If you’re looking to hit the open road, there are a lot of choices when it comes to your rental car. To find the best values around, MONEY ranked the 11 largest rental car chains based on our calculation of average daily rates, plus customer satisfaction ratings for reservations, pickup and return processes, and overall costs and fees. (Read all of MONEY's Best in Travel 2017.)
Car rentals can cause a lot of headaches, but Alamo alleviates many of the pain points. The ease of the return process in particular earned kudos from consumers, according to J.D. Power’s 2016 ranking. Alamo performs well among cost-conscious younger travelers, says J.D. Power's Richard Garlick. Prices for a budget or compact car run about $42 a day, 7% less than average. The company is an especially good choice if you’re planning to share the driving with friends: Alamo charges $12 a day for a second driver, less than most of its rivals.
Enterprise takes the top spot for service, but its base price of $47 a day is not as competitive as that of its sister company, Alamo. Yet Enterprise, which has 5,800 U.S. locations, gives customers a break on many of the add-on fees that can trip you up once you get to the counter. For example, Enterprise generally charges $20 a day for drivers ages 21 to 25, while many of its peers charge as much as $35 a day. Enterprise also gives long-term renters a break with its Month or More plan, which offers bigger discounts the longer you rent.
Budget’s prices are some of the best in the business—and the lowest among our winners. The company, a subsidiary of Avis, charges about $35 a day, 23% less than average. By paying when you make the reservation, you can shave as much as 35% off the base price, whereas most other car rental companies cap their upfront discounts at 10% to 15%, according to Reviews.com. You’ll have to put up with some tradeoffs for that kind of wallet-friendliness, though. Budget’s customer service ranked slightly below average in J.D. Power’s annual survey, with respondents faulting the pickup process in particular.
The Rest, in Order
Dollar: This car rental company offers the cheapest car rentals of all the companies MONEY analyzed, averaging about $30 per day.
Thrifty: Save yourself some time by using Thrifty’s online check-in system. Just plug in your name and reservation information before you pick up your car.
Hertz: Although slightly more expensive than the average car rental rate ($48.50), Hertz claims to be the "largest worldwide airport general-use car rental company" -- it's got 1,635 airport locations in the U.S. alone.
National Car Rental: National ranked No. 2 in overall customer satisfaction in J.D. Power’s annual report, earning a rating of 813 out of a possible 1,000 points.
Ace Rent-A-Car: One of the few big car rental companies not owned by Enterprise Holdings, Hertz Global Holdings or the Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Ace has locations in 20 U.S. states.
Advantage Rent-A-Car: Regular customers can earn a free upgrade, a free day, and a free weekend when they sign up for Advantage’s Instant Rewards program.
Payless: This rental company has almost 120 locations nationwide, most of which are located at the biggest U.S. airports.
Avis: The most expensive car rental company evaluated by MONEY, Avis has rates that are over $60 a day, on average.