Car rental fees follow no hard rules regarding mileage charges. On one vacation, you might drive your rental car up and down the coast of California with no mileage fees, but then on the next trip, you get hundreds of dollars in overages driving from D.C. up to Baltimore. Policies and conditions vary not only by company and rate, but even at different locations of the same car rental company.
When miles are not included for free in a basic rental rate with unlimited mileage, you can pay for the miles you drive in one of three ways: upfront with an unlimited mileage charge, per mile as you go with a mileage charge, or per mile past a free base with a mileage allowance. There is no industry standard, and the basic miles included with the lowest price reservation can vary from as low as 70 free miles per day to unlimited miles. It is important to check your reservation carefully to see what type of mileage pricing you have.
While most rental contracts include a certain number of free miles, you can get unlimited mileage rentals in which as many miles as you can drive are included. Some rental companies include unlimited mileage as a base offering, such as Sixt and Hertz, which includes unlimited mileage on most one-way rentals and rentals by AAA cardholders. You also usually have the option to pay a flat fee – typically per day – to add unlimited miles to any reservation in place of a mileage allowance.
If your rental contract does not include unlimited mileage, it typically details a number of miles you can drive per day or over the course of the reservation for free in the mileage allowance section. When you have a daily mileage allowance, a computer chip in your car automatically reports your travel to the rental car company. This type of tracking is common with short-term rentals, such as Zipcar, which allows 180 miles per day before additional charges apply.
Even rental car companies that typically include unlimited free miles do not offer that option in a number of cases, which also can negate an unlimited mileage plan that you have purchased separately. One of the most common causes of mileage fees is crossing state lines, so if you plan a multistate trip, call in advance the exact car rental office from which you’ll pick up your rental to check the location’s policy. You may be able to use your unlimited mileage plan in some states but not others. Renting specialty vehicles, such as sports cars, SUVs or hybrid cars, also may negate automatic unlimited mileage plans.