Are car rentals set to be the most expensive part of your trip?

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In response to this morning’s post about a reader whose car and hotel reservations were not honored recently, reader Pam pointed out an article by Autoslash CEO Jonathan called: How to Escape the Coming Car Rental Apocalypse. The comments made in that article echo some made by members of our Facebook group indicating that near-term travel may involve significantly more expensive and harder-to-find rental cars.

The moral of the story here is to book early and have a backup plan. I noted in this morning’s post that reading Jon’s situation gave me anxiety as a parent who would be traveling with two young kids: if my rental car does not materialize, I may have a hard time finding an Uber driver who will take me with two young kids and no car seats (never mind the safety issue).

Jonathan at Autoslash points to a perfect storm of problems leading to completely sold-out rental car markets and sky-high prices:

  1. Many rental car companies sold off cars during the pandemic because of low demand. High new car prices (due to global supply chain issues) mean that those cars aren’t being added back at the rate necessary to meet demand.
  2. Demand for rental cars is increasing as more people are vaccinated. I imagine this is a convergence of an increase in demand for domestic travel and an increase in demand from people living in cities who don’t own cars but want to get away without flying.

Between low supply and high demand, Jonathan reports skyrocketing prices and markets where they have been unable to help customers find rental cars at all as far as a week in advance. To be clear, this article was written by someone in the business of selling rental car reservations, but given the fantastic service that Autoslash provides and the fact that I expect someone in his shoes is more attuned to the prevailing winds of the rental car industry, I am inclined to believe that it’s not a marketing ploy to convince you to book now but rather a PSA to let you know that if you don’t book now you will pay for it later or possibly not get a car at all. Given that most rental car reservations do not need to be prepaid (and typically don’t even require a credit card to guarantee them), there is little risk in reserving far in advance.

In a couple of anecdotal searches, it appears true that prices are much higher than I am accustomed to seeing. An economy car rental for 3 days at my local airport (where I’ve rented sometimes in the past just to trigger promotions) were $40-$50 per day, which is well above the norm. A week-long SUV rental in Orlando for an example week I searched rung in at $700 with National, which certainly might be the most expensive part of a trip to Orlando for most readers apart from theme park tickets.

I know that just as Jonathan suggests in his article, I ordinarily put off reserving the rental car until the last minute figuring that it’s always easy to reserve and prices are usually reasonable (particularly when searching through Autoslash in my experience). It sounds like I need to change that habit and take a look at rental cars now for those trips that I hope to take down the road. That’s not my habit, but given that I have long used Autoslash to track my rentals for better prices after booking (on the occasions where I have booked more than a day or two in advance), there isn’t a good reason why I haven’t made rental cars an earlier priority in my booking process. Like in so many ways over the past 12 months, it looks like my habits need to change.

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wei

Well, you can always road trip in lower 48 states, and what about uber & lyft. This is just another issue in whole transportation in middle pandemic. Turo? Bus? Rapid transit?

[…] I have also been reading horror stories with car rentals lately…I can not imagine being stranded at midnight with a confirmed reservation, yikes! Something to watch out ok? Are car rentals set to be the most expensive part of your trip? […]

wayne johnson

I am a Fast Break customer with Budget and PREPAID a reservation MONTHS is advance for a Chevrolet Tahoe. When I arrived in Colorado it was February and I KNOW from living in the Denver area for 30 years that it was likely to be very cold and snowy so I wanted a 4×4 and I rented one and paid for it in advance. When I arrived at the rental location the clerk advised me that they would have to offer an “upgrade” to a Camaro convertible because they were out of Tahoe 4×4’s. I asked the young lady “in whose world would a Camaro convertible be considered an “upgrade” especially in February? The Camaro was a rear wheel drive vehicle in Colorado in the middle of winter and I PREPAID for a Tahoe 4×4 because it was a 4×4 AND I needed the space because I had a total of 5 people plus luggage. Unbeknownst to the young clerk I WORKED for Budget Rent-A-Car and I also was friends with the General Manager of the location at DIA. I excused myself and went upstairs and spoke with the GM of the location. After explaining the situation, he said :come with me” and we went downstairs. He asked the clerk “Don’t we have any Lincoln Navigators left”? She said yes. He asked me would one of those work. I said yes and he said “Well, give him one of those then”. If I had not worked for Budget and not known the GM personally there is no telling how this episode would have worked out. Prepaying a reservation MONTHS in advance AND being a member of their highest club level is no guarantee of a car that you paid for and reserved in advance.

Tom

Hello there, even if you reserve far in advance they may not have a car. I reserved one long in advance on Autoslash with a Hertz dealer in Las Vegas, and despite having high Hertz status they never gave us a car at all. They said they had ten people on a waiting list from the day before who had reserved and had been promised a car and never got one. They said they would call us when one was available since we were at the top of the list, having reserved a car and having Hertz status. They never called us back the whole time. We had to pay more than the cost of our entire car reservation for one long distance Lyft ride. It was really bad.

Retired Gambler

Also points out need to go with a company like National where you don’t have a specific car but can take any on the Emerald club or Executive Emerald club row PLUS try to not book flights that arrive in the evening (or even worse late at night) to ensure there are cars left to choose from.

Danny

In Maui it’s so bad ppl are renting from UHAUL? Can you imagine pulling up to the Andaz in a UHAUL? Sadly with no cars available next week I will be cancelling my trip.

zzz

One tip for those with national status via a visa infinite or amex card – try removing the card-related discount code when looking to book your next rental. Using these codes can actually make your rental far more expensive. For instance I was able to knock off over $300 on an upcoming rentsl by going with the generic national member discount vs the amex-specific one.

patrick

I’ve got a 10 day road trip coming up and HAVE to a Full size SUV. I’ve 3 separate reservations to make sure that happens.

Bryan

It’s bad out there, even at local editions. Best you can do is hope to have a good corporate rate still in effect.

Mark

Thank you Nick!. Just used Autoslash for upcoming trip….Higher rate than usual, but better than rate through AAA.

Anh-Tuan

Up until our last trip to Los Angeles last September, we usually can find very cheap prices for rental cars either at LAX or SNA (John Wayne airport) with different companies. And sometimes, we can also receive quite a sizable amount of frequent miles for those car rentals.

But during our most recent trip to LAX earlier this month, the prices jumped up a lot, and across the board of all rental companies. Prices cost between $45 – 60$ daily, way above the norms, regardless during the week or weekends.

The lowest quote we can get for a 7-day rent is about $320 – $350 at Fox RentACar (with discount coupons). The other companies charge much higher rates. Luckily, we can find a better deal by going through a US Bank travel portal and pay with points (same as with Chase portal and paying with Ultimate Points).
The same 7-day rental charges about $450 (including taxes) but we can redeem with 28700 points, which is about $287 if redeemed in cash.

We got a premium credit card with US Bank Altitude ($400 annual fee, but $325 credit back for travel) and 50,000 points bonus sign-on if charging $3,000 in first 3 months).
US Bank does have quite a few interesting credit cards with good bonus, especially after you’ve exhausted other banks as Chase, Citi, Bank of America and American Express.

John

I was just thinking about this the other day – on Jan 20th, I reserved a midsize SUV for a Hawaii trip for a week and paid $328 (in points, of course!). Looking at the same exact reservation on Chase’s website, the cheapest midsize SUV is now $1,150. Holy cow. I’m seriously concerned that I’m going to get my family there and have Budget say they can’t honor my reservation and force me to pay these ridiculous prices. I will lose my mind if that happens!

LarryInNYC

I would be concerned, yes. I don’t think they’ll reprice the vehicle on you, but they might not have anything for you. What time of day do you arrive?

John

Plane lands at 11:30 AM….pick up car at Noon.

LarryInNYC

Heck of a lot better than arriving at 11:30pm! Lots of stories about long lines as they meet reservations only as cars are returned. At least you’ll probably get one. May need to send the family ahead in an Uber while you wait, however (if that’s practical).

wayne johnson

Get ready to lose your mind. You had better be prepared to pay the higher prices—-or walk!!

Pam

Jonathan has another useful article with tips around the shortage (below link). I have booked a weekly rate several times now & returned early as he suggests & has worked in my favor.

I have had several bookings come back as not even available thru Autoslash, I never had that happen before the end of 2020 (confirmed as unavailable on other trabel sites).

$300 – 400+ rentals for a week are not uncommon these days. For more expensive one-way rentals, I’ve changed the booking midstream to return to a different airport than originally booked & also done well, or at least better: https://blog.autoslash.com/use-this-genius-hack-when-rental-cars-are-too-expensive/

Mary Graves

We just got back from Park City and had a wonderful experience renting a Subaru Ascent (8 seats + cargo) for $460 for 7 days directly from Nate Wade Subaru. The car was brand new – very easy after hours pickup – and when we dropped it off they gave us a courtesy ride back to SLC airport! HIGHLY recommend!

LarryInNYC

Do they have a rental operation there, or was it some kind of “special” deal?

Mary Graves

they were the first subaru dealer to pilot the program 5 years ago and now about 65 subaru dealerships rent cars. I bought by personal car as a former rental car from our local subaru dealer so I knew it existed just have to ask where you are planning to travel.

LarryInNYC

This may be the single best tip I’ve received on Frequent Miler! I happen to be in the market for an off-lease Subaru right now but it would be great to be able to rent them (and know I was getting AWD and, preferably, an Outback) for trips I make out west.

Mary Graves

this is a great community of travelers!

Mary Graves

Natewade.com – they have a separate tab on website for rentals

LarryInNYC

The place nearest me (in NYC) starts at $350 per day — so not a great deal. But across the river in the NJ one place is renting all models at $45 a day — far less than the standard rental companies (and a much better car and, if I understand the interface, they guarantee the model you select).

Joey

This really sucks. I get vaccinated in April and have been planning trips though I think I’ll keep it safe and just visit family and friends around the USA who can pick me up at the airport so no need to rent a car. Will save the rental car type trips next year when rental car places have hopefully restocked.

Rich

I extended a business trip and got my own rental car at BWI from National. The price was high but they had a selection of cars left.

it sucks that someone after a long day of flying could be without a car and hotel. I would be blowing my top.

For those renting at bwi, I would suggest trying to rent off site. The shuttle ride is often crowded, long lines, and expensive. At PHX, when I was dropped off there was a huge line Saturday waiting for the car rental bus. Looked like a Disney line do be careful there.

wayne johnson

“Blowing my top” will only get you thrown out of a place now. If you “blow your top” too loudly and vociferously it will likely get the cops called on you. These companies could care less about good customer service.

AFl

Here is to confirm the above. 2020 was a very good year to rent cars especially closer to the travel dates i.e. 2 weeks in advance. This year is completely different and Autoslash barely beats RentalCars. The closer to the reservation date, the more expensive the rentals are even they are not cheap i.e. 3 months before reservations. The good times have officially ended.