Reader Kristin writes:
My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Alaska this summer and realized we’d save a lot of money in our travels by renting a car once we get there (the Alaska railroad is *expensive*). The only problem is that we will both be under the age of 25 when we’re there (he’ll be 24, I’ll be 23) and every rental car agency I can find would charge us a huge daily fee. We both have impeccable driving records (not even so much as a parking ticket between us), good car insurance, and AAA. Is there anything we could do to get around this fee, or any company out there that trusts us under 25s?
This is a tough one. For the most part, rental car companies aren’t very flexible with the surcharges for under-25 renters, unless you’re renting your car as a government employee. You can be the greatest driver in the world, but that’s not going to matter here. Your age means higher rates. Sorry.
There are some minor exceptions, so it’s important to shop around. But don’t get your hopes up.
Check the local rules. Most national chains, perhaps with a whiff of irony, will charge $25 per day for an under-25 renter. But those policies are national guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Many local outlets of major chains will charge less than the maximum. Others, such as those in New York, will charge more. For example, a quick search shows me that National Car Rental charges only $10 per day surcharge at its Anchorage Airport location. It’s still a fee, but it’s less than they could charge, and less than their peers are charging.
Try mom-and-pop shops. Another option is to call (instead of surfing the web) to contact smaller, local providers. Find them in the yellow pages (or an online directory) and then work the phones. These shops might not rent the newest or nicest vehicles — ten years ago, I rented a crappy little Ford Fiesta for a few days from a no-name local rental company on Kodiak Island. But these local companies may be more forgiving with the under-25 requirement. This may take some legwork, but it could save you a bundle. Mentioning your clean driving record might have more influence on a family-owned one-shop rental joint than on a global corporation’s local representative or franchisee.
Work your memberships. Finally, if you’re a member of any organization that has a group discount code with a car rental company, see if you can use that affiliation to waive the surcharge. It depends on the terms of the umbrella agreement that the association negotiated. Again, you might need to use the phone to get the straight story. I get little cards for car rental discounts from my insurance company (USAA), my credit union, my alumni association, professional associations, and even my gas bill. Check your member benefits, and see if something works. You may need to show a member card when you show up at the rental counter.
If you reserve via the web, print copies of everything, including the general rental policies. Many rental chains won’t give you the under-25 surcharge up front, but will bury it in their FAQs. Look carefully, and print a record of it.
Also, print a copy of your personal auto insurance policy and take it with you when you travel. Having proof of insurance could assuage a nervous rental agent.
Bottom line: When it comes to car rentals, being under 25 stinks. You’ll need to work harder to get a deal, if you get one at all. But if it’s any consolation, you still have your youth.