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What is the Grace Period for Returning a Rental Car?

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Years ago when you rented a car, there was some grace. You’d get a full hour or two after your car was due before getting hit with another day’s worth of charges.

But that’s changed over the past several years, and rental car grace periods aren’t as generous as they used to be, with some companies offering none at all.

Still, some are more generous than others.

And most have two parts to their grace period: a first period with no charge at all, and a second period where you’ll be charged a discounted hourly rate before getting hit with the full day rate. That discounted rate varies depending on the terms of your particular contract.

It can get confusing quickly, so to help you get the most out of your rental, here’s a rundown of the grace period policies of each of the following major rental car companies:

We’ve linked directly to the policies when available.

Alamo®

  • Free grace: 29 minutes
  • Discounted rate: 30 minutes to 2 hours
  • Full day: After 2 hours or more

Avis®

  • Free grace: None
  • Discounted rate: Up to 2 hours
  • Full day applies: After 2 hours or more

Budget®

  • Free grace: 29 minutes
  • Discounted rate: 30 minutes to 90 minutes late, rate varies
  • Full day applies:  After 90 minutes or more. After seven hours, an extra $20 late fee applies if you don’t call ahead.

Dollar™

  • Free grace: 30 minutes
  • Discounted rate: Generally up to 1 hour
  • Full day applies: Varies, but generally after 1 hour. Additional charges may apply.

Enterprise

  • Free grace: 29 minutes
  • Discounted rate: Up to 2 hours and 30 minutes
  • Full day applies: After 2 hours and 30 minutes or later

Hertz

  • Free grace: 29 minutes (4 hours if you are a holder of The Platinum Card® from American Express using The Platinum Card® from American Express code for booking). Terms may apply.
  • Discounted rate: None
  • Full day: 30 minutes or later

National

  • Free grace: 29 minutes
  • Discounted rate: Up to 2 hours and 30 minutes
  • Full day applies: After 2 hours and 30 minutes or more

Thrifty

  • Free grace: 30 minutes
  • Discounted rate: Varies; full day charges may apply immediately after 30-minute grace period.
  • Full day applies: Varies, but generally after 30 minutes. Additional charges may apply.

Silvercar

  • Free grace: 59 minutes
  • Discounted rate: 60-119 minutes (25% of daily rate), 120-179 minutes (50%), 180-239 minutes (75%)
  • Full day applies: After 4 hours or more

Sixt

  • Free grace: None
  • Discounted rate: None
  • Full day applies: Immediately after agreed-upon rental period ends

One more caveat

Even if you’re only charged a discounted rate of an extra hour or two, you’ll still be on the hook for a full day’s worth of taxes and fees. The government gets its full daily cut the second any rate is charged, no matter how few hours.

But knowing the rules above, you’ll be better prepared for your next rental.

  • The most generous option is to be a cardholder of The Platinum Card® from American Express and rent from Hertz with a full 4-hour grace period. Terms may apply.
  • After that, Silvercar is most generous (as it generally is for a lot of things, since it’s trying to entirely disrupt the car rental experience with reasonably priced Audi A4s for every rental), but you’ll mostly find them at certain airports.
  • And among the big chains you see just about everywhere you travel, the 2 hour and 30 minutes period offered by National and Enterprise before a full day rate applies is a friendlier policy than most.

Some no-frills companies like Dollar and Thrifty offer shorter periods before you’re charged for another full day, though you might still be able to avoid the counter through a rewards program, similar to what many of the big guys offer.

You can get better rates elsewhere by shopping around with sites like CarRentalSavers.comRentalcars.com or Costco Travel (if you’re a Costco member) and it’s rare the savings for the no-frills guys are substantial. AutoSlash is also a helpful site that will track your booking to see if the rate falls after you book, so you can change to a lower rate for free.