AutoSlash was one of the real innovations in travel a couple of years back, and one of the few real innovations in the rental car space.
There were two basic pieces to the model:
- They would automatically test and apply coupons and discount codes to get you the lowest rate on your vehicle at booking
- They would keep searching after you booked your car in order to find you better prices. Rental car prices change all the time, especially as time passes and the rental date nears, if rental companies have unbooked inventory
The biggest savings came from this second technique. Most people make car reservations and then leave things alone, but prices do drop, often significantly. I’ve seen folks report saving several hundred dollars on longer rentals, and reducing prices by more than half.
It’s the first technique, though, that really angered the rental companies the most. AutoSlash sometimes had marginally better prices than other booking sites because it tested out different coupons and discounts. And there were occasionally controversies over whether a given discount was open to everyone even if it was targeted towards a specific audience.
Angering the rental companies meant that they forbade AutoSlash from displaying those companies inventory. Which meant that AutoSlash was no longer useful for making a rental car booking.
Back in April Hertz, Thrifty, and Dollar prohibited AutoSlash from displaying their cars during initial booking. Avis had already done so.
As a result, here’s the only options I get when trying to make an initial reservation at AutoSlash for pickup at Chicago O’Hare.
But despite only offering two rental agencies for the search above, this Milepoint discussion makes clear that AutoSlash remains just as useful a tool as ever!
Remember that the real savings comes from searching for better pricing and rebooking. AutoSlash still does that.
You can make your car booking elsewhere and then go to the AutoSlash website, enter your name, confirmation number, pickup date and email address. They will automatically track your reservation and let you know if and when they find you something better.
They can’t offer initial search, but they can do rebookings. The service is free to you, they make their money on commissions for the bookings they do when they can lower your price.
And these are still conventional bookings, meaning that you still earning miles from your rentals. For instance I claim 1000 Virgin Atlantic miles per 1-day rental at Avis and 3000 US Airways miles per 3-day Avis rental as well.
I didn’t used to like to make my initial bookings with AutoSlash anyway since I prefer to go through a cash back or mileage portal. You can usually get around 3% cash back or 3 points per dollar in various programs for the cars you’re renting anyway. Having AutoSlash rebook you will negate that rebate, but I’m happy to give it up automate bigger savings (you could of course automate tracking of lower prices, then rebook yourself through a rebate portal to get the lower price and the rebate).
There are other techniques for reducing the price of a rental of course, but I really like the ease of making a reservation and then letting AutoSlash take over.
- Hotwire. I don’t like prepaid rentals but if the savings are big enough they can be justified. You don’t know which of the major rental companies you’re going to get. They show you the price up front so you can compare to what’s otherwise available, I’ve seen savings greater than 50% at times but other times it’s not meaningfully better than booking direct. Since rentals are prepaid you can’t drop price later and prepaid Hotwire rentals may not offer the same additional insurance coverage through a credit card that renting direct does. (Priceline has a similar prepaid model, and can be a couple bucks cheaper, they don’t display the price up front — you might try searching Hotwire and then bidding about 10% lower at Priceline.)
- Avoid the airport. You can often get lower rates off-airport, especially during the week, because rental companies price discriminate — business travelers need cars and will pay more for them being on a corporate dime. If you can get off airport you can save. Plus airport rentals are often loaded up with taxes, sometimes adding as much as 50% to the cost of the rental. For a longer rental you can rent at the airport on day 1 and then return the car to an off-airport location, swapping cars for the rest of the trip — combining the convenience of the initial airport rental with lower rates and taxes for subsequent days.
- Tweak the pickup and return times even by a half hour or an hour. Sometimes rental rates will vary.
Bottom line is there are a few things you can do to reduce the price of a rental. Making your initial car reservation with AutoSlash was only ever of marginal benefit. Tracking the reservations you’ve already made with AutoSlash, on the other hand, is a big deal and still as available as ever.