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      4 Best San Diego Airport Car Rental Companies — Browse Tips on Renting a Car in San Diego in 2024

      Holly Riddle
      Best San Diego Car Rental

      San Diego International Airport (SAN) is a major air travel hub on the West Coast. As such, it services more than 22 million passengers every year. There are more than 200,000 flights serving more than 70 non-stop markets. So, if you’re traveling into or out of the West Coast, particularly out of southern California, chances are good that you very well may be making your way through SAN.

      If you’re planning on sticking around southern California, though — before or after your flight, or even for your entire trip — you may want to rent a vehicle to get around. While many neighborhoods around the city are very walkable or accessible via a ride share, if you want to see the surrounding area or all of the city, you’ll need a rental car. San Diego is very spread out, as a whole. 

      The San Diego airport conveniently offers rental car options from a variety of national rental car brands. To help you pick the best rental car provider for your trip to San Diego, here’s everything you need to know. We’re covering all things renting a car at San Diego’s airport. Plus, we’ll give you some tips for getting around. We’ll also break down the best rental car companies located at the airport. 

      The Vacationer Tip

      Check out before booking your San Diego car rental.

      Which Car Rental Companies are Best at San Diego Airport?

      San Diego has a consolidated rental car center, which is accessible from the airport’s terminals via a shuttle bus. More than 10 rental car agencies operate out of the central facility. Here are the best from those options, based on reviews from travelers like you who’ve voiced their opinions on Google and Kayak. 

      1. Alamo Rent a Car

      Alamo Rent a Car San Diego

      Alamo Rent a Car receives high ratings for the San Diego location’s friendly staff. It also offers its renters a wide array of convenient amenities and extra services, designed to get you on the road faster. You can use a self-service kiosk to check-in. At the time of booking, you can also indicate that you’d like to skip the counter or use the accelerated check-in process upon your arrival. 

      However, where Alamo stands apart from some of its competitors at the San Diego airport — even from some of the most highly ranked competition — is with its prices. Alamo is known for its affordability. 

      The only complaints? Some report that the self-service kiosks aren’t always in working order. Others note that, unless you get a new car, you might not love your ride. Alamo’s older vehicles may additionally need some maintenance. 

      Pros: Friendly staff and great pricing.

      Cons: Some vehicles need maintenance, as does the check-in area.

      Phone: (833) 763-1741

      Hours: Daily from 4:30 a.m. to 12 a.m.

      Google Rating: 4.3 stars

      Kayak Rating: 8.8 (Very Good)

      Click Here to See the Best Car Rental Deals at Alamo

      2. National Car Rental

      National Car Rental San Diego

      The National Car Rental outpost at San Diego airport receives high marks for several reasons. First, renters appreciate its customer service and its nice selection of clean, good-condition vehicles. Customers report encountering friendly, helpful, and courteous staff before, during, and after the rental process. This even includes when they’ve had questions and/or concerns about their rental before pick-up, during, or after. 

      Some renters also mention that the National Car Rental counter is quick and easy to access once you’re at the consolidated rental center, away from the terminals.

      More generally, as an overall brand, many travelers appreciate National’s convenient amenities. These perks make your travel experience easier. For example, the brand’s Emerald Aisle service allows you to bypass the check-in counter and pick your preferred car from the lot. Then, you pay a single fee. 

      Pros: Great service and a great selection of cars

      Cons: All reviewer complaints can mostly be attributed to user issues. Think not understanding the rental process or not knowing about the fees that were incurred. 

      Phone: (833) 763-1740

      Hours: 24 hours (including limited after-hours service) 

      Google Rating: 4.4 stars

      Kayak Rating: 8.9 (Very Good)

      Click Here to See the Best Car Rental Deals at National

      3. Enterprise Rent-A-Car 

      Enterprise Car Rental San Diego

      Enterprise is a favorite among many travelers. This is thanks to the brand’s high level of service, as well as its well-maintained vehicles.

      However, you get what you pay for and so one of the top complaints at Enterprise at the San Diego airport is cost. Many travelers report being pressured into buying extra insurance policies and similar coverage, while others say they were surprised by the lack of transparency regarding fees. Additionally, some find that the Enterprise location within the car rental center is less than convenient, especially if you’re traveling with a lot of luggage.

      All this aside, if you don’t mind paying for top quality and you’re traveling light, you shouldn’t find much to complain about. 

      Pros: Great service and clean, well-maintained cars

      Cons: Pricey fees 

      Phone: (833) 763-1739

      Hours: Daily from 4:30 a.m. to 12 a.m.

      Google Rating: 4.3 stars

      Kayak Rating: 9.1 (Wonderful)

      Click Here to See the Best Car Rental Deals at Enterprise

      4. Sixt Rent a Car 

      Sixt Rental Car San Diego

      Beyond our top three rental car companies at San Diego airport, you have a few other mid-level, middle-of-the-pack rental car providers that you might want to consider booking if the others are already booked solid. Sixt Rent a Car is one of these middle-of-the-pack options.

      Not as well known as, say, an Enterprise or a Hertz, Sixt still offers a lot to love, with mid-range vehicles and the prices to match. Reviewers report polite, helpful, fast service and an easy check-in and check-out process. Many additionally even say they didn’t have to wait at all, and had a seamless experience, going straight from the terminal to baggage claim to the rental car center and onto the road, with ease. 

      However, some renters that ran into problems during their rental period — like breakdowns or other car woes — didn’t have the best luck getting service or a replacement vehicle. It seems that this Sixt location performs its best when things just go as planned. 

      Pros: Fast service and agreeable prices for the cars and service you’re getting.

      Cons: Poor customer service in the event of emergencies or car issues. 

      Phone: (888) 749-8227

      Hours: Daily from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m.

      Google Rating: 3.9 stars

      Kayak Rating: 7.2 (Good)

      Click Here to See the Best Car Rental Deals at Sixt

      The Vacationer Tip

      Before booking your San Diego rental car, browse our Best Websites to Book Cheap Car Rentals guide and our How to Find and Book Cheap Car Rentals tutorial. And, if you’re flying to San Diego, see our Best Websites to Book Cheap Flights guide.

      Comparing the 4 Best Car Rental Companies at San Diego Airport

      Get a quick glimpse of these four best car rental companies so you know which is best for you.

      Brand/Rental ProviderGoogle/Kayak RatingTypes of available vehicles
      Budget or Luxury?
      Alamo4.3/8.8Cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, luxury vehiclesBudget
      Enterprise4.3/9.2Cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, luxury vehiclesLuxury
      National4.4/8.9Cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, luxury vehiclesMid-Range
      Sixt3.9/7.2Cars, trucks, SUVs, vans, luxury vehicles Mid-Range

      Tips for Renting a Car in San Diego

      Decided which of our four favorite car rental companies at San Diego International Airport is your best fit? If so, don’t stop reading just yet. You still need to know a few things about the rental process at the airport, as well as getting around the city in your rental car.

      Getting to the San Diego airport rental car center

      As mentioned, there are more than 10 rental car companies that operate within the rental car center at the San Diego airport. These include: 

      • Alamo
      • Avis
      • Budget
      • Dollar
      • Enterprise
      • Fox
      • Hertz
      • National
      • Payless
      • Sixt
      • Thrifty 
      • ZipCar

      Mex/Ace Rent a Car and Nu Car Rentals also operate at the airport, but they have off-site locations, so you won’t find their desks at the actual airport car rental center. 

      To find the consolidated rental car center, you’ll need to take the shuttle bus from the airport terminal to the center. Shuttles run 24/7 and about every five to 10 minutes. 

      Finding the shuttle is easy. First, just go from your terminal to the lower-level baggage claim. Then, after you collect your bags, follow the clear signs to the rental car shuttle area. Lastly, after you take the short shuttle ride to the center, you can follow the signs for your specific rental car agency desk.

      How to return your rental car at the San Diego airport

      When you’re ready to return your rental car to the San Diego airport’s consolidated rental car facility, set your GPS to take you to the Rental Car Center at San Diego International Airport, 3355 Admiral Poland Way, San Diego CA 92101. Once there, follow the signs for your particular rental car provider. Finally, after the car is dropped off, you’ll take a shuttle back to the terminals. 

      Renting a car in San Diego beyond the airport

      Of course, you can also rent a car in San Diego, but just not at the airport. While this is sometimes less convenient, as you’ll need to find another way to get from the airport to either the off-site rental car office or your accommodations, you will usually find that car rentals are less expensive off-site than they are at the airport.

      Your other transportation options in San Diego

      As mentioned, having a rental car while visiting San Diego (or flying into or out of San Diego) is just more convenient, given how spread out the city is. You’ll save money with a rental car versus paying for a ride share every time you want to go somewhere and you’ll have more freedom and flexibility within your itinerary when you can simply go wherever you want, whenever you want.

      If, though, you’re only going to one neighborhood in the city (for example, for a conference or event that keeps you in one place for the duration of your stay), then you may find that, between walking, public transportation, and ride shares, you’ll be just fine. 

      As far as getting from the airport to your hotel or other accommodations goes, you do have a few different options. Ride-share services like Lyft and Uber service the airport, as do normal taxis and black car services. You can use these same services to get around the city as a whole.

      Some neighborhoods around San Diego also offer by-the-hour bike and scooter rentals. You just use an app to rent bikes and scooters that are located around town. Bird electric scooters are popular, as are Lime Bikes. A similar car service is available from ZipCar, allowing you to rent a car by the hour, versus by the day. 

      Public transportation is also an option, thanks to the commuter train, trolleys, and bus systems. Train service will also take you out of the city and to surrounding attractions and cities.


      Where are the car rental companies located at San Diego airport?

      San Diego International Airport’s 12 car rental companies are all located at the airport’s consolidated rental car center. To find the consolidated rental car center, you’ll need to take the shuttle bus from the airport terminal to the center. Shuttles run 24/7. Finding the shuttle is easy. Just go from your terminal to the lower-level baggage claim. After you collect your bags, follow the clear signs to the rental car shuttle area. After you take the short shuttle ride to the center, you can follow the signs for your specific rental car agency desk.

      Do I have to rent a car to get around San Diego?

      If you plan to just stay in one neighborhood in San Diego, then you might not need a rental car. However, if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing or taking any day trips outside of the city, a rental car will be your most convenient option.

      Do I need to pay tolls when I rent a car in San Diego?

      There are several different toll roads throughout and around San Diego and all of them take tolls electronically. This means, to pay your tolls after driving on these toll roads with your rental car, you’ll have two options. You can do nothing and let the tolls be passed on to your rental provider, who will then pass the tolls on to you (often with a convenience fee). Or, you can pre-register your rental car with The Toll Roads, which will allow you to charge the tolls to your preferred payment method, therefore bypassing the convenience fees.

      Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post. 

      Holly Riddle Headshot

      By Holly Riddle

      Holly Riddle is a freelance travel, food, and lifestyle journalist who also dabbles in ghostwriting and fiction. Her work appears in publications ranging from Global Traveler to Golf Magazine, Mashed to Forbes, and Bloomberg. When she’s not writing, you can find her exploring the mountains near her home in the Adirondacks. Her favorite travel destinations include Chicago and New Orleans.