Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs
When you fly into Palm Springs, it’s a pretty easy decision whether to rent a car or not. If you’re staying in a downtown hotel close to Palm Canyon Drive, such as Casa Cody, & simply want to lay out & shop the strip: then a car isn’t necessary. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to golf, hike, or road trip out to places like Joshua Tree or Pioneertown: renting a car is a must. In this “Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs,” I’ll tackle the most common questions & concerns you might have before renting a car here!
Check all car rental rates at Palm Springs International Airport here….
Overview of Palm Springs Car Rentals
Palm Springs car rental companies are listed below in order from highest customer satisfaction to least (i.e. National is the top-rated & Thrifty the least). Rates can be as low as $25/day during the off-season, & run all the way up to $200+/day during season for an SUV or luxury car.
- National Car Rental (Ranked 4.3 out of 5): 5:30AM-11PM Daily Hours
- Alamo Car Rental (4.2 out of 5)): 5:30AM-11PM
- Hertz Rental Car (3.7 out of 5): 8AM-11PM
- Avis Rental Car (3.7 out of 5): 7AM-12AM
- Budget Car Rental (3.6 out of 5): 7AM-12AM
- Dollar Rental Car (3.6 out of 5): 8AM-6PM
- Thrifty Rental Car (3.0 out of 5): 8AM-8PM
Bottom Line: If I was renting a car at Palm Springs International, I’d go with National or Alamo because of their high customer satisfaction ratings, the wide range of vehicles they offer, long hours, ease of returning the car, & friendliness of service.
FAQ for Palm Springs Car Rentals
- Do I Even Need to Rent a Car in Palm Springs? If you’re just in town for the weekend, & staying right off Palm Canyon, at hotels like the Del Marcos or the Kimpton Rowan: you most likely don’t need to rent a car. From most hotels in downtown Palm Springs, you can easily walk or Uber to your destinations ~ as long as you’re planning to stay right in town. But, if you’re staying longer than three days, OR you really want to get out & explore places like Joshua Tree, get in some great desert hikes & golf: it will be much easier to rent a car.
- What’s the Best Time of Day to Rent a Car at Palm Springs Airport (PSP)? Pretty much across-the-board, for all rental car companies at Palm Springs Airport: they’re busiest from 11AM-3PM. Before & after that, it’s typically much quieter, & you’ll encounter fewer lines. The early morning, from 6AM-9AM is by far the quietest time of day, but it’s also fairly quiet from 5PM-8PM as well.
- How Far Do I Have to Walk to Car Rental Places at PSP? Not far at all. If you’re flying into Palm Springs, all you need to do once you’ve exited Baggage Claim is walk across a few lanes of airport traffic (this is usually a very mellow airport), as all the car rental places are grouped together right near the terminal.
- What Kind of Cars Can I Rent? You can rent anything from a standard 4-door Honda to a cute little convertible, larger SUV’s, or even nicer vehicles like Range Rovers ~ especially from the higher-quality rental companies like National & Alamo.
- How Hard is it to Drive in Palm Springs, & How Far are Popular Destinations? Compared to driving in cities like Los Angeles, driving around Palm Springs is a breeze. Right in downtown Palm Springs, you’ve got to watch for pedestrians & bikers, so keep it slow around there ~ but once you’re past that area, the main desert thoroughfares are nice & wide, often have several lanes, & move pretty quickly. You’ve also got the fast-moving I-10 Fwy if you’re headed to further out destinations like Joshua Tree (1-hour drive), Pioneertown (45-minutes), or Salvation Mountain (over an hour). But if you’re driving to other desert cities like La Quinta (40-minutes) or Palm Desert (20-minutes), you can take popular Hwy 111 that runs thru all these cities ~ where speeds average between 45-55 MPH. The Palm Springs Aerial Tram is a 10-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs, the Living Desert (a popular zoo) is a 25-minute drive, & the Shops at El Paseo are also about 25-minutes from Palm Springs.
- Is it Better to Book Ahead, or Can I Just Book at Counter? I’ve rented cars all over the world, & it’s almost always better to rent a car in advance. The price is better, & once you’re there in person ~ they know you need a car, & will typically charge more. Plus, you don’t want to run into a situation where they’ve run out of cars, or run out of the car-type you need.
- Is it Easy to Return a Car at the Palm Springs Airport? Because this airport is so small, returning a car is fairly straightforward: follow the signage towards “Car Rental Return,” Pretty much all companies are grouped together ~ but National, Avis, & Budget all score the highest marks in terms of friendly employees & ease of check-out.
- How Do I Avoid Getting Charged Any Excess Fees or for Damage, etc? No matter where I am in the world, I always take photos of the car right when I pick it up, as I’m walking around with the service agent. If there’s a spot with particular damage (i.e. a back fender, etc.), I take a zoomed-in photo of that spot, so that I will have clear, time-stamped evidence in case of any dispute. Be sure to look inside the car as well, & note any odd smells (i.e. from smoking or pets), & have the agent make note of it on their form. Beyond that, all you’ll typically need to worry about is returning the car with the same amount of gas ~ there are plenty of gas stations in Palm Springs to fill up at prior to returning the car.
- Who Should I Book the Car Through? I have a special relationship with Discover Cars via my website, & so I would recommend booking with them via this link. For instance, I just looked up car rental rates in Palm Springs for next week on Discover Cars vs. Kayak. Renting an SUV on Discover Cars for one week cost $37/day, vs. on Kayak it was a whopping $120/day!!! The savings for a one-week trip would be nearly $600!!
So by all means, do your own research: but I think you’ll find that Discover Cars is hard to beat.
Road Trip Adventures by Palm Springs…
Here’s a partial list of adventures you can have with a car in the desert….from Joshua Tree & golf courses in La Quinta, to candy-colored Salvation Mountain, which is about an hour east of Palm Springs.
Check out video of a girl’s road trip to Joshua Tree & Pioneertown….
For detailed info & photos of the Bump-n-Grind hiking trail, read this article.
For tips on how to get to the Palm Springs windmills, where to park, & where to get the best shots: click here.
Guide to Renting a Car in Palm Springs
More Bottom Line: In Palm Springs, I’d go with National or Alamo as my top choices for car rentals ~ particularly as most companies will be within a few dollars of each other price-wise. If you want to rent a car for more than a month, you’ll likely save money by renting thru Costco ~ but I’d still check with Discover Cars for a good comparison of rates.
Read Next: Best Retro Chic Hotels in Palm Springs
We’re flying into Palm Springs in March, and looking to rent a car for a week. This guide was very helpful! We typically rent through Kayak, but your side by side comparison was enlightening, and we found it true for our trip. We saved about $200 by renting through Discover Cars instead! So thanks for that.
One question: we’re a couple in our 50’s who are reasonably active, and are trying to figure out which day trips to do. We enjoy short hikes (nothing too crazy) and want to see some different scenery while we’re out there. What would you recommend? Thank you
Hi Dave, thanks for your comment ~ I’m so glad the article was able to save you some money! So I think day trips out to Joshua Tree & then up to Idylwild (particularly if it’s hot in Palm Springs) will give you two different perspectives of scenery in the desert. And there are great, short hikes that can be done in both spots. The Palm Springs tram is also very popular, & again, there are several hikes that can be done at the top. If you do ride out to Joshua Tree, make sure to stop at Pioneertown! It’s one of my favorite spots to take photos in the desert, & has a real “Western” feel. Hope that’s helpful! xoxo Noelia
Quick question: I’m traveling to Palm Springs solo for a work conference, but want to stay a few extra days and do some exploring. I really want to go to Salvation Mountain – but am wondering if that’s something safe to do by myself? What are your thoughts? Thanks, Sam
Hi Sam, thanks for reaching out! So I think Salvation Mountain is perfectly fine to visit on your own. Everytime I’ve been, there are lots of people there taking photo & wandering around. So, unless you’re visiting in the dead of summer (which I wouldn’t recommend), there should be plenty of people around to help you feel safe, take some photos of you, etc. Venturing further out to Slab City may not feel as *safe* ~ but you certainly don’t need to do that. Hope that helps! xoxo Noelia