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Rental car grace periods: When can you return a car late with no fee?

by on Tue August 18, 2015 • 8 Comments
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Years ago when you rented a car, there was some grace. You’d get a full hour or two after your car is due before getting hit with another day’s worth of charges.

But that’s changed over the last several years, and grace periods aren’t as generous as they used to be, with some companies offering none at all.

Still, some are more generous than others.

And most have two parts to their grace period: a first period with no charge at all, and a second period where you’ll be charged a discounted hourly rate before getting hit with the full day rate. That discounted rate varies depending on the terms of your particular contract.

It can get confusing quickly, so to help you get the most out of your rental, here’s a rundown of the grace period policies of each of the major rental car companies.

We’ve linked directly to the policies when available.

Alamo

  • Free grace: 29 minutes
  • Discounted rate: 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Full day: 2 hours or more

Avis

  • Free grace: 29 minutes
  • Discounted rate: 30 minutes to 90 minutes late, the charge is 75% of the full day rate.
  • Full day applies: 90 minutes or more

Budget

  • Free grace: 20 minutes
  • Discounted rate: 30 minutes to 90 minutes late, rate varies
  • Full day applies:  90 minutes or more. After 7 hours an extra $10 late fee applies if you don’t call ahead.

Dollar

  • Free grace: None
  • Discounted rate: Generally up to 1 hour
  • Full day applies: Varies, but generally after 1 hour, plus a $15.99 / day return change fee if you return 24 hours or more late ($79.95 maximum)

Enterprise

  • Free grace: 29 minutes
  • Discounted rate: Up to 2 hours, 30 minutes
  • Full day applies: 2 hours, 30 minutes or later

Hertz

  • Free grace: 29 minutes (4 hours if you are an American Express Platinum Card holder using the American Express Platinum code for booking)amexplatgracehertz
  • Discounted rate: 29 minutes to 1 hour, 30 minutes.
  • Full day: 1 hour, 30 minutes or later

National

  • Free grace: 29 minutes
  • Discounted rate: Up to 2 hours, 30 minutes
  • Full day applies: 2 hours, 30 minutes or more

Thrifty

  • Free grace: None
  • Discounted rate: Generally up to 1 hour
  • Full day applies: Varies, but generally after 1 hour, plus a $15.99 / day return change fee if you return 24 hours or more late ($79.95 maximum)

Silvercar

  • Free grace: 59 minutes
  • Discounted rate: 60-119 minutes (25% of daily rate), 120-179 minutes (50%), 180-239 minutes (75%)
  • Full day applies: 250 minutes or more

Sixt

  • Free grace: 59 minutes if notified in advance
  • Discounted rate: None
  • Full day applies: 1 hour or more

One more caveat.

Even if you’re only charged a discounted rate of an extra hour or two, you’ll still be on the hook for a full day’s worth of taxes and fees. The government gets its full daily cut the second any rate is charged, no matter how few hours.

But knowing the rules above, you’ll be better prepared for your next rental.

  • The most generous option is to be an American Express Platinum Card holder and rent from Hertz with a full 4 hour grace period.
  • After that, Silvercar is most generous (as it generally is for a lot of things, since it’s trying to entirely disrupt the car rental experience with reasonably priced Audi A4s for every rental), but you’ll only find them at a handful of airports.
  • And among the big chains you see just about everywhere you travel, National / Enterprise at 2 hours and 30 minutes before a full day rate applies is a friendlier policy than most.

No frills companies like Dollar / Thrifty leave no room for error with no free grace period.

But no informed traveler should be renting from them – they don’t even offer a free option to avoid the rental car counter by joining a frequent renter program like all of the big guys do. Their frequent renter programs make you go to the counter first to sign a contract.

You can get better rates elsewhere by shopping around with sites like CarRentalSavers.com, and it’s rare the savings for the no frills guys are substantial.

AutoSlash is also a helpful site that will track your booking to see if the rate falls after you book, so you can change to a lower rate for free.

 

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8 thoughts on Rental car grace periods: When can you return a car late with no fee?

  1. anonymous

    Lets say if I rent the car for 4 days. I rented at $20 per day (plus fees). If I return the car 6 hour late on 4th day. If I get charged for full day, will it be $20 (plus fee) at which i rented the car or it will be their current going rate on return day. Which rate I will be charged?

    Reply
    1. George

      I would like to know the answer to that question also. If you use a coupon to get a special rate, would car rental companies honor that same rate if you returned the car hours later?

      Reply
      1. MileCards.com

        @george @anonymous – When you pick up the rental, the rate that will apply for late returns will be listed on the contract that’s printed when you pick up the car, so you’re not subject to a random rate. It’s usually the same as the daily rate you have for the reservation period – and charged either by the hour, day, or week, whichever ends up cheaper. But best to call them ahead of time to double check exactly the case for your rental.

        Reply
  2. leandra

    I have been part of the Dollar frequent renters program for many years and I often bypass the counter and go straight to my assigned car. Perhaps it depends on the airport?

    Reply
  3. Bayuze

    Hi,

    I am not sure the grace period for National Car is correct. I rented a car for 1 day at ORD in July, picked up the car at 1.25pm and returned at 2.30pm the next day. I was charged extra for a full hour immediately – I usually opt to receive e-receipts but sometimes collect the paper ones and trash them after glancing at it. I noticed that the total was way off my rental quote. I asked the agent why and she said I was charged extra because I returned it late.

    I had to call customer service the next day to get the extra fees waived as a courtesy. Not sure if it helps but I’m also Emerald Executive

    Reply

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