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Could America’s Rental Car Shortage Ruin Your Vacation? Not if You Follow These 10 Tips

SmarterTravel

Car rental prices are shockingly high this year, and aren’t likely to return to normal any time soon. If you want to keep the price of your car rental low (or get one at all) these 10 tips can help. 

Why Is There a Car Rental Shortage?

Prices are high because there is a shortage of cars available to rent. Travelers promptly shut themselves in their homes last year at the onset of the pandemic and demand for flights, hotels, and car rentals dropped off a cliff. To survive the rock bottom demand they faced, car rental companies whittled down their fleets as quickly as they could. At the same time, rental companies started offering car rental subscription services to help book up their cars.

With many people now jubilantly returning to travel, the limited number of cars available and sharp increase in demand form the perfect storm for sky-high car rental prices.

There’s no quick solution to the car rental shortage. There will be fewer cars available throughout 2021 and increased demand, which will drive up prices. This is especially true in popular destinations like Hawaii where travelers have seen prices in excess of $200 per day for basic economy rentals. Entire cities have sold out of cars on holiday weekends. 

Book as Far Ahead as Possible

Our best tip for beating the high price of the car rental shortage is to book early. Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of discount rental car company Autoslash, recommends booking as soon as you have travel plans. Waiting until the last-minute to book a car could become very costly. Cars could also be sold out altogether. 

You may even want to book your rental car before your hotel or flight. Melanie Musson, a travel insurance agent with autoinsurance.org says, “The rental car shortage is so severe that you will probably need to book your trip around where you can get a decently-priced rental.”

Try Adjusting the Length of Time Needed for a Car Rental

A quick way to drop the price of the entire rental is to add a few days to the end of your trip. Often, a week-long rental price can be significantly lower than a weekend rate. Autoslash reported using this trick to take the price of a weekend car rental in Florida from $237 per day to $49 per day. There’s often no penalty for returning the car early and by using the “pay later” option, you may be able to avoid paying for the unused days as well. 

Go During Off-Peak Season

Prices will come down when demand is lower. If you have the flexibility, renting a car in an off-peak time will yield the best results. 

See if the Local Car Dealership Offers Non-Advertised Car Rental Services

While traditional car rental services may be sold out, it helps to look for rentals outside the typical avenues. Chinmai Sharma of travel analytics company RateGain, suggests looking for car rental services through local dealerships. Dealerships don’t often advertise rental cars but may have them available. 

Where to Look for Car Rentals

If you’re having trouble finding a decently-priced car rental, try looking in one of these places. 

  • Costco. Costco members swear by the low prices on rental cars offered by the company. 
  • Autoslash. Autoslash is a favorite of travel industry enthusiasts. Autoslash searches across all car rental companies and applies any coupons or discount codes to find the lowest price for a rental car. 
  • Priceline. Priceline is known for its rock-bottom prices on car rentals. 
  • More Car Rental Companies

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of the best car rental companies to book from, we’ve also written about it here

Try Car-Sharing

If the traditional car rental avenues aren’t working out or you want to try renting a car from a host, take a look at what’s offered on Turo or Zipcar. Turo is like Airbnb, but for cars. Hosts on Turo rent out their personal cars for a fee. Zipcar is another car-sharing service where you can book cars by the hour or by the day. 

Consider if You Really Need a Car

There are a lot of times where you can get by without a rental car. 

Some locations have excellent public transportation and you may not have a need for a rental car. Many countries in Asia and Europe are known for their robust transportation systems, so if you’re looking at a steep car rental bill, it may pay to research what options you’ll have for public transportation. Plus, it’s a great way to feel more like a local than a tourist. 

Taxis can be very reasonable in certain destinations. Some countries subsidize taxis, so the cost is lower than you would expect. 

Plan a trip where it makes sense to hop around in an Uber, Lyft, or another car-sharing service. If you book a hotel in a central location, you can request a ride when you need it rather than having a rental car sit all day. 

Hotel Shuttles

Booking a hotel that offers an airport or a tourist shuttle could help you avoid booking a rental car. You can ask to talk to the hotel concierge, who can be a great help in finding you transportation during your visit for excursions and other sightseeing activities. 

Book Excursions With a Tour Rental Company

Booking an excursion may be more affordable than you think. Many companies will pick you up right at your hotel, eliminating the need for a rental car. 

Bike Sharing Services

A lot of cities have bike rentals to help you get around. It varies quite a bit from city to city, so the best way to find one for the destination you’re going to ask a question on a travel forum or do a good, old Google search. 

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