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One-way car rentals are one of the priciest propositions in the travel industry. If you drop your car off in a different place than you picked it up, your car rental company has to get the vehicle back to where it belongs - and you can be sure it will pass the associated costs on to you. One-way renters are typically penalized with high base rates or drop-off surcharges.

Despite the added cost, travelers choose one-way rentals for a variety of reasons: to avoid retracing their steps on vacation, to take the place of an even more expensive flight or to take a cross-country road trip without putting miles on their own car.

If you're considering a one-way car rental, read on to learn which companies offer them, how to minimize the cost and whether special arrangements called "driveaways" could be a less expensive alternative.

Who Offers One-Way Car Rentals?
Most of the major car rental companies offer one-way rentals, though availability varies significantly depending on which company you choose and on where you're traveling. For example, neither National nor Alamo permits one-way rentals in El Salvador, and Enterprise generally allows one-way rentals only within the same metropolitan area or state.

car keys wallet and moneyWhile smaller car rental companies may also offer one-way rentals, you will have the most choice if you rent with a larger chain that has more rental locations. Contact your car rental company or visit its Web site to ask about policies on one-way rentals.

Cost
One-way car rentals are pricey due to two factors: drop-off surcharges and high base rates. The drop-off surcharge, which can add up to hundreds of dollars, is the penalty some companies charge for leaving your vehicle in a different location than where you picked it up. Even if your company doesn't sock you with a drop-off surcharge, you'll still pay more for your one-way rental because of higher base rates for one-way rentals.

We tested prices at the Budget Web site to see how significant the differences were for one-way versus roundtrip rentals. Here are the total prices with taxes and fees for a six-day rental in each of the locations below:

  • Pick-up and drop-off at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL): $244.40
  • Pick-up and drop-off at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT): $269.11
  • Pick-up at PHL, drop-off at PIT: $777.72

For that last itinerary, Budget displayed a "one-way fee" of $0, so there was no drop-off surcharge - the sky-high price is simply due to higher base rates for one-way rentals.

Strategies for Saving
No matter what you do, you will almost always pay extra for a one-way rental - but there are certain strategies you can try to lower your costs.

1. Shop around. We went to Kayak.com and typed in the same itinerary as we'd tried on the Budget Web site above - and this time we came up with a total price of $298.51 with taxes (on Thrifty), which we verified on Thrifty's Web site. That one extra search saved us nearly $500, and if we'd continued looking we might have found even better deals.

See also:
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