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Unprecedented rates of consolidation in the industry, pricey new centralized airport rental facilities (costs are nearly always billed back to the consumer), and a business model that appears to be on life-support add up to one simple fact: In far too many markets, consumers are paying way too much for their rental cars. 
 
For die-hard budget travelers, it's always been possible to avoid on-airport rates—all you've ever had to do is hop in a cab to a local agency branch, where you can save an often-astonishing amount of money. 
 
But now that’s dramatically easier than it used to be. With a much-needed increase in airport transit across North America, not to mention the cheaper-than-a-cab (well, most of the time) services like Lyft and Uber that are now legal at more airports than you might have guessed, even the most casual traveler can quite easily take advantage of the deals that are waiting often just minutes from the airport perimeter. 
 
To give you an idea of how easy it can be to beat the rental rates at some of the busiest North American airports, I've randomly sampled the cost of a week's economy car rental in mid-July—after the dust settles from the holiday weeken—using one company per destination. (Make sure to check with as many as you can when you do your research—sites like Priceline Group's Rentalcars.com and Expedia's Carrentals.com offer quick and easy comparisons.) 
 
I'll then give you directions for the cheapest way to get to that off-airport location, finding out whether it'll allow you to drop the car at the airport at the end of your trip without a steep penalty. In many cases, you can—so the return of the car will not involve finding transportation, like the pick-up did. And even in cases when there’s a drop-off fee, even when you factor it in you'll still save money compared to renting and returning at an on-airport branch.
 
 
SAVE $351 IN LOS ANGELES (LAX)
Rent at airport: $540/week ($120 taxes and fees), Enterprise
Rent in town: $189/week ($21 taxes and fees), Enterprise Marina Del Rey
Cheapest way to get there: Lyft and Uber are now authorized to pick up passengers from the Departures level at LAX; the 15-minute ride will cost around $12. 
Additional cost to return at airport: There's a $100 drop charge.  But you saved $351!
 
SAVE $251 IN CHICAGO (ORD) 
Rent at airport: $543/week ($191 taxes and fees), National
Rent in town: $292/week ($62 taxes and fees), National La Salle Street / Loop
Cheapest way to get there: Ride the CTA Blue Line to Washington ($5, 40 min.), walk two short blocks.
Additional cost to return at airport: Yes—weekly rate jumps by more than $100, though check with other agencies; some charge relatively modest drop fees, if any. 
 
SAVE $150 IN LAS VEGAS (LAS)
Rent at airport: $445/week ($143 taxes and fees), Avis
Rent in town: $293/week ($93 taxes and fees), Avis New York New York
Cheapest way to get there: Lyft and Uber are now authorized to enter the passenger pickup area at McCarran – it's a quick, $6-$8 ride to New York New York.
Additional cost to return at airport: None
 
SAVE $495 IN SEATTLE (SEA)
Rent at airport: $784/week ($224 taxes and fees), Hertz
Rent in town: $289/week ($71 taxes and fees), Hertz Sea-Tac / First Avenue South
Cheapest way to get there: The 5-7 minute ride from the terminals runs between $10-$12 with Lyft or Uber – the shuttle bus ride to the airport's rental car center takes nearly the same amount of time.
Additional cost to return at airport: None, believe it or not!
 
SAVE $374 IN NEW YORK (JFK) 
Rent at airport: $599/week ($180 taxes and fees), Dollar
Rent in town: $225/week ($50 taxes and fees), Dollar Newport Centre Mall, Jersey City. (Note: Renting at this location saves you nearly $150 over the cheapest Manhattan branch.) 
Cheapest way to get there: AirTrain from terminals to Howard Beach ($5), A Train from JFK to Chambers Street (40 min. $3.00 single ride), transfer to the Hoboken-bound PATH at World Trade Center to Newport (2 stops, $2.75 single ride). The counter is located inside the garage of the Newport Centre Mall. 
Additional cost to return at airport: $50 drop fee 
 
SAVE $426 IN DENVER (DEN)
Rent at airport: $723/week ($173 taxes and fees), Enterprise
Rent in town: $297/week ($47 taxes and fees), Enterprise Downtown Denver
Cheapest way to get there: Hitch a ride on the new A Line train from DIA to Union Station ($9, 37 min.), then grab a Lyft or Uber for the 5 minute ride ($5-$6).
Additional cost to return at airport: $100 drop charge
 
SAVE $160 IN SAN FRANCISCO (SFO)
Rent at airport: $410/week ($109 taxes and fees), Enterprise 
Rent in town: $250/week ($25 taxes and fees), Enterprise Union Square
Cheapest way to get there: Ride BART from SFO to Powell ($8.95, 30 min), walk two short blocks.
Additional cost to return at airport: Return to the Union Square location or face a $150 drop penalty. 
 
SAVE $450 IN PHOENIX (PHX)
Rent at airport: $766/week ($228 taxes and fees), Hertz
Rent in town: $172/week ($26 taxes and fees), Hertz Scottsdale Motor Mile
Cheapest way to get there: Ride the airport SkyTrain (free) to the 44th + Washington Station and hail an Uber or Lyft from here ($10-$12, 10 min). 
Additional cost to return at airport: There is a $15 increase in total cost.
 
SAVE $133 IN ATLANTA (ATL)
Rent at airport: $311/week ($100 taxes and fees), Thrifty
Rent in town: $178/week ($28 taxes and fees), Thrifty Peachtree Center / Downtown Atlanta
How to get there: Ride the MARTA train from the airport to Peachtree Center Station ($2.50, 20 minutes), walk two easy blocks.
Additional cost to return at airport: None
 
SAVE $281 IN DALLAS (DFW)
Rent at airport: $483/week ($158 taxes and fees), Enterprise
Rent in town: $202/week ($32 taxes and fees), Enterprise Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas 
Cheapest way to get there: Hop the new DART Orange Line light rail from DFW Terminal A to Irving Convention Center Station ($1.75-$2.50 depending on time of day, 15 min.), cross Las Colinas Boulevard.
Additional cost to return at airport: There is a $50 drop charge.

Note: Two extremely popular tourist destinations—Orlando (MCO) and Fort Lauderdale (FLL)—do not appear on this list. That is because in most cases, renting directly from the airport typically remains the most affordable/efficient option.