|by Sean O'Neill||Helpful Websites, Innovations, Rental Cars||15|
Few things are more aggravating than being in the process of reserving a car rental online and coming across the question "Do you have a promotional code?"—and not having a promotional code to punch in.
I imagine millions of travelers knowing the secret coupon to use, while I sit here stupidly missing out on a discount.
Sure, rental car companies alert customers about their promo codes all the time. But you have to sign up for each company's e-mail newsletter to get the scoop. That means reading at least a half-dozen e-mails per week, each containing a bunch of codes and fine print. And to dig up other stray coupon codes that are out there in online forums, you have to troll sites like FatWallet, SlickDeals, and FlyerTalk, too. Who has the time?
Thankfully, the free new site AutoSlash aims to do all of this homework for you. It plans to be a one-stop shop for finding and applying promo codes for rental cars, the way AirfareWatchdog tracks promo codes for fares.
This is especially powerful for taking advantage of the amazing promo codes that deliver one-way rentals for as little as $1 a day, which we've blogged about before.
Even better, AutoSlash puts money back in your pocketbook if a rate drops after you've booked. If you're like me, you don't keep track of whether the rate goes down after you book a car. AutoSlash will e-mail you if the base rate for your rental has dropped, automatically re-booking you at the new lower rate.
Using AutoSlash feels just like you're booking a car on an ordinary online travel agency, such as Orbitz. Its search tool is just as powerful as what you find at major travel sites, and it covers the same range of locations worldwide and same selection of cars.
AutoSlash's added perk is that after finding all of the lowest prices (including taxes and fees), it trawls for all of the promo codes posted by the car companies, applying the optimal discount for your trip itinerary.
For example, Alamo has a lot of great promo codes, but your trip may qualify for more than one of them. (Say one code is for a discounted weekend rate and the other is sale on all cars at a particular location.) AutoSlash's computers analyzes which promo code is likely to give you the biggest discount and fetches you rates based on that information.
So if you go to the site, you plug in the pick-up location, dates, and preferred car company brands. The site displays the best rates. If promo codes are available for, say, Thrifty, you'll see Thrifty listed twice in the results—with its lowest rates after applying the promo code highlighted in yellow.
In an interview, CEO Jonathan Weinberg explained to me that there's a secondary step in the process to make sure his company's computers have applied the code that will bring customers the biggest savings. In the 24 hours after you make your reservations, the site does a secondary review to make sure it truly applied the best promo code for your situation, e-mailing you in the rare cases it missed a juicy promotion. For the time being, this is a process partly done by human hands, to make sure the computers are producing sound results.
In my (unscientific) tests, I found that AutoSlash often provided rates equal to or lower than any other online travel agency or travel search engine, while still offering a great selection of cars, including a choice of vehicles within a particular car class. Unlike some other sites, it doesn't give preference in its results to companies that it has marketing agreements with but which may not provide the cheapest rates.
That said, AutoSlash does not always turn up with the lowest prices. No one has a computer program powerful enough to scoop up every sale out there. It's still critical to shop around. But with the promo codes and the price-drop-guarantee on its side, this new site seems to have a couple more arrows in its quiver than the competition.
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