Whether by choice or because they can’t, many people don’t have a credit card. I am one of them. Oh, I get credit card offers in the mail all the time, but it has now been so long since I’ve had one (years), I just no longer see the need. My bank-issued debit cards (all with the VISA or MasterCard logo, not prepaid) allow me to shop online, and it’s obvious that I manage to travel quite well just using those. The trickiest part I’ve found with debit card only travel is renting a car, but in most places, it can be done.
In the United States, many rental car companies allow one to rent a car with just a debit card, although their policies vary greatly. I’ve seen everything from a credit check to additional forms of identification required to be presented. What one needs to be prepared for is that nearly all will place a hold on the card, which means while you’ll get the money back a few days after the end of the rental provided there were no issues, the money will not be available during the trip. If you know this, though, you can budget for it. The amount of the hold not only varies by rental car company, but also by location so if you need to know the exact amount that will be held, you’ll need to call the location where you’re renting rather than the main rental car company number. It usually is not a large hold, though. The largest amount I’ve had held in the U.S. is $200.
Here are the companies I have been able to rent from with my debit card and their policies.
Alamo – Debit cards are not allowed for Pre-Pay reservations. When renting in the U.S., debit and check cards may only be used in conjunction with proof of a round trip travel ticket (airline, cruise ship or train) at time of rental.
Avis – Most U.S. locations accept bank debit cards if you are at least 25 years of age. In most cases, U.S. locations will perform a credit check for debit card renters to determine credit worthiness at the time of rental. The renter must meet Avis’ minimum criteria in order to rent. Avis will place a hold on your account of $200 plus the estimated renal charges unless you already paid toward your rental, in which case the hold will be $100.
Budget – If you’re using a debit card at a location that accepts them, upon paying your rental with a Debit Card, Budget will generally request an authorization hold against your account for the estimated charges of the rental but reserves the right in its sole discretion, to request extra value based on certain factors as we deem appropriate. However, for insurance/service replacement rentals, tour and budget.com prepaid rentals, the minimum debit card authorization hold is $100. At select locations in the Northeast and North Central regions, the minimum authorization hold is $500. Renters under 25 years of age may not use a debit card. Locations that do accept debit cards at time of rental will perform a credit check to determine and ensure credit worthiness before releasing the car to you. Search for your location to find deposit rules for your location. After you find your location, just click the ‘additional information’ link next to your desired location to view location terms and conditions.
Enterprise – At airport locations only, debit cards will be accepted with proof of a round trip travel ticket (airline, cruise ship or train) at time of rental.
Hertz – At time of rental, an authorization hold will be secured on the debit card provided, to cover the estimated rental charges and any additional charges that may be incurred. We may place an authorization amount of up to USD 200.00 on a customer’s card, given certain conditions that will be outlined at time of rental. Use of a debit card to rent a vehicle is subject to a review of your credit history. When a debit card is accepted as form of payment, at the start of the rental, two (2) forms of identification must be presented.
While other car rental companies such as Dollar, National, Payless, and Thrifty also offer debit card options, as I don’t have personal experience with them, I did not include them in my list. In the U.S., I usually use Alamo or Hertz as they seem to be the easiest.
Outside the U.S., things get even trickier. For example, many rental car companies do not accept debit cards in Canada. The only one which I have used was Hertz. I did not have any trouble renting a car from Hertz in Toronto and according to their website, the rules are similar in Canada as they are in the U.S. In Europe, the U.K.-based Avis (not the U.S. one, be sure the website ends in .uk) allows debit cards in nearly all locations. I was able to rent easily in both the U.K. and in Germany. The hold there is much larger, however. Sometimes as large as $1,500 so be sure to budget that in.
One final thing I’ve found that seemed to give me an advantage when renting with debit cards, belonging to a rental car company’s frequent renter program. I am a Hertz Five Star Gold member. Hertz’s website states that they don’t take debit cards in the U.K. When I found myself in need of a car on-site in Edinburgh and Avis was out, though, I decided to give Hertz a try just in case. I went to the counter and was able to rent a car easily in spite of no credit card because of my history as a member. The counter agent simply asked for my member number, so even if you don’t rent often, this is one case where it may pay to belong. It certainly helped me.