Go the extra mile to save on car rental

While it has been a great year for airfare sales, when it comes to renting cars, rates are rising.

Rental companies have reduced fleets, and travelers are paying more than they did last year for the same cars. Prices really take off during peak travel periods, so you could be in for an unpleasant surprise when you book that rental car.

The winter holidays aren't the only times car rental rates can jump when demand peaks. We've seen sharp rate increases during spring break at warm-weather or ski destinations, where there are conventions or special events, and in summer at top destinations.

You do have options for lowering your costs.

Consider off-airport rental locations. Last Christmas, you could rent a car three miles from the Tampa airport for hundreds of dollars less - well worth the quick cab ride.

Look at rental locations near your hotel. Enterprise will pick you up, and the company's in-town rates are often much lower than those at the airport.

Skip the car altogether. Many hotels offer shuttles to the airport and major attractions, so you may be able to get where you want to go without a rental. The same goes for staying in a downtown hotel in many cities. If you want a car for a side trip, rent one for just a day or two and save money on your rental and on hotel parking fees.

Check different airports. If you're flying to an area with several airports, check car rental rates before you book your flight. Prices can vary considerably among the airports.

Before you rent ... Check with your auto insurance and credit-card companies to see what coverage you have regarding rentals. You probably are already covered for collision and liability, and the fees rental companies charge for coverage you may not need can really add up.