How to rent a car at the airport

Everything you need to know about booking, picking up and returning a rental car at the airport.

Want to rent a car at the airport but don’t know how? Using a rental car not only lets you go wherever you want on your holiday, it’s also a lot more convenient than taking public transport or joining the lengthy queue for a taxi.

Hiring a car can be a little intimidating and confusing the first time you do it, so here’s our guide to help ensure that the entire process runs as smoothly as possible.

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girl-on-airport (1)

Booking a rental car

The first step is to reserve a rental car. The following tips could save you a few dollars and a whole lot of stress, so keep them in mind when hiring a car:

  • Book ahead. Unless hiring a vehicle is a last-minute whim, it’s recommended that you book a car as far in advance as possible. Not only will this help you get a cheaper rate, it’ll also ensure that you don’t miss out on a vehicle during peak travel times. Booking earlier also allows you to choose from a wider range of cars.
  • Watch for additional fees. Before finalising a booking, make sure you’re aware of any additional fees and charges that may apply. These could include a young driver surcharge, a fee if you exceed the specified mileage limit, and credit card surcharges. You should also note that airport pickups usually come with what’s referred to as a premium location surcharge, so you can actually save money by picking up from a nearby rental company depot rather than from the airport.
  • Drop off at the same place. Picking the car up and dropping it off at the same airport will also save you money. A one-way surcharge or relocation fee applies to rentals that are dropped off somewhere different from where you first collected the car.
  • Compare prices online. Don’t just settle for the first price you’re quoted from the first rental company you find; get quotes from several agencies that offer cars out of the same airport and hunt around for the best deal. You can also check out the latest car rental deals and offers to enjoy further savings.
  • Double-check the details. Don’t forget to review your booking before submitting to make sure you’ve locked in the car you want for the right dates. Also remember to check that you’re picking it up from the right airport and that you’ve specified the pickup time (around the same time as the arrival of your flight) to the rental company.

Picking up a rental car at the airport

Your flight has landed and you’re eager to get into your car and out of the airport as soon as possible. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Where to go. Car rental desks are pretty easy to spot near the baggage carousels at most airports. If not, just follow the signs to “car rentals” or ask a staff member for assistance.
  • Read the contract. Check the rental agreement to make sure there aren’t any unexpected terms and conditions or additional charges. You’ll also need to have your driver’s licence and method of payment ready.
  • How to pay. Paying for the rental with your credit card is usually recommended. Some cards feature rental car collision and theft insurance, so it’s worth checking this with your credit card provider before you travel.
  • Should you buy insurance? The car rental agency will most likely try to sell you extra insurance to cover or reduce the excess payable if the car is damaged, stolen or crashed while in your possession. You don’t have to choose this cover if you don’t want to, as you can buy standalone car rental excess insurance if you want to or even enjoy cover as part of your comprehensive travel insurance policy.
  • Check for damage. Take some time to check the car’s outside and interior for any pre-existing damage. Make sure any damage you identify is noted on the condition report; it’s worth taking photos with your smartphone so you have proof of the car’s condition. If there’s major damage, don’t accept the car.
  • Hit the road. Once you’ve signed the rental agreement and been given the keys, you can drive away from the airport and start exploring your destination. If you need help getting around and the rental doesn’t have in-built sat nav, you can usually hire a GPS for an additional fee.

Returning a rental car at the airport

Returning your vehicle to the depot at the end of your holiday can be a stressful experience. Here’s how to make sure it’s easy and hassle-free:

  • Clean it up. Don’t leave any excess rubbish or dirt in the car when you return it to the depot. This doesn’t mean it has to be in immaculate condition, but if the rental company has to do anything more than give it a quick vacuum, you can expect a cleaning fee to pop up on your next credit card bill.
  • Fill the tank. Most rental car contracts require you to return the vehicle with a full tank of fuel. If you fail to do so, the hire company will charge you an excessive rate for filling the car up. There are some rental contracts that allow you to take your car back without a full tank, but this means you’ll need to pay more for your rental.
  • Follow the signs. When you drive to the airport’s departures terminal you’ll see signs pointing you towards “rental car returns”. Don’t get too stressed if you miss it as it’s often pretty easy to just loop back around again.
  • Don’t be late. If you don’t return your car by the specified drop-off time, extra charges apply. There’s usually a grace period, often of as little as 29 minutes, before a hefty fee will be applied for every hour you are behind schedule.
  • After-hours drop-offs. Most rental car depots aren’t staffed 24/7, so you’ll need to take advantage of the “express returns” box provided. If you’re not handing the car over in person, it’s also a good idea to take a couple of photos of the vehicle to show that it’s undamaged and in good condition.

So there you have it. That’s all the basic info you need to pick up and return a rental car to the airport; although it’s a little daunting at first, it’s actually very easy.

Just remember to shop around and compare rental car prices online well before you travel so that you can lock in the best deal.
Picture: Shutterstock


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Tim Falk

A freelance writer with a passion for the written word, Tim loves helping Australians find the right home loans and savings accounts. When he's not chained to a computer, Tim can usually be found exploring the great outdoors.

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