Summer vacations and family get-togethers at beaches and national parks are popular this year. If you’re planning on renting a car for your trip, however, there are a few key things you need to know. A rental car shortage is impacting popular vacation destinations throughout the United States, significantly impacting availability and sending rental car rates soaring.
This is particularly true in popular vacation locations like Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Wyoming, Montana and Maine. Some destinations are already completely sold out of rental cars during popular weeks and holiday periods in the late spring and summer months.
The rental car shortage was first noticed during February’s long holiday weekend and escalated extensively over spring break. Rental car rates this year will likely be much higher than travelers have experienced before. Current rates for a midsize car rental during summer weeks can be as much as $960 per week in Portland, Maine or over $1500 per week in Maui, Hawaii. Some Hawaii vacationers have reported rates as high as $500-$700 per day.
There is a serious rental car shortage in Anchorage, Alaska during peak summer periods, with June weeks already sold out and July rates for rental cars being quoted at close to $2000 per week. July rates for rental cars at some airport locations near popular National Parks in Montana and Wyoming are already running at over $5000 per week on sites such as Expedia.
The country’s current rental car shortage and skyrocketing prices are caused by a number of factors. Many rental car companies liquidated a large percentage of their fleets during the pandemic since people weren’t traveling, resulting in fewer rental cars. Hertz, a leader in the rental car industry, also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year. Now, as travel is beginning to surge, rental car companies are working to acquire new vehicles – but a computer chip shortage is making that difficult and used car prices are high as well.
The rental car shortage in the United States may persist throughout much of this year, impacting travel plans and vacation budgets. Renting cars off-season when there’s likely to be more availability is a smart move, but that’s not always feasible. If you want to be sure to have a rental car for your next trip at the lowest rates available, it’s important to start planning now.
Here are seven essential rental car tips to help you find a rental car for your vacation and keep rates as affordable as possible:
Reserve Cars Far In Advance
Reserve your rental car as soon as you have potential dates for your trip. If a rental car is absolutely necessary for your trip, waiting until the last minute to reserve a car could wreck your vacation. Do not take that chance. Don’t pay for your rental car in advance, in case you have to change your plans or cancel your trip.
You may wish to re-book your reservation if rates improve over time as well. Some travel experts are suggesting making a back-up cancellable car reservation, just in case the rental car you’ve reserved turns out to be unavailable at time of pick up.
Verify Rental Car Availability Before Booking Flights
Check rental car availability and pricing before making your flight arrangements. Extraordinarily high rental rates could use up much of your travel budget, causing you to re-think the timing and/or destination for your trip. Before booking your flights, research airfares and car rental rates at alternative airports as well. You may find lower rates and better availability at another airport that will still work for your trip itinerary.
For example, those planning flights for a Yellowstone National Park vacation should check rental car availability and airfares for airports in both Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Bozeman, Montana. Glacier National Park vacationers may not find rental car availability at Kalispell, Montana’s airport, so it might be best to fly into Spokane, Washington and drive from there. It’s also wise to look at rental car options outside of airport locations, such as at neighborhood locations near your hotel or vacation rental.
Extend Your Rental Period A Bit
Weekend rates for rental cars are generally sky high during the summer months. To reduce prices, try to reserve your car for a few extra days to make your rental more affordable. Renting a car for a week instead of a few days lowers the daily rate significantly, and vacationers often do not have to pay for the extra days if they’re not used. Make sure to select the “pay later” option if you’re planning on doing this, though.
Check Out AutoSlash
AutoSlash.com has been delivering the lowest rental car rates in popular destinations during the last few months. The site does an opaque search with multiple rental car companies and also applies any discounts that travelers are entitled to due to memberships, coupons and other factors. Several recent AutoSlash searches have resulted in savings of hundreds of dollars when compared with other available alternatives. It can be wise to do multiple searches for different rental car sizes to find the lowest-priced option for your trip.
Get Your Membership Discounts
Costco has historically offered its members some of the lowest prices on rental cars and that continues to be true today. Choices may be more limited, so make sure to check rental car rates and availability as far in advance as possible. Memberships including AARP and AAA can be helpful as well. In addition to membership options, check rental car booking sites such as Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia, AutoRentals.com and Rentalcars.com.
Look Into Car Sharing Options
When car rentals are too expensive or unavailable, you may want to check into car sharing services such as Turo. Turo functions similarly to Airbnb, allowing travelers to rent privately-owned cars directly from hosts. Turo offers access to a variety of cars from hosts in numerous locations, along with 24/7 customer support, contactless check-in options, flexible cancellation terms and several different insurance protection plans.
If you only need a rental car for a short period of time, take a look at Zipcar. The Zipcar membership car sharing service lets travelers book cars by the hour or day in more than 35 states as well as Canada and the United Kingdom.
Consider Rental Car Alternatives
Given the current rental car shortage and often stratospheric rates, travelers should consider whether they really need a rental car for their trip. Check out hotel shuttles, taxis, Lyft and Uber, private car services, and public transportation options. Contact your resort, vacation rental provider, or even the local Convention & Visitors Bureau to see if they have additional ideas. Using local tour companies for memorable excursions in your vacation destination can be a good approach, too.
If a rental car is truly needed and none are available, U-Haul van rentals and rentals from local car dealerships may be options. For those planning an Alaska vacation, using the Alaska Railroad in place of a rental car is possible as well.
By Nancy Schretter, Contributing Editor