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How do I rent an RV for a Route 66 road trip?

SmarterTravel

Dear Editor,

I would like to take a trip along Route 66 from Illinois to California sometime, taking my dog with me. I would appreciate information about renting an RV for such a trip.

Thanks,

Evelyn from Illinois

Dear Evelyn,

By opting to travel by RV on a cross-country journey, you’re joining a growing number of older Americans who find RVing to be one of the most economical and enjoyable ways to see the country. According to PKF consulting, a travel research firm, RV travel can save you up to 70 percent on overall travel expenses by avoiding the cost of flights, hotel stays, and restaurant meals. And, the social aspect of RV camping is a great way to meet other like-minded travelers, such as Americana buffs on Route 66.

Before contacting RV rental agencies, I’d recommend doing some online research so that you’re familiar with the types of vehicles available, average rental costs, RV camping, etc. SmarterTravel.com’s feature, Cut travel costs with RV vacations, covers basic information about RV travel. Other good sources of information include NewRVer.com, a site designed to educate travelers just getting into RV travel; RVIA.org, the website of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association; and RV.net, an online forum for RV enthusiasts. You should also visit sites dedicated to Route 66 road-trip planning, including Historic66.com and Route66Search.com.

Once you’ve got a handle on the fundamentals, start contacting rental agencies to ask for price quotes. You can find contact information and average weekly rates for RV rental agencies in your area by using the online directory of the Recreation Vehicle Rental Association. You can also contact Cruise America (800-327-7799), the biggest RV rental agency in the country. Cruise America has many locations across the country, including four in Illinois and 26 in California. Because of the number of rental locations throughout the U.S., you can opt for a one-way rental, picking up an RV in Illinois and dropping it off in California (you’d have to make your own travel arrangements home). Cruise America also allows pets and includes liability insurance in its rental rates.

Besides regular rental costs and insurance, you should be aware that most rental agencies allot you a certain number of free miles, and then charge you extra for each mile over the limit. Also, expect to pay a hefty drop-off fee for one-way rentals. Seasonal specials are sometimes offered, so ask your rental agency if they have any promotions that include reduced rates, unlimited mileage, or no drop-off fees.

You can use Cruise America’s “Get a Quote” tool to estimate costs for your trip. We looked up rates for a 21-day one-way trip from a rental location in Villa Park, IL (near Chicago), to a location in Huntington Beach, CA (in Los Angeles), and got a rate of $4,560 for a standard RV, including the $1,000 drop-off fee. (Don’t forget about airfare costs to get home.) The rental included 5,250 miles?more than enough to cover the 2,448-mile length of Route 66. A 33-day round-trip rental from Villa Park, IL, was $4,158, but only included 3,300 miles. To make the round trip, you’d need at least 1,596 extra miles. At 29 cents per mile, you’d pay an extra $463 or $4,621 total. With the cost for both trips about even, you’d need to make a decision based on how much time you have and whether you want to pay for airfare.

As with any travel purchase, comparing rates and asking about hidden costs and fees is the only way to get the best deal. Contact several rental agencies in your area for price quotes and be prepared to ask questions about insurance costs, mileage charges, and other extras.

Good luck and have a great trip.

If you have a question about senior travel, please e-mail us and include your first name and where you’re from. (We will not publish your last name or any contact information.) Because of the volume of e-mail we receive, we can’t guarantee a response to each question.

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