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

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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 a holder of The Platinum Card® from American Express using The Platinum Card® from American Express code for booking)
  • 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 a card holder of The Platinum Card® from American Express 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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