Reserving a rental car is not usually at the top of your trip planning, but this year the tables have turned dramatically. Many factors have led to a world in which renting a car may be the hardest and most expensive part of your trip. Here’s what is going on and how to increase the odds you get the rental car you want.
Problem: Rental cars made be completely sold out.
Many travelers are finding that there are no cars for rent in their destinations. In 2020, demand for rentals was low, so car rental companies kept their vehicle fleets at a very low level. But now with people getting vaccinated in record numbers and travel demand strong, the industry hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand in 2021. On top of that, manufacturing shortages are making it difficult for rental companies to restock their lots. This has all added up to a pretty bad situation for travelers, with extremely high prices and no inventory.
Tip: A good plan is to book your car rental as far in advance as you can. If that fails, try off-airport lots, call locations directly, and use your car rental elite status, if you have any. But mostly, just don’t assume there will be a car available until you book one. Remember that your local travel advisor may have options that you're not aware of.
Problem: Renting a car may cost you — a lot.
While there are exceptions, your next car rental may cost more than you wish. Many travelers are finding that rates are very expensive compared to the prices they're accustomed to paying.
Tip: Check all sources and be sure and check for discounts on your credit cards. If you're a member of a wholesale club like Costco, check their prices also. You usually always save by bundling your trip components. For example, booking a vacation package that includes air, hotel, and the rental car will almost always save you money.
Problem: There will probably be a limited car selection.
In many cases right now, you’re lucky there’s a car at all, so don’t count on having any actual choices or upgrades. In fact, some travelers are finding that the type of car they reserved may not even be available. In some cases, that means families may no longer fit in one vehicle.
Tip: Don’t hope or count on any type of upgrade. Worse still, realize you may not even get what you paid for. Call ahead and try to verify that the car rental company will hold the vehicle for you and the time you will be picking the car up.
Problem: The pick up lines may be extremely long.
Some travelers are reporting lines at least an hour long and sometimes with very mixed mask usage.
Tip: Join your car rental agency’s program and complete all paperwork and verifications in advance. Look for programs that allow for touchless rental car pick-up experiences, if possible.
Rental cars are rarely an exciting part of the travel process, but that has changed in 2021 for the foreseeable future. Plan for these potential realities well in advance.