When booking a vacation, we all want to make sure we’re getting the best deal possible. From comparison sites to price alerts, there are a number of savvy ways we can try and keep costs down.
Our team of researchers looked to see if using a VPN to book flights, hotels, and car hire could save you money on your next vacation.
How does this work?
A VPN “spoofs” your location by giving you an IP address from another country. For example, a customer in the UK could use a VPN in the US to make it look like they’re an American customer. This means they’ll see the same price as an American customer.
So what did we find?
When it comes to flight and hotel prices, using a VPN to alter your location has little effect – if any. But if you use a VPN to book car hire, you could save hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
We price-checked five car rental bookings across five different companies (Enterprise, Sixt, Hertz, Dollar, and RentalCars.com) in 25 different countries. In many cases, we were quoted different prices for the exact same booking with one provider’s pricing differing by as much as 85 percent.
The car rental bookings we used were:
- LAX Airport, US, October 1, 2022 to October 15, 2022, Pick Up @ 12:00 PM, Drop off @ 12:00 PM, Economy-Style Car
- LHR Airport, UK, August 8, 2022 to August 9, 2022, Pick Up @ 10:00 AM, Drop Off @ 10:00 AM, Premium Car
- CDG Airport, France, December 22, 2022 to December 26, 2022, Pick Up @ 12:30 PM, Drop Off @ 8:30 AM, Standard SUV/MPV Car
- SYD Airport, Australia, February 13, 2023 to February 17, 2023, Pick Up @ 10:00 AM, Drop Off @ 3:30 AM, Premium Car
- DXB Airport, UAE, November 1, 2022 to November 30, 2022, Pick Up @ 10:00 AM, Drop Off @ 10:00 AM, Luxury Car
Are customers from different countries really given different car rental prices for the exact same vehicle?
To see just how much a VPN can change a car rental price, let’s look at how much the ranges differ by location and site. Please note: we aren’t comparing prices by site as different cars and conditions are offered, but rather the range in price differences for each provider. We have also included RentalCars.com so as to feature a comparison site among the other direct providers. (You can see our full methodology for more information on how we conducted our research.)
The biggest percentage difference we were quoted was for RentalCars.com at LAX. With $1,102.66 between the lowest ($752.15) and highest ($1,854.81) price, this means there is a difference of 85 percent between the two prices. Japan’s price is quoted as the cheapest, while Australia is quoted as the highest.
However, the widest range of prices we were quoted were for Hertz in DXB. There was a difference of $2,064.59 in the prices offered – $2,798.42 in Canada (3587.58 CAD) and $4,863.01 in numerous other countries. In fact, every country bar Canada had a price of at least $4,400.
Now, to explore these differences in more detail, let’s take a look at each individual location.
Booking a rental car from LAX with a VPN
LAX Airport, US, October 1, 2022 to October 15, 2022, Pick Up @ 12:00 PM, Drop off @ 12:00 PM, Economy-Style Car
As we’ve already seen, RentalCars.com had the biggest difference in prices for LAX– $1,102.66 or a difference of 85 percent between the two prices. Japan’s price is quoted as the cheapest ($752.15), while Australia is quoted as the highest ($1,854.81).
Japan and Australia have the cheapest and highest prices (respectively) with Hertz, too. At $1,856.21, Australia’s quote for car hire from LAX via Hertz is more than $1,000 more than Japan’s quote of $794.80.
Australia also had the highest quote for our LAX booking when using a VPN for Enterprise. At $1,864.17, this quote was over $730 higher than the cheapest quotes received by a large number of other locations (including the US).
In complete contrast, however, Australia was the cheapest quote for our Sixt booking. Here, quotes varied by $654.42 with the Netherlands and Spain receiving the highest quotes ($1,838.85) and Australia, the cheapest ($1,184.43).
Dollar had the least variation in its prices but this was still $429.24–the difference between the cheapest quote (Canada at $882.26) and the highest quote (the Netherlands at $1,311.50).
Booking a rental car from LHR with a VPN
LHR Airport, UK, August 8, 2022 to August 9, 2022, Pick Up @ 10:00 AM, Drop Off @ 10:00 AM, Premium Car
For Enterprise, the prices quoted for bookings from London Heathrow Airport do vary slightly, but this can be attributed to currency exchange rate variation. All four of the other providers have higher levels of variation. While these may not be as significant as the bookings for LAX due to the shorter stay and cheaper pricing, we are still left with some significant price differences here.
The biggest difference we see is for Hertz.
For a compact car or similar, we were quoted $219.13 in India. But the price jumped to double this in Brazil ($440.17).
RentalCars.com also had a large difference in its prices with the cheapest country (the United States) being quoted $1,035.43 and the most expensive country (Japan) being quoted $1,784.36.
Dollar had a price difference of 35 percent between its highest ($569.67 in South Africa and South Korea) and lowest ($398.64 in several European countries and the UK). Sixt had a price difference of just over 15 percent, varying from $710.43 in the most expensive countries (the United States and Canada) and $608.44 in the cheapest country (Australia).
Booking a rental car from CDG with a VPN
CDG Airport, France, December 22, 2022 to December 26, 2022, Pick Up @ 12:30 PM, Drop Off @ 8:30 AM, Standard SUV/MPV Car
For our booking at CDG Airport, all of the rental companies show significant price differences (i.e. not ones that can be attributed to currency differences) with three showing differences between $500 and $1,000.
Both Sixt and Hertz have price differences of over 70 percent with both showing the cheapest pricing in Australia and the most expensive in Canada (and the US for Sixt). For Sixt, all of the countries bar the US and Canada had a similar price that varied by just over $100.
Yet, it’s Dollar that has the largest difference of nearly 84 percent. Canada is quoted as having the cheapest car rental option at $390.53 while South Korea has the most expensive at $951.81.
Rentalcars.com and Enterprise had price differences of up to 36 and 23 percent respectively.
Booking a rental car from SYD with a VPN
SYD Airport, Australia, February 13, 2023 to February 17, 2023, Pick Up @ 10:00 AM, Drop Off @ 3:30 AM, Premium Car
For Sydney Airport, we get very little variation for Sixt (currency differences only), variations of 26 to 39 percent for Hertz, Dollar, and Enterprise, and a variation of 73 percent for RentalCars.com.
What’s perhaps even more interesting here is that we checked the same car through Enterprise via RentalCars.com, too.
For RentalCars.com, Australia has the cheapest price ($431.30) while Malaysia has the most expensive ($929.18). And for Enterprise, Australia also has the cheapest price ($570.58) while the UK has the most expensive ($842.88). For both bookings, Australia was the cheapest by far with the majority of the other countries being quoted very similar prices (a variation of just $19 for Enterprise and $60 for RentalCars.com).
Booking a rental car from DXB with a VPN
DXB Airport, UAE, November 1, 2022 to November 30, 2022, Pick Up @ 10:00 AM, Drop Off @ 10:00 AM, Luxury Car
As we have already noted in the introduction, the biggest price difference across all of the bookings was seen for Hertz at DXB. Via a Canadian VPN we were offered a price of 3,587.58 CAD which equates to 2798.42 USD at the time of writing. The pricing via a VPN in Brazil was also significantly cheaper than most other countries, at a cost of 11,319.61 AED which equates to 3,081.81 USD at the time of writing.
Meanwhile, all of the countries we used a VPN in were quoted at least $1,300 more than Brazil’s price.
But it was Dollar at this location that had the largest percentage difference between its prices, quoting the UK $910.35 and a number of other countries $2,165.38. Every other country was quoted $1,044.80.
Customers quoted the cheapest prices were located in Europe (bar Ukraine and Turkey which were quoted the higher price), the UK, and Canada, while the higher price was quoted for all others.
Interestingly, when using VPNs in the cheaper countries, these were redirected from dollar.com to dollaruae.com but this didn’t happen for the more expensive countries. However, if US-based customers go straight to dollaruae.com themselves, they are able to access the cheaper pricing.
Why do some car rental prices seem to change with location?
As we have seen, the prices we have been quoted by providers can vary dramatically by location. So, what could be causing this?
Firstly, there’s the instance we’ve just seen in that some companies have different websites which appear to offer different prices. The last time we conducted this study, Dollar.com had hardly any variation for all of the quotes we looked at. However, this time, with its redirection to sites like dollaruae.com, it has significant variations.
Enterprise has separate websites for some countries but will often redirect customers to their “local” website. Last time we ran this study, an Enterprise representative explained the differences we saw:
“Comparing rates from different countries can be misleading as often this means not comparing like with like. For example, in certain countries, it is expected that damage waiver protection will be included as part of the rental price quoted online.
“In this specific case, we tried booking the same rental on our enterprise.com website from a number of locations in Europe, and each time the quote we received was $1033, the same as the rental price from the US. However, when we booked through the local websites, the price was different and quoted in the local currency. This reflects competitor rates in those markets. Customers are encouraged to book their hire car as far in advance as possible to secure the best rates.”
We contacted all of the providers with our new 2022 findings, but, at the time of writing, none of them had responded. If and when they reply, we will update the article with their comments.
Hertz also has some local websites but these display the same pricing as the .com site but in local currency. Other local websites may only display rental options within that specific country, i.e. Hertz.co.za for South Africa. And RentalCars.com is always the same website but tends to offer pricing in local currency.
Sixt does have a handful of local websites but you aren’t redirected to these from the .com site.
Secondly, dynamic pricing could be at play. This allows them to consider various factors when displaying their prices, including previous rental details, shopping trends, location, and more. In turn, this will allow them to display different price categories to different clientele.
And as we have seen with similar results from the same websites, this could be what is causing the difference in prices for some countries and/or providers. For example:
- For the three comparisons where we saw significant differences for Enterprise (LAX, CDG, and SYD), the countries in which the bookings were taking place (the US, France, and Australia) all enjoyed the cheaper prices (often alongside other countries, too). For example, the US was one of the 15 countries quoted the cheapest price from LAX, France was among the cheaper pricing for CDG, and Australia was significantly lower in price for the SYD booking compared to all of the other countries.
- Sixt didn’t vary much at all for SYD and DXB bookings but for the LHR and CDG bookings, the US and Canada were quoted the same high prices. However, for the LAX bookings, they were among some of the cheapest. In contrast, European countries were quoted as the most expensive in LAX but were among the cheapest for LHR and CDG.
- There doesn’t appear to be any trends among the Hertz pricing with some of the cheapest countries for one booking being the most expensive for others. Hertz did show significant variation across all of the bookings.
- Dollar appears to have two price tiers. In the most expensive tier are Asian and American countries, as well as Australia, Ukraine, and Turkey, while European countries (bar those mentioned), the UK, and Canada appear to be in the cheaper category.
- For RentalCars.com, there doesn’t seem to be too much of a pattern. But as the pricing this website displays will be dictated by individual providers’ pricing (to some extent) this perhaps explains some of the large variation here.
This isn’t the first time the vast difference in car rental prices has been noted. Back in 2014, the European Commission investigated claims that car prices were different depending on the consumer’s location. And Hertz was also quoted as saying that it intended to “further improve its online booking system to facilitate the ability of consumers to shop for the best deal across [its] websites by early September.”
Prices shown to some customers are wildly different to those being shown to others. And for Enterprise, Sixt, and Dollar especially, there seem to be clear groups of countries that see higher prices than others.
So what location should you book car hire in?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one clear-cut winner across the board. European countries do seem to fare well but may find themselves being charged more in some cases.
Ultimately, you may want to shop around a little more next time you book your car hire. If you’re based in the Americas, switch to a European VPN server to see if that helps bring prices down. And don’t forget to try local sites (i.e. dollaruae.com) as well as the usual .com ones.
Methodology and limitations
The 25 countries we used for the car rental study are the most populated countries where VPNs are available.
Each car rental search was conducted within a five-hour window to try and avoid too much variation, but prices might have gone up or down during these timescales.
All prices were converted into USD so some leeway has to be given when considering price differences due to the varying currency conversions.
Prices noted were the ones given on each provider’s website and may include additional fees. All prices are for the main age group given by the provider (often 30+).
Enterprise, Sixt, and Hertz have some local websites. Enterprise asks you if you would like to be redirected to your “local” website (e.g. co.uk) for a number of websites. In these cases, the prices always seemed to be the same as the .com pricing available if you chose not to be redirected.
It’s also important to note that there are some “local” websites, i.e. hertz.ua (for Ukraine) but this isn’t operated by Hertz and is instead an imitation website. Sometimes, the local website (i.e. Hertz.co.za) only offers pricing for the country the website is based in. Dollar.com and RentalCars.com are always .com-based.
Data researchers: George Moody, Rebecca Moody