was told that there has been a great deal of abuse of rates being posted online and they are now spot checking for rate qualifications.
In all the years of renting from National, nothing like this has happened to me.
Apparently the purchase of National by Enterprise is resulting in new policies.
I know that in the past National has cancelled out codes that were being abused, but I was never asked to provide proof of qualification at the exit booth.
AND YET ANOTHER ONE:
This was with Avis State of FL code, and if you follow the Matrix thread, you will learn that the poster was not successful with the credit card company. The poster was probably flagged sometime during his/her trip in a crackdown on fraudulent code use and was shocked at dropoff to learn tbere was another $250 being charged.
(This code is for employees of University of Texas)
FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED.
5) Insurance is a whole separate topic. Check your coverage thru your own insurance company and your credit cards, and consider investigating AMEX's policy, which is much cheaper than buying thru the RAC. See the other stickied thread for more discussion.
6) Consider whether you will be needing an additional driver. You may have to pay a daily fee of up to $10 or more for the privilege OR you may be able to get that for free. Policy will vary by company, state, and code. CA and NV don't charge for spouses driving. Budget doesn't charge for spouses; National won't if you are an Emerald Club member; and Hertz won't if you are both AAA holders. Alamo's WalMart code will include almost anyone for free. These are just some of the variations.
7) More reasons to join the loyalty clubs- advance emails of deals and coupons; better likelihood of an upgrade; opportunity to earn free days (this can be valuable on pricy one-ways!); quicker escape with your car.
8) If you have a larger group to transport and multiple drivers, consider renting two smaller cars. ( this goes back to #1, flexibility). When minivans and SUV's are at a premium, it can save you more than half the price and give you more freedom besides.
9) One-way rentals can cost BIG $$$$. Join promotions for free days (like National's 1-2-Free) and save them up. Consider seasonal relocational deals, especially into Florida in late fall and out of FL in mid-spring. "Drive out specials" can be had dirt cheap post- spring break into late spring/early summer. Also, an understanding of how different companies price them can be handy. Some companies will charge a drop off fee of as much as $600 or more. Others, especially National, will build the fee into the daily charge. When that is the case and your travel plans permit, consider multiple reservations: one for the days you will be driving locally, and one for the days you will be traveling to the new location.
A car is not always the most economical means of transportation for one-ways. Consider other options.
10) International and long term rentals-- we don't seem to get a lot of input with these special circumstances here so far. Both of these could probably use their own FAQ's.
Common Sense Summary
Check the RAC sites for specials- there's usually a tab.