By Kerri Westenberg
Q. I’m taking my daughter to visit colleges in Providence, RI, and Syracuse, NY, over the upcoming MEA weekend. I booked tickets on Southwest at a great rate, flying into Boston and back out of Buffalo, to accomodate the driving between the colleges we’ll be visiting. I’m now realizing that any savings on the airline tickets will be eaten by the fees to rent a car in Boston and drop it off in Buffalo. Any ideas on how to get a reasonable car rental when picking up and dropping off in different places?A. You present a perfect case for the importance of considering all costs before booking any travel. Unfortunately, the benefit of dropping off a rental car in Buffalo instead of Boston nearly doubles the price. You’re looking at roughly $100 a day instead of $55, and that’s without the taxes and fees. There are a few tricks to try: First, research rates so you’ll know a good one when you see one, and then call a local agent – not the national 800-line – to see if you can score a deal. Try car rental agents away from the airport, which generally offer better rates (you might even catch a hotel shuttle to downtown Boston for the rental). Also, especially if you are landing toward the end of the day, reserve a compact car; often you’ll be upgraded for free because the car rental company has run out of the smallest vehicles.But would you considered forgoing a rental car for at least a portion of the trip? You could zip down to Providence from Boston in a rental car and return the car to the same location. Then you could take Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited train the long way to Buffalo, where you can rent another car for the drive to Syracuse. Alternately, if the once-a-day schedule permits, you could take the route from Boston (South Station is closest to the airport) to Syracuse and catch the train to Buffalo (Buffalo-Depew, NY station) the next day. It may not save a ton of money (one-way fare between Boston and Buffalo in mid-October hovers just above $50), but it’d made a lovely way to see the Berkshire Mountains and spend quality time with your daughter.Good luck finding the right deal — and the right college.