Las Vegas 101: Renting a car

Published on August 13, 2015

I’ve always been a passionate advocate of enjoying all that Las Vegas offers, especially venturing away from the Strip and downtown. Regardless of where you stay, however, you’ll need wheels for your exploration. If you, like most visitors, didn’t arrive in you own car, you’ll need to rent one.Though most large Strip hotels have a rental company or two on site, the vast majority of cars are rented at the McCarran Rent-A-Car Center just south of the airport. All of the rental car companies previously located at the airport terminal, plus a few off-site companies, moved several years ago to the huge center. The airport provides large buses, departing approximately every five minutes, for the seven to 12-minute commute to the facility. On arriving at the Rent-A-Car Center, you’ll find 10 rental car companies: Advantage/US Rent A Car, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National Car Rental, Payless Car Rental, Thrifty.

How to avoid a delay
When the rental car companies were located at the airport, rental customers arrived at the rental counters in a relatively steady stream. At the off-airport location, however, rental customers arrive by the busload, inundating the rental counters. Now the only way to avoid a substantial wait to be processed is to join the special-customer/loyalty clubs of the respective rental-car companies. These clubs (or programs) allow you to skip the regular queue and to receive preferential processing. In most instances you bypass the rental counter altogether and proceed straight to the garage. Visit the website of the company of your choice and you’ll see instructions for signing up. You don’t have to rent cars often (or ever) to join. Be sure to sign up about four weeks before you make a rental reservation so you’ll have your membership number when you’re ready to reserve.

Because the Rent-A-Car Center shuttles run more often than buses provided by the rental car companies under the old system, it doesn’t take any longer than before to commute to the center or get back to the airport once you’ve returned your car. En route to the Rent-A-Car Center, sit near a door so that you can be one of the first to disembark. If you’re traveling with others, let them attend to the luggage while you sprint to the counter. This will ensure that you’ll be ahead of your fellow bus passengers. To avoid a free-for-all of passengers trying to retrieve their bags from the onboard storage racks, most bus drivers prefer to handle luggage loading and unloading. It’s about order and safety, not tips, so just go with it. Generally, after all riders have disembarked, the driver will unload the luggage via the rear doors.

How to avoid getting lost
All of the rental cars are under one roof. Upon completion of your paperwork you’ll be directed to a specified area of the garage to pick up your car. Having picked up your car, chances are about 95% that you’ll find yourself disoriented in a part of Las Vegas you’ve never laid eyes on. Follow the instructions below to reach your final destination.

After you pick up your rental car, you’ll exit the Rent-A-Car Center onto Gilespie Street, where you’ll find signs directing you to the Strip, as well as to I-15 and I-215. Unfortunately, if you follow the signs, you’ll end up in a traffic jam of the first order owing to an inadequate number of right-turn lanes and a multitude of traffic signals (welcome to Las Vegas!). The exit from the Rent-A-Car Center onto Gilespie Street forces you to turn right (south), but to avoid the traffic jams you really want to be heading in the opposite direction (north) on Gilespie. From the Rent-A-Car Center exit, this can be accomplished by working your way across the southbound lanes on Gilespie to a left-turn lane and then making a U-turn. Alternatively, go a block or so south and then get turned around less hurriedly. Once you’re headed northbound on Gilespie do the following:

To reach the Las Vegas Convention Center, UNLV and hotels on the east side of the Strip, head north on Gilespie Street and turn right onto George Crockett Road. Follow signs to the airport via the Airport Connector. You’ll pass through a tunnel under the runways and pop out on Swenson Street just before the intersection with Tropicana. Use your smart phone, a GPS device or Las Vegas map, available at the rental car counter, to reach your final destination from there.

To reach downtown and hotels on the west side of the Strip via I-15, head north from the Rent-A-Car Center on Gilespie, cross the bridge over I-215, and turn left on Hidden Well Road. Follow Hidden Well Road to I-15 (northbound only). A smart phone, GPS device or Las Vegas map will get you to your final destination.

To access I-215 northwest toward Red Rock Canyon and Summerlin, go north on Gilespie, cross the bridge over I-215, and turn left on Hidden Well Road. Follow Hidden Well Road to the I-215 westbound ramp.

The following directions do not require going north on Gilespie:

To access I-215 southeast toward Henderson, Green Valley and Lake Las Vegas, turn right on Gilespie from the Rent-A-Car Center and turn left at the first traffic signal onto Warm Springs Road. Follow Warm Springs Road west to the intersection of I-215.

To access Las Vegas Boulevard south of the I-15/I-215 interchange, stay in the far right lane on exiting the Rent-A-Car Center and turn right on Warm Springs Road. Warm Springs Road intersects Las Vegas Boulevard South.

To access I-15 southbound toward Laughlin and Los Angeles, turn right on Gilespie from the Rent-A-Car Center and then right on Warm Springs Road. After two blocks, turn south on Las Vegas Boulevard South. Turn right on Blue Diamond Road. Follow the signs to I-15.

A map of the McCarran Rent-A-Car Center in Las Vegas. (Photo: Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas)

How to return your car

Fortunately, returning your rental car is much easier and there is little opportunity to become embroiled in a serious traffic jam in the environs of the Rent-A-Car Center. The same cannot be said, however, of I-15 and I-215, especially during rush hours. If you are coming from the east side of the Strip, take Paradise Road to the airport and follow the well-marked signs to the rental car return. Likewise, as you come toward the airport on I-15 and I-215, follow the rental car return signs.

Anticipate the cost

Although rental cars are comparatively cheap in Las Vegas, taxes and fees are not. If you rent a car at the airport (which includes both terminal and off-terminal locations on airport property), here’s what you can expect to pay:

State sales tax: 8.1%

Nevada rental service fee: 10%

Clark County rental fee: 2%

Airport concession recovery fee: 10%

Reimbursement of registration and license fee: Varies

Total: 30.1%+

Had enough? Powers at the airport don’t think so. In addition to the above you are charged a $3 per day Consumer Facility Charge. You can avoid the 10% fee and the $3 per day by renting the car at some non-airport locations, like your hotel. Be advised, however, that it’s not unusual for agencies to bump up the rental price at such locations. Plus, you’ll have to pay for transportation to and from the off-airport location.

In the dollar-and-cents department, prices fluctuate so much from week to week that it’s anyone’s guess who will offer the best deal during your visit. Usually the best deals are on the company’s website, but fare compare sites are often worth checking, especially if you’re visiting during a particularly busy time, such as during a citywide convention. On rental company websites, counter-intuitively, you can often get a better deal if you don’t indicate that you’re a member of AAA, AARP and the like. After you get your quote, see if you can improve the deal by trying again, entering your organizational or age information.

When you rent your car, make sure you understand the implications of bringing it back empty of fuel. Some companies will charge as much as $9 per gallon if they have to fill the tank on return. At one agency, we returned a car with between a third and a half-tank of gas remaining and were charged the same as if we had coasted in with a completely empty tank. Also, beware of signs at the car rental counters reading “Gas today — $4 per gallon” or some such. That usually applies to the price of the gas already in the car when you rent it, not the price per gallon of a fill-up should you return the car empty. The price per gallon for a fill-up on return will be somewhere in the fine print of your rental contract.

How to save

Be aware that Las Vegas is a feast-or-famine city when it comes to rental-car availability. On many weekends, or when a citywide convention is in town, it may be impossible to get a rental car unless you reserved way in advance. If, on the other hand, you come to town when business is slow, the rental agencies will practically give you a car. I have been able to rent from the most expensive companies for as little as $22 a day under these circumstances.

Improbably, one of the best places for rental car deals is, a site dedicated to finding deals at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The site lists rental car codes that you can use to get great discounts. Some of the codes are for Orlando and Southern California only, but many others apply anywhere in the United States. The site also offers some great tips on how to compare different codes and deals. Also, for discount codes and coupons, see

Another way to score a deal on a rental car is to bid on We’ve used Priceline to get cars at less than $20 per day. Understand, however, that if your bid is accepted, the entire rental cost will be non-refundably charged to your credit card. In other words, no backing out for any reason. Before placing your bid, check to see if any big conventions will be ongoing during your visit. If there’s one or more big convention in town, demand will be high and a lowball bid might not work.

When you (or your travel agent) call to reserve a rental car, ask for the smallest, least expensive car in the company’s inventory, even if you ultimately intend to rent a larger vehicle. It’s possible that you will be upgraded without charge when you arrive. If not, rental agencies frequently offer on-site upgrade incentives that beat any deals you can make in advance. Always compare daily and weekly rates.

Confirm coverage
If you decline insurance coverage on the rental car because of protection provided by your credit card, be aware that the coverage provided by the credit card is secondary to your regular auto insurance policy. In most situations the credit card coverage only reimburses you the deductible on your regular policy. Happily, most car insurance covers rental cars as well as your personal vehicle. If you’re not sure about your coverage, contact your insurance agent. Also be aware that some car rental contracts require that you drive the car only in Nevada. If you, like many tourists, visit Hoover Dam or trek out to the Grand Canyon, you will cross into Arizona. Another item to check in advance, if applicable, is whether your rental agency charges for additional drivers.


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