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Thoughts on reserving a car ahead versus renting on the fly

In the past I've always reserved a rental car from the US before my trip. It seems I read the price can be significantly cheaper booking it ahead from the US.

In September I'm planning at a loop in France that includes Paris, Rouen, Normandy (Bayeux), Mont St. Michel, Brittany (still deciding), Loire Valley, Chartes, and back to Paris - or (now considering) opposite order.

The transportation is:
1. Paris to Rouen, and Loire Valley through Chartes back to Paris by train.
2. Normandy and Brittany by car.
3. Loire by bike.

The biggest question is how much time I'll spend in Loire on the bike? I'll probably see a handful of chateaux, an abbey, and stay at either hostels or air bnb. I don't want to make it a race, but I'd also rather add days to Brittany if I move through the itinerary quickly.

Which makes me wonder whether it may be best to visit Loire first and have no fixed reservation for a car to visit Brittany and Normandy before returning it in Rouen, then taking a train back into Paris? What if I reserve a car but want to pick it up a day or two in advance of my reserved time?

I avoid fixed itineraries, so any guidance that allows me to stay flexible is much appreciated.



Posted by
2916 posts

I have always reserved a car well in advance, but that's partly due to the fact that I need an automatic, and can't always count on one on short notice. On my recent trip to France, out of curiosity I looked at rental rates for my trip a few days before leaving, and they were no higher than what I was paying. I have read about people contacting Auto Europe from the rental agency location and getting a reservation faxed to the agency on the spot. Not that it's something I would count on.

Posted by
6192 posts

In high season, at busy locations, I've seen walk-ins turned away for lack of cars. I got my reserved car.

Posted by
7203 posts

You will almost certainly get a far better rate reserving on line ahead than at the last minute and of course your odds of actually having a car are greater. In high season agencies run out of cars.

Posted by
9202 posts

You can bring up Autoeurope on the internet while in France and rent immediately. Or call their French 800 number. Someone in Portland, Maine will answer even in the middle of the US night. The only time AE may have reached its quota is during winter vacation or the July-August vacation overlap time when July vacation cars haven't been returned yet but August vacation cars are already checked out.

We reserve on the fly once in a while--such as last week. Price was good. A couple years ago I talked to them on the phone while in the agency and had the reservation faxed--as Robert describes. It was so much cheaper than paying the French price.

Posted by
12074 posts


Auto Europe may be a winner. This would be after mid-September and I normally prefer a standard transmission (diesel if I can get it) because the economy is so much better.

Posted by
3696 posts

You can reserve your car ahead without paying for it and lock in the cheapest rate. Just go to Priceline and hold the cheapest car for the dates you think. You can often change the reservation by a few days without penalty. Once you prepay you are stuck. You can also keep checking your rate as it often goes down... make a new reservation if that happens and cancel the first one. I rent most every trip and also like to be flexible...

There is no rule about when the rate is cheapest... often it is months ahead, sometimes week, and on a few occasions it has been the day before... if we could figure out their pricing it would make life easier, but you really just need to check and compare, but always put a hold on the best rate you can find. Also check weekly rate as it is typically cheapest. Even if I am going to turn in a day early I take weekly and have never been penalized for turning in early.

Posted by
16890 posts

Most car rentals allow cancellations or changes before pick-up. Auto Europe bookings are pre-paid but allow cancellation up to 48 hours in advance of the reserved pick-up time with no penalty. Of course, trying to reschedule for a new time will be subject to availability and pricing at the time that you make the decision. If cars are available on short notice in high season, it might be only the most expensive that are left.

Posted by
12074 posts

Good point,

The fastest I'll get through Loire is three nights (two full days) and it won't be longer than five nights (four full days). I may try to play with options to reserve cars. The worst case scenario is both paying a high price and getting a less efficient car that's harder to park.