Yes, You Can Return A Rental Car To A Different Location. Here's How

Picture this: you're planning an epic California road trip, driving along the stunning Pacific Coast Highway, taking in the breathtaking landscapes and vibrant cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. But why stop there? Why not continue your trip to explore Northern California and into Oregon and even Washington? Well, here's the bump in the road. Your rental car needs to be returned to Los Angeles, and you're going to have to retrace your steps — or your tire marks — to get it back there.

Or are you? Returning a rental car to a different location is possible, and it can open up a world of possibilities for your future road trips. By returning a rental car to a different location, you can embark on a one-way journey, making your travel plans more flexible and maximizing your exploration time. Whether you want to drive from the tropical Florida Keys to bustling New York City or do a classic Route 66 road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, booking a one-way rental car makes your trip so much more convenient.

Fees for a one-way rental car

You might be wondering about the cost implications of returning a rental car to a different location. While it's true that most companies charge a fee for one-way rentals, the amount varies depending on the company, location, and rental duration.

Why charge a fee? Rental car companies need to keep a good vehicle selection available at all of their locations; if they allow customers to pick up and drop off cars wherever they want, their stock will be depleted in some places and wildly out of control in others. The company will usually need to transport your vehicle back to wherever you picked it up, and they pass the cost of doing that back to you.

We did a search for a one-way rental from Chicago to Los Angeles for one week in September 2023 on Enterprise came up with the goods: $775 with a $0 drop fee. Amazing. But wait, a search for a round-trip from Chicago at the same time reveals the same car would cost $389. So the drop-off fee has been built into the daily rental rate and is a not-insignificant $386.

Jalopnik did its own survey in spring of 2023 for a week's rental from Dallas to Orlando and found that the lowest price increase was offered by Alamo, while the highest was from Priceline. Autoslash, meanwhile, loves Hertz for stacking discount codes and getting savings. Basically, shop around. The fees associated with returning a rental car to a different location may seem like a downside, but weigh them against the added convenience and freedom of your trip, not to mention the cost of gas.

How to avoid a one-way fee

It is possible to avoid the hefty markup on one-way rentals. Sometimes, the fees are waived. We searched for a one-week rental in September 2023 with Alamo; one was a round-trip from Los Angeles, and the other was a one-way rental from Los Angeles to San Francisco. They cost the exact same: $479.

You will also see one-way rentals from certain locations being offered at a hugely discounted price at specific times. Arizona to California or Florida to the northeast in the springtime are often good routes to find deals on. Rental car companies show these deals on their websites. You can also look at specific sites, like, where one-way rentals are advertised at heavily discounted rates, though you'll have to be flexible with your dates.

Finally, independent companies are clocking on to the fact that people want to do a one-way rental and are stepping in to help save money. One such site is MirrorTrip, which allows drivers to search or post for people going in the opposite direction from them and to book a trip together. It serves several large Canadian and U.S. cities at the moment, with more locations promised.