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Exploiting Unlimited Mileage on a Car Rental

A few months back I wrote an article about getting the best deal booking travel online. Whether you need a hotel room, airfare, rental car, or a complete vacation package, following my techniques outlined in that post will ensure that you get  a fair price.

Earlier this month I had an opportunity to put my travel booking tactics to good use. My wife and I decided to rent a minivan to drive our family from Maine to Florida for a little fun in the sun!


I know, I know, driving 1500 miles one way isn’t what most people have in mind for a vacation, but after the last two winters we’ve had in Maine we would’ve walked there if we had the time!

Anyway, the interesting part about this story is that we rented the minivan with “unlimited” miles through one of the major car rental companies. The poor little Kia Sedona we borrowed had less than 1000 miles on it when we picked it up from the Portland International Jetport.

By the time we dropped it off 8 days later, it had almost 4500 miles on it. 3500 miles in one week! The more and more I thought about it, the more guilt I felt. Did I take advantage of the company? It would be easy to argue that I did!

Having spent only $450 for the use of the vehicle for the week (excluding taxes and fees), I guarantee the rental company was not banking on us driving so far. The depreciation of the vehicle alone was more than $450 not to mention the “wear and tear”.

I’m sure we are not the first family to pull off a stunt like this, and who knows…maybe it is a viable tactic for families planning future frugal trips. In any case, I just wanted to share my story and hear what others had to say about the subject!

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{ 18 comments… add one }

  • Do You Dave Ramsey? March 26, 2009, 8:43 am

    Hope you guys enjoyed the trip Ben! That’s a lot of miles in the van but you can’t feel bad about it… that’s the nature of the beast.

    For years I traveled with my job and would pay $100s of dollars each week for a car that I might put 40 miles on… so there’s a balance in their pricing.

    It’s almost actuarial in a sense… the avg renter will put Y miles on the car and we’ll make X per mile which when coupled with the residual value of Z when the car achieves a certain mileage total will allow us to make P profit on the car over its rental lifetime.

    Some cars will be more profitable than others but on average we”ll make x$.

    While you make have skewed the curve for that vehicle at this point in its rental lifecycle, it doesn’t mean you took advantage of them. The next 10 renters will average 80 miles and the average mileage on the car will come back into alignment.

    Interesting thought process… but 3500 miles on the van on a family road trip… you paid brother, you paid.


  • philip March 26, 2009, 10:44 am

    I know that my dad would rent cars pretty regularly for road trip weekends that we would do 1000+ miles within a few days. He figured it would save all the wear and tear on his vehicle and would pass it on to them. Did we ever feel like we were using the system? No, that is part of what they offer in their services.

    We were never lucky enough to pick up a vehicle with only 1000 miles on it, usually they are fairly new at least though and you can get some decent milage with them.

  • Ben March 26, 2009, 12:56 pm


    I paid alright! LOL, thanks!

    You both make great points! Rental companies could change their rental agreements through sites such as Priceline and Orbitz if they felt like they were not getting a positive return (on average)!

    Either way, my wife and I both agree the next time were FLYING!

  • Alger March 26, 2009, 2:20 pm

    Paying a visit after reading your problogger comment. The website looks great, by the way.

    It’s great that you drove. I just checked the prices from Boston to Fla for airfare and it was over $700 with a layover. It wasn’t that long ago I could go for $170 rt. And the New England dreariness goes on…

  • Ben March 26, 2009, 6:54 pm


    Thanks for stopping by! Tell me about, I cannot wait for spring! It’s almost time to break out the golf clubs! On the other hand wee should be able to get one more good weekend skiing in April before all the snow is gone!

  • Amita September 12, 2009, 12:22 am

    I did the same thing took 10 days and drove from wisconsin to florida and back There was a little disclosure that it was unlimited miles provided I only travel within the surrounding states. If I went further it was something like 150 miles a day and x$ per mile. Needless to say I only spent$400.oo but I was prepared to pay the difference. They only charge me the flat rate. I’m planning to do another road trip because flights are running like $600.00 a ticket plus I still have to rent a car while I’m there. We are renting car again It is still cheaper.

  • Carolina October 30, 2009, 11:33 pm

    I tried looking for a good coupon but so far nothing. I’m interested in renting a car from Los Angeles or Las Vegas to Dallas, one way. Pickup Date = 11/7/2009 or 11/9/2009, dropoff Date = 11/11/2009. Any good tips? The cheapest I’ve found is $700 or $200 + 0.30/mile which comes to about $600. This is much higher than I’d like, if anyone knows of a good deal I can use, I would really appreciate it. Thank you in advance.

  • Dollars Not Debt February 14, 2010, 11:54 am

    As long as you follow their rules, you didn’t cheat them. They want cash flow, not too concerned about miles

  • DULLES March 11, 2010, 1:42 am

    On three occasions I have been able to move myself or friends between Michigan and New York using Penske one-way rentals. You pick them up and drop them off locally and do one big round trip. The fuel costs double, but the rental more than makes it up, even at today’s high prices. Nothing like 1200 miles in a 26 ft. truck for $250! The last time I took two of my boys with me (6 and 8). They loved it – a lasting, family memory.
    I’ll look into the car rental the next time I go to FLA!
    BTW – great site!

  • Bob Marcotte January 25, 2011, 1:50 pm

    How have you been? I’ve used this rental tactic several times in the past. Another thing I’ve done during some meager years when I was driving a junk was to periodically take advantage of the car rentals weekend rental program. usually good from Thursday to Monday. Great for a short trip or to impress a hot Saturday night date.

    Then theres the moving van rental. Secure the rental for a destination 50 to 100 miles further than your actual destination. This will help to avoid accruing any additional mileage charges.

  • Bob Marcotte January 25, 2011, 2:01 pm

    Here’s another one I just thought of. I your doing a fly-drive vacation you may find your destination airport has higher airfares. I found this to be true for both Boston and Philadelphia. Each time its was a lot cheaper to fly to Newark and drive the difference.

  • Ben January 25, 2011, 2:24 pm

    Thanks for the travel tips Bob! I hope all is going well for you! I saw the old DWP a few weeks ago off of Freeport! She looks really nice all painted up!

  • Belinda Miller April 3, 2011, 1:14 pm

    My husband and I took my dad home from San Antonio Texas to Wilmington NC and stayed a couple of days in the Blueridge mountains, and drove back to San Antonio. Our car rental was only $568.00. We put over 3500 miles on the little Ford Escape.

  • Ryan June 8, 2011, 4:47 am

    Just wanted to say you are not alone. Many people put lots of miles on rentals. One reason for getting a rental is to save miles off your own vehicles.

    The rental companies get such a good deal on vehicles it doesnt matter. They sell them quickly so they barely lose any money on them. Auto companies give rental companies a good deal hoping someone who rents a car will fall in love with it and eventually buy one as well.

    Anyway, I wanted to say a friend of mine rented a truck for ‘unlimited local miles’ in Florida and drove to Wisconsin and back in 3-4 days with it. It was over 3,000 miles… and again, she paid the local price. It was dirt cheap! Like $30/day!

    They did not say anything.

  • Aaron December 30, 2011, 2:06 pm

    Wow, that’s a lot of miles to put on in one week. Does anyone know which car rental companies offer unlimited mileage deals? Thanks.

  • Rick November 24, 2012, 12:43 pm

    I rented a Subaru Wagon once for 21 days for $400. It was great, I put over 3000 miles on it. The unlimited mileage feature in a rental is hard to believe. I don’t understand how they come out on it but they have been doing it for years.


  • Darryl December 27, 2012, 2:23 pm

    BE Aware that some rental contracts only allow you to be in neighboring state connected to were you rented from.
    So if your three states away and get into and accident the renter can be in trouble in more ways then one.

  • Sean February 23, 2013, 11:38 pm

    I’ve owned a few rental car companies. We typically would offer unlimited mileage to people and supply them with vehicles that we leased from the manufacturer for a period of 3-12 months. We’d be allowed to put 30,000 miles on them in that much time. Obviously we prefer to keep the miles down, but we actively manage the fleet to send out of town vehicles with enough mileage available on their lease contract. We keep cars that we own ourself for local drivers.

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