Deal Hunter

Best options for a weekend car rental

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011; 2:11 PM

So you're doing your part for the environment by living a car-free life. And what a life it is! No idling in traffic, no endless circling for parking spot, no cringing as you fill up the tank.

But what about those days when you really need to hit the open road? Maybe it's for that life-changing sale at Ikea, maybe it's to whisk your sweetheart away for a cruise along Skyline Drive -- sometimes you just need wheels. The key is to get a car when you need it (and only when you need it) without spending a fortune.

We put six leading companies -- Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and Zipcar -- to the test to find the best weekend deal.

I need a rental car for the weekend and want one near my home. Now what?

Avis takes top billing with 19 D.C. area outposts with weekend hours. And if you're within five miles of the rental location, the company will pick you up or deliver the car to you for free. Budget offers 13 weekend locations, some with free customer pickup. Hertz has seven locations; again, some with free pickup. Dollar has three weekend-hour locations.

Enterprise offers the most rental locations in the area, but many don't have weekend hours. It does, however, have a weekend special rate of $9.99 per day, which is available at 19 locations in Northern Virginia and 24 locations in suburban Maryland. But you have to pick up the car on Friday and return it on Monday, which means you'll have to pay for three days' rental. The low daily rate makes this an option worth considering. Sorry, urbanites: No weekend special in the District.

Booking online is a headache. How can I get the best deal without heaving my laptop out the window?

We feel your pain - the jumble of results that Hertz returned when I searched for rental locations in the District included a military base and a private airfield.

For ease of navigation, Avis gets the gold star. But don't let a hard-to-navigate Web site deter you. Company sites are full of ways to save extra.

  • Enroll in the free Avis Preferred service to save your booking information and skip lines at rental locations. The site's Deals page offers discounts, such as 30 percent off a weekend rental.
  • Sign up for Budget's weekly Hot Deals e-mail and check the site's Last-Minute Deals page regularly. There's a free iGoogle gadget with top rental deals for cities of your choice.
  • Join Dollar Express, which is like Avis Preferred. Check the site's Specials page, sign up for e-mails and don't miss out on specials that offer a few dollars off or inexpensive upgrades.
  • Sign up for Enterprise Plus. It saves your booking info and offers e-mail specials.

The free Hertz #1 Club saves profile information and offers discounts and upgrades via e-mail.

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