Carmageddon Carpocalypse! How to Save Money On Car Rental
As you may have heard, car rental prices have skyrocketed. And when I say, skyrocketed, it's almost unbelievable how much they've inflated. How does $900 a day sound for a Ford Focus in Hawaii!?
Not only that, but many travelers are reporting that even though they'd made a reservation, they're having to wait around for hours for a car to be returned, or even worse, they're told there's no cars available at all!
Reminds me of the famous Jerry Seinfeld scene where he's told there's no cars available, even though he made an advance reservation...
As someone who travels extensively almost every week, I can confirm that 'Carmageddon' or 'Carpocalypse' as it's being called, is very real! There’s a genuine, massive car rental shortage, due to a 'perfect storm' of four things:
1. In 2020 when travel was all but dead, most of the car rental agencies sold off vast numbers of their vehicles, to increase their cash flow. Hertz and Avis alone sold off more than 450,000 cars during the pandemic!
2. In August 2020, there was a massive fire in an open-air car rental storage lot in Florida. This caused around 4,000 rental cars to be destroyed.
3. Domestic travel picked up much faster than expected, causing huge, unexpected demand.
4. There’s a worldwide shortage of computer chips that are used in cars. It's caused car production to be slashed, and currently, demand far outweighs supply.
The price hikes are pretty much universal throughout the USA. Whereas before you might expect to pay $30-$40 a day for a compact car in a popular city like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or Orlando, we’re now seeing prices consistently around $120/day. And for some locations like Hawaii, we’ve been seeing prices around $1000 a day!
So, how should a travel pro approach this challenge?
First, although you're probably used to booking with one of the six major companies shown above, there are many more companies to choose from, including Sixt, Thrifty, Dollar, EasyCar, Advantage, National, Fox, Firefly, Holiday Autos, Ace, and Payless. Most of these will have lower rates than the major well-known companies.
Next, consider whether you have access to a corporate rate code via a company you work for, or are affiliated with. For example, some companies offer their employees and contractors a free membership to access a discount portal like Abenity or EmployeeAndMemberDiscounts.com. (Note: Currently, it looks like Employee and Member Discounts are allowing anyone to register directly on their home page).
Similarly, students and alumni often get preferred pricing. FoundersCard, an annual membership program for entrepreneurs and small business owners, gives access to substantial discounts on everything related to travel. And the Entertainment Book, available in many States for a one-time fee, provides coupons for car rental discounts on a variety of rentals.
Note that, if you plan to rent a car with one of the major agencies, it's helpful to register a loyalty account with them before you book. Why? Because they're far less likely to deny a vehicle to a member. As I mentioned earlier, many travelers are being turned away, even though they made a reservation!
When prices are still sky-high at car rental companies, fortunately there are quite a few alternative options for travel pros to consider:
1. Specialist travel sites like Priceline.com, Hotwire.com, Autoslash.com, CarRentalSavers.com, and Kayak.com often have better deals than booking directly with the car rental agencies.
2. Memberships like Costco Travel, AARP, AAA, and some travel-related credit cards can also often get you better rates.
3. Specialist rentals from companies like Silvercar, who exclusively rent Audi's through dealerships across the States.
4. Car-sharing services like Turo, Getaround, and AvailCarSharing. This is a newer concept, but it's taking off fast. Private individuals make their cars available to private renters, and the company behind the service handles the insurance and booking process. Cars available for both short-term rentals of a few hours, or a few weeks. ZipCar is another popular option, but it requires a monthly subscription, plus a fee every time you rent.
5. If you're open to renting an RV, providers like RVshare.com and Outdoorsy.com are both popular options for renting from RV owners.
6. If you're willing to travel on-demand instead of having your own wheels, you could use one of the ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which are available in most cities, as are taxis and even public transportation like buses and trains.
7. If you have a lot of flexibility with where and when you travel, and just want to get away somewhere, consider TransferCarUS, a clever service that matches renters with car rental and RV companies who want to move cars and RV's around the country. The rentals are all one-way, the site lists the requests, and if you want to do it, the rental will often be free. For example, I recently spotted a one-way six day rental of a luxury 4 passenger RV, from Aurora (Colorado) to San Francisco. The rental was free, and you could choose to add-on additional days for just $60/day as an optional extra to extend the vacation! Sounds like a fun trip, right!?
8. If all else fails and you must have transport, you could rent a U-Haul cargo van, or a pickup truck from HomeDepot or Lowes. These trucks tend to have set day rates, rather than inflated dynamic prices like at car rental agencies. Prices vary by location, starting at $89/day.
I rented from U-Haul recently. As it turned out, whereas the local car rental rate in Vegas was starting at $120.00/day, I was able to rent the U-Haul cargo van for just $30/day including insurance. The mileage cost of $0.59/mile was added on top at the end of the rental, but the entire 5-day period still cost me less than one day with a traditional car rental company! Plus, I had plenty of room for shopping!
So, although it's alarming to see rental car prices sky-high, there are plenty of alternative options, if you're willing to do things a little differently. It looks like the high prices are set to continue at least for the foreseeable future, so let us know how you get on with these insider strategies for travel pros!