Updated: December 2017

Renting a Car from San Jose Airport:

I grew up in the Bay Area for the first 30 years of my life and moved up to Portland, Oregon about 8 years ago. I regularly fly back into San Jose Airport (SJC) in order to see friends, family, and business associates. The airport has changed dramatically in recent years and looks to keep expanding as the new International Terminal is coming into place. Renting a car in San Jose used to be easy as you could get to the rental car area just by the baggage claim area outside of Terminal C (the older terminal). Once Terminal A was fully established they moved the rental car facility to the far reaches of the airport so you were forced to start taking a shuttle bus to get to the rental car lot. The rental car shuttle bus stops at strategic spots around the airport and picks up travelers. It operates daily from 4 AM to 12:30 AM and you should see one every few minutes as they wind their way around Terminal A and C and then back to the rental car parking lots and check out stations. The rental car companies located at San Jose Airport include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Fox, Hertz, National, and Thrifty. The good news is that with all the competition, you should be able to get a good deal on almost any rental car at the San Jose airport.

When I first started returning to San Jose after 2000, I usually went with Alamo or National as their rates seemed to be more competitive than the others. Then, Enterprise popped into the picture and I could get a full size car for around $20/day no matter the time of year or days of the week. On a recent trip down (Sept 2008) for a high school reunion a friend of mine told me to use Hotwire for San Jose since he was constantly getting 20% off or more when compared to sites like Expedia on rental rates. I was able to rent a full size car from Hertz for 3 days for a total of $84. With the recent economic issues, renting cars has become cheaper, although some of the fees associated with rental cars has to do with airport and city taxes that the rental companies can't control. If you look at the daily rates, most rentals are cheaper than they were a few years back. Most business travels don't really get concerned with cheap rental car rates in San Jose because they aren't the ones paying the bill, their company is. That is certainly one reason why some rental car agencies don't compete much on price. I was once on the phone with a rental car company and they said "is this trip for business or pleasure" and it turned out the business rate was more expensive than the personal rate. Although many corporations think they get preferred rates, it's often the case that they would save money by allowing their employees to rent the car separate from the company name. What I like about renting cars through SJC is that the service is usually quick and simple and they have all the quick checkout stuff setup for Hertz #1 Gold and the Emerald Club with National. There are even kiosks that you can enter your confirmation code into and get the fastest checkout possible even if there are lines. The worst day to arrive is definitely on a Monday or Friday. I now intentionally arrive on a Thursday night to avoid the Friday crowds or get in midweek to avoid it altogether. The cheaper rates tend to be on weekends as the business travelers are all back home and therefore the rental car firms are forced to compete on price and car size (often you can get upgrades from mid size to full size or beyond).

San Jose Airport Rental Car Companies:

  • Alamo - Usually very competitive on weekly rates with the larger companies.
  • Avis - Great for business travelers with lots of perks, but not that great of pricing when it comes to those on personal travel.
  • Budget - Doesn't always live up to their name, found their prices to be more than others in this market.
  • Dollar - Rented a few times with them in San Jose, but their customer service was lacking and once I got stuck with a car below the level I had requested. They rented out all the other full size cars and didn't keep my reservation.
  • Enterprise - Initially they were very competitive at SJC but their prices have risen a bit in the last few years.
  • Fox - Never rented with them, although I hear they have some cheap rates.
  • Hertz - Was surprised to get them as my rental company when I recently used Hotwire. Their rates were decent and the car was almost brand new and very nice.
  • National - Still use them regularly when I fly into San Jose Airport as my rental car company. I joined their frequent rental club to get more perks. It was free to join.
  • Thrifty - Never used them at San Jose, but have had experiences in other markets and the rates are definitely competitive, but the service can be lacking at times.

Tips on getting the best rates on a rental car at SJC (San Jose Airport):

If you are going to use travel websites like Expedia.com for your car rental purposes, keep in mind that their results tend to include just their "preferred vendors" list and that is not always the best deals for you as the consumer. Be sure to check the "other car rental companies" on Expedia to see what they are charging as well. I also suggest you try Hotwire to see what kind of rates they are giving. Really works better for last minute rentals, similar to Priceline.com. My favorite site for rental car coupons and promotional codes is HERE. The site is meant for those traveling to Disneyland and getting a rental car, but the coupon codes they list are good at all locations and often you can combine the codes they give you to get steep discount rates on rental cars even in San Jose. Stick with full size cars whenever possible and for the cheapest rates rent on a weekend versus midweek. Hertz tends to charge more for cars at SJC than National or Alamo, but as I mentioned above, I got an excellent deal at Hotwire for a weekend rate at Hertz. It only takes about 15 minutes of research to get the best rate and it's usually worth the time.