9 Key Rental Car Tips You Need This Year

9 Key Rental Car Tips You Need This Year
Summer vacations and family getaways at spectacular beaches and national parks are popular this year. If you’re planning on renting a car for your trip, however, there are a few things you need to know. A rental car shortage is impacting popular vacation destinations throughout the United States, sending rental car rates soaring. This is particularly true in popular vacation locations like Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Maine. Rental cars in some destinations are already completely sold out during popular weeks and holiday periods in the late spring and summer months.

Rental car rates can be significantly higher than travelers could ever imagine. Rates for a midsize rental car during summer weeks can be as much as $960 per week in Portland, Maine or $1500 per week in Maui, Hawaii. There is a significant rental car shortage in Anchorage, Alaska during certain peak summer periods, with rates for any available cars being quoted at close to $2000 per week. Weekly rates in July for rental cars in locations around popular National Parks in Montana and Wyoming are already running at over $5000 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 available 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 nine rental car tips to help you get a rental car for your vacation and keep rates as low as possible:

1. Reserve Cars Far In Advance. Reserve your rental car as soon as you have possible 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. Don’t 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.

2. Verify Rental Car Availability Before Booking Flights. Check rental car availability and pricing before making your flight arrangements. Extraordinarily high rental rates may 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.

3. Extend Your Rental Term When Possible. Weekend rates for rental cars are generally sky high during the summer months. To reduce prices, try to add a few days to your rental car term if you can. Renting a car for a week instead of several 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.

4. 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.

5. Use Your Costco Membership. Costco has historically offered its members some of the lowest prices on rental cars and that continues to be true today. Options 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, check rental car booking sites such as Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia, AutoRentals.com and Rentalcars.com.

6. Build Extra Time Into Your Schedule Car rental locations are often short staffed right now, particularly at airport locations. Waiting times to pick up rental cars at airports have sometimes been reported to be as long as 2-4 hours during peak periods, so pack plenty of patience and budget additional time for rental car pick-ups and drop-offs. It’s important to plan your flights and on-ground vacation itinerary with these waiting times in mind as well. If possible, sign up with free rental car loyalty programs in advance to bypass the potential long lines. Also be aware that flight schedules may change more often as airlines ramp up, which could impact your vacations and car rental plans, too.

7. 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.

8. 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, and using local tour companies for memorable excursions in your vacation destination. If a rental car is truly needed and none are available, U-Haul van rentals and rentals from local car dealerships may be possible as well.

9. Purchase Travel Insurance. In this period of escalating travel demand and changing health environments, travel insurance is key. Rental car locations can be overbooked, flight schedules can be significantly altered and health conditions can change. It’s important to protect your vacation investment by purchasing travel insurance for your trip. Check out suppliers such as Travel Guard, Allianz, InsureMyTrip.com and TravelInsurance.com.

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