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Looking for a super-cheap road trip? Start with a $5-a-day car rental

April 27, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
(Tom Politeo )

Sometimes it pays to take your own advice. A while back, I wrote about Hertz offering $5-a-day one-way car rentals starting in Arizona. It inspired me to plan a super-cheap spring road trip to ... well, I wasn't sure where. I just knew I wanted to take off and have fun without breaking the bank.

By the time I was done, I had covered more than 3,400 miles in two weeks. Here's how I did it:

I went to Hertz's website, where it took exactly five minutes to reserve a car at Tucson International Airport (TUS) that I would drop off at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) 13 days later.

I was curious about why Hertz offers such a cheap rate. A spokeswoman explained in an email that rental cars accumulate in warm-weather states and need to be driven out to other markets for summer -- hence the incentive rate. Sometimes, the deal pops up in fall to position cars back to Florida and Arizona for the winter demand.

Here's how my car rental priced out:

--$65 base rate for 13 days of renting a Nissan Versa with unlimited mileage. (I got an additional 10% discount for being a AAA member.)

--$40.61 to prepay for a full tank of gas at roughly $3.60 a gallon, so I wouldn't have to tank up before I returned the car in L.A.

The total car-rental cost with taxes and fees came to $136. Of course, that doesn't include the staggering price of gas (which I have yet to tally up).

But I still had to get to Arizona to pick up the car. Rather than fly (one-way fares were running about $158 per person when I checked), I opted for Amtrak's Sunset Limited train from Union Station. One-way tickets cost $69.30 each (again, I received the AAA discount) for my husband and me.

The only thing left was deciding where to go. In the first week, I made it as far as San Antonio (for Fiesta) and Austin (for bluebonnets, though they are sparse in this drought year). The second week coincided with National Park Week, which meant free entry to such spectacular places as Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico) and Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona). 

In the end, I wound up covering 3,407 miles on this impromptu road trip.

If you want to hit the road for $5 a day, there's still time. The Hertz deal is good through May 31, except for some blackout dates.

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