Can I return a rental car early?
I see lots of info on the web about late returns of rental cars... but can I return the car earlier than the booked time? What about the previous day? I need the car for about 30 hours -- can I book it for 48 hours and return it at the most convenient time? (I'm booking at CarDelMar through billiger-mietwagen.de)
You can return a rental car early, but whether you get any refund, or even get penalized for the early return, depends on the terms and conditions spelled out in your particular rental agreement.
By returning early, you may forfeit certain discounts. For example, a rental car agency may be willing to give you a weekly rate for a five-day rental, but switch to the daily rate for a four-day rental. By returning the car early, the rental car agency may further claim that your original contract has been violated, allowing them to charge a higher rate, but that will not be true for every company or for every jurisdiction.
Some agencies may charge an early return fee for postpaid hires. Alamo is well-known for charging $15 for early returns, and there are many anecdotes of agency absurdities like Budget charging $11.80 for returning a car 10 minutes early. The reason for the charge, as Hertz puts it is
to compensate us in part for our inability to rent your vehicle during the time reserved for your use.
On prepaid rentals, again, whether or not you receive any refund for the time remaining depends on your agreement. Budget advertises that they will recalculate charges based on the actual time rented, while their competitors Hertz and Alamo do not— but see above for other shadiness from Budget.
Early return fees are only charged if you return your car a *day* or more early and no longer qualify for a multi-day discount. (Read to the end in the "$11.80" story, where the charge actually had nothing to do with early returning.)
@jpatokal Early return fees can be charged if you return the car on a previous calendar day. As for the Budget story, it could be a mix of poor training on the part of the agent checking in, but it could also be Budget covering up for an embarassing story. My point is that early return fees exist and one must be careful about triggering them.
It's the penalty I'm trying to understand: I don't care about a refund (I'll be returning the car less than a full day early)