Skip the Extra Costs: Here’s How to Avoid 5 Sneaky Car Rental Fees

These hidden fees can dramatically increase the cost of a rental car.
Mother and daughter on a road trip (Photo: Shutterstock)
(Photo: Shutterstock)
  • When it comes to car rentals, there’s a lot more than the base rate to consider when you’re comparing costs.
  • Here are five hidden car rental fees that can impact the total price, and ways to spend less.

It happens all the time: You’re searching for a rental car and you see a rate that looks appealing, but once you complete your reservation (or even worse, once you see your final bill) that reasonable per-day price doesn’t seem so reasonable anymore. That’s because of all the extra car rental fees that get tacked on to the base price.

Whether you think of them as hidden car rental fees or sneaky add-ons, there are a lot of optional car rental fees that can get rolled into your final cost, and they can sometimes depend entirely on which airport or rental company you choose.

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How to Avoid Sneaky Car Rental Fees

view of rental car in the parking lot of Tunnel View overlooking the Yosemite Valley
It’s worth it to read the fine print on your rental car so you’re not surprised by extra fees (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

“What consumers may think are ‘hidden fees’ are actually explained in the rental policy, which is why it’s so important to read it,” says Lucy Bueti, Vice President, Rental Cars for Priceline. “My best piece of advice would be to always read through the rental car company’s rental policy and rules prior to booking, as fees or additional charges will vary from one company and one situation to another.”

Ready to look under the figurative hood? Here are four common rental car fees to watch out for—and how to avoid them.

1. Fees for Renting at the Airport

It often costs rental car companies extra to operate at airport locations, and some local, county, and state governments add on additional tourism-related taxes beyond the airport fee. “The rental car companies are just going to pass on those costs to the traveler,” says Sally French, a travel expert at NerdWallet. In fact, a NerdWallet analysis in 2022 found that it’s about 26 percent more expensive to rent a car at the airport compared to renting from a nearby location.

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How to Avoid Airport Rental Car Fees

The simple solution is to price out a car rental at an off-site location not too far from the airport to see if it’s cheaper. When you’re calculating the total price, just don’t forget to factor in the cost of an Uber or Lyft ride to the rental site, along with making the mental calculation of how much the extra time is worth to you.

It may also save you money to pick up the car at a downtown location but return it to the airport. “It’s often not more expensive to return the car at the airport, so you only have to deal with the inconveniences one time,” notes Chris Hutchins, host of the podcast All the Hacks.

2. Extra Driver Fees

If you want the flexibility that comes with allowing multiple people to get behind the wheel of your rental, you may end up paying an extra fee. “Some states mandate a free second driver in certain circumstances, while others do not,” says Priceline’s Bueti. “Car rental companies themselves may impose an extra charge for additional drivers, while others may waive that fee as a policy or from time to time as a promotional inclusion.”

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How to Avoid Extra Driver Fees

Joining a car rental company’s loyalty or rewards program can sometimes eliminate extra driver fees for spouses or domestic partners. Companies like DollarHertzSixt, and Thrifty offer this perk for members (some with policies that vary depending on the rental and location, so check to make sure your situation applies). Some companies also waive the second-driver fee for spouses/domestic partners if you’re an AAA or AARP member.

If you’re a Costco member, renting a car through Costco Travel can also be a good move. The additional driver fee is waived for rentals with Avis and Budget in the United States and for rentals with Alamo and Enterprise in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Ireland, and Spain.

3. Fee for Drivers Under Age 25

Teen girl in car over snowy forest on winter road trip.
Renters under the age of 25 are subject to a young driver surcharge (Photo: Shutterstock)

Rental car companies typically charge an added fee for drivers under the age of 25—often referred to as the Under 25 fee—as younger renters are considered to be higher-risk drivers. The average young driver surcharge is about $25 per day, but can go as high as $50 based on the rental location, company, and type of car.

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How to Avoid the Young Driver Surcharge

For AAA members who rent through Hertz, the young driver fee is waived (Hertz’ standard daily fee for drivers 25 years and younger is about $20). USAA members can also get this perk with certain car rental brands. Another strategy is to price out the young driver fee at different rental companies, then compare it to car sharing services like Getaround and Zipcar, which charge tiered fees for drivers that decrease the older the driver is. If you’re under 25, it’s important to do this research well in advance since in addition to additional fees, most companies have a minimum age to rent or a limited set of car classes, so you may have fewer options to begin with.

4. Cancellation Fees for Prepaid Rates

When searching for a rental car, you might be tempted by a lower rental car price that’s only available if you prepay for a reservation. But read the rules and policies on this carefully, as you’re typically charged a fee if you need to cancel your reservation. 

How to Avoid Cancellation Fees

“I try not to prepay,” says Hutchins. “Things change, rates change, plans get canceled. The small savings is often not worth it, unless I’m traveling on very certain dates and to somewhere where I expect cars to sell out.”

5. One Way Car Rental Fees

line of cars parked on a street
When you compare prices, you might also check alternatives to traditional rental agencies (Photo: Christine Sarkis)

The one way car rental drop fee is a slippery one because it’s unpredictable—sometimes it’s charged by rental agencies and other times it’s not. What that means is that you’ll need to do a bit of comparison to figure out how much it would impact the price of the rental. To do this, price out a rental that starts and ends at the same location and then compare that to the price if you rent a vehicle from one location and drop it in another.

How to Avoid One Way Car Rental Fees

The only way around this one is to pick up and drop off your rental car in the same place. But in many cases, a slightly higher car rental price might be worth it; for instance if flying into one destination and out of another saves you money on airfare or is just a better fit for your vacation, or if you’re taking a one-way road trip. But it’s worth knowing if part of the rental rate is that rental car drop fee.

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Beth Luberecki
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and teenage daughter. Visit her website at or find her on Instagram at @bethlubereckiwrites and @findingfloridafun.