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Breaking Down Car Rental Charges and Fees, So You Know Just What You’re Paying For

Written by Suzy Guese

This blog post was updated on October 4, 2019.

You have found what appears to be a too-good-to-be-true rate on a car rental. You jump at the opportunity and book it. When you get the bill after you rent a car, you might be surprised to see the base rate that you booked looks nothing like the total staring back at you. Car rental bills come with a number of surprising fees and charges buried in the fine print. If you don’t look closely, you might have a hard time understanding what exactly you’re paying for when you drop off the keys.

Read on to get the break down on some common car rentals charges and fees to avoid surprises when the bill arrives.

Vehicle Licensing Fees

renting a car

When you pick up your car rental in some destinations, you might be charged a vehicle licensing fee. This amount is designed to cover what the car rental pays the destination to license the vehicle. You are in essence helping the car rental company pay its licensing and registration fees.

Early and Late Return Fees

If you return your car rental past your rental period, most likely you’ll be charged for returning it late. While this isn’t surprising, you would think if you returned your car rental early, you might even be refunded some money. However, some car rental companies will charge you even for an early return if the car is returned before your rental period is up. This extra cost might be referred to as a rental change fee on your bill.

Airport Destination Fees

Many travelers who are renting vehicles do so at airports. Airport car rental offices tend to attach certain costs, so you might be surprised to find an extra cost just for picking up at an airport. These charges are often listed as airport concession fees. It is essentially a charge by the airport location for offering its services to you at the airport so that it can cover its operational costs. You can dodge this by picking up at a location that is not at the airport.

Refueling Fees

car gas tank on empty

If you bring the car back empty and you were given the car with a full tank of gas, you will probably see a refueling fee on your bill. Car rental companies will set an amount per gallon that they will charge you to refuel the car. In addition to just paying the cost of the fuel, you might also see a convenience fee attached to this refueling charge. The best way to avoid this charge is to fill up before you return the vehicle. You’ll pay a premium to have the car rental company do it for you.


When you arrive at the counter to pick up your vehicle, you might be asked about insurance. You figure that you’ll be safe rather than sorry and just agree with the policy. These charges are often incurred on a daily basis and can quickly add up for long rentals. You might see insurance listed as a collision damage waiver on your bill. Before you sign up for insurance at the car rental counter, check to see if your credit card offers coverage. Most do but not for all destinations. Some destinations will even require it if you rent a car so the charge might be unavoidable.

Credit Card Holds

man and woman looking at a paper with anger

While not technically a fee, the hold that car rental companies place on your credit card when you rent the vehicle can actually send your trip into a tailspin. Car rental companies will place a hold on your credit card when you pick up your car rental. This can vary in cost from just a couple hundred dollars to the thousands depending on the company’s policy. If you have set aside a credit card for your trip and the car rental places a hold on your credit card of $1,000, that might put you in a financial bind when trying to cover the costs of other aspects of your trip. That money is essentially tied up and unusable until it falls off the credit card, which can take anywhere from days to weeks. Before you book a car rental, it’s worth it to make a phone call or do some online searching to see what you will be charged in terms of a hold.


Have you ever had sticker shock when you received your car rental bill? What charges surprised you? Share with us in the comments below.

About the author

Suzy Guese

Suzy Guese is a travel writer from Denver, Colorado. She caught the travel bug after taking her very first flight at just three months old—she was headed for Disney World—and has been a total travel junkie ever since. From family car trips across North America to stints abroad in Europe, Suzy travels the globe with her redheaded temperament in search of sarcasm, stories, and travel tips to share with anyone willing to listen. She blogs about her travels at

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