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I see lots of info on the web about late returns of rental cars... but can I return the car earlier than the booked time? What about the previous day? I need the car for about 30 hours -- can I book it for 48 hours and return it at the most convenient time? (I'm booking at CarDelMar through billiger-mietwagen.de)

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You can return a rental car early, but whether you get any refund, or even get penalized for the early return, depends on the terms and conditions spelled out in your particular rental agreement.

  • By returning early, you may forfeit certain discounts. For example, a rental car agency may be willing to give you a weekly rate for a five-day rental, but switch to the daily rate for a four-day rental. By returning the car early, the rental car agency may further claim that your original contract has been violated, allowing them to charge a higher rate, but that will not be true for every company or for every jurisdiction.

  • Some agencies may charge an early return fee for postpaid hires. Alamo is well-known for charging $15 for early returns, and there are many anecdotes of agency absurdities like Budget charging $11.80 for returning a car 10 minutes early. The reason for the charge, as Hertz puts it is

    to compensate us in part for our inability to rent your vehicle during the time reserved for your use.

  • On prepaid rentals, again, whether or not you receive any refund for the time remaining depends on your agreement. Budget advertises that they will recalculate charges based on the actual time rented, while their competitors Hertz and Alamo do not— but see above for other shadiness from Budget.

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    Early return fees are only charged if you return your car a day or more early and no longer qualify for a multi-day discount. (Read to the end in the "$11.80" story, where the charge actually had nothing to do with early returning.) – lambshaanxy Jul 24 '14 at 22:02
  • @jpatokal Early return fees can be charged if you return the car on a previous calendar day. As for the Budget story, it could be a mix of poor training on the part of the agent checking in, but it could also be Budget covering up for an embarassing story. My point is that early return fees exist and one must be careful about triggering them. – choster Jul 24 '14 at 23:59
  • It's the penalty I'm trying to understand: I don't care about a refund (I'll be returning the car less than a full day early) – Max Jul 25 '14 at 13:06
  • @choster is correct. Dollar charges an "Early Return Fee" (I was quoted $25) that's completely separate from any special rate recaluclations. – Mark Phillip Feb 24 '15 at 4:24
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For Alamo. Booked week rate via Costco, $139. Pickup San Diego ran LAX.

Asked at counter what would happen if I returned 1 day early. The answer was SHOCKING. Extra $500 of I returned one day early, the new total charge would have been $660. I was horrified. Nothing he could do so had to speak to the manager who had some.common sense and agreed to allow me to return one day early and avoid the penalty of over $500. Lucky I checked otherwise I would have been screwed royally with no recourse. BE VERY CAREFUL. CHECK THE MINIMUM RENTAL PERIOD IN THE CONTRACT AND IF UNSURE.DONT SIGN !! Hope that this helps.someone.

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In the United States, the rental charge generally is not applied to the credit card at the start. The credit card used is used as a reserve, then charged at the end for the time used. If you trim back from the end, you receive a lower charge. I've done this in the past. I generally reserve for all the days needed, spend the final night near the airport, turning in the car the evening before. This saves the rental charge of a day. I then get a free shuttle back to the hotel, and again to the airport in the morning. Hasn't failed so far - I generally use "We're #1!" (you'll know)

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    This isn't always true - it is possible to get a pre-paid rate at many places in the US (+overseas), where you'd pay in advance. It's also possible (though rare) to find a longer rate that is cheaper than a shorter one (eg special sale for a week's rental), where if you give the car back early they may (note may, not always will) re-price based on how long you had it, and charge you more! – Gagravarr Jul 24 '14 at 18:43
  • @Gagravarr - Fair enough. I was writing from my experience. I acknowledge I don't know everything about renting cars. Modified my answer respectively. – wbogacz Jul 24 '14 at 19:15

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