The pandemic really did a number on the travel industry and especially on car rentals. Rental car agencies were forced to sell off their fleets to survive and then, when travel abruptly bounced back in March 2021, they couldn’t get replacement cars from automakers, due to a global computer chip shortage. That explains why you may have seen alarming headlines like Car Rental Apocalypse! in the news. RELATED: How to Prevent Car Rental Companies From Ripping You Off
Not only are rental cars now much more expensive than they have been historically, but in some markets (ahem, Maui), you might not be able to even get one during peak periods, which is why consumers have been getting inventive.
Here’s my advice if you’re planning to rent a car:
1. Check rental car prices first
Before you plop down your credit card to buy plane tickets or make lodging reservations, be sure to check car rental prices. There’s a chance that the car rental fee could be prohibitively expensive so you might want to change your plans altogether.
Check all the typical car rental sites like Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, but also check with sites like Auto Europe, Booking.com, Expedia, Priceline, RentalCars.com and don’t forget my booking tool (just click the “cars” tab). Also price out deals on Autoslash and Costco (if you’re a member).
2. Don’t wing it
If you really need a rental car, don’t just roll up to an airport car rental counter without a reservation. With the current supply and demand issues, your chances of getting a vehicle without a reservation are slim.
3. Reserve a car as soon as possible
Book your rental cars well in advance to secure your desired vehicle. It’s best to reserve one the moment you plan your trip.
4. Book refundable reservations
Don’t pre-pay even if you’re 100% sure you’re going on your trip because unforeseen things can (and do) happen. I’m speaking from experience: My driver’s license once fell out of my shallow pants pocket on a flight to Miami. I learned the hard way that you can’t rent a car without your driver’s license. Here’s that story and some takeaway tips.
5. Keep checking rates and availability
Keep checking rates even after you reserve a car. In the past, car rental prices tended to go down closer to the pickup date. If you find a cheaper deal, book it and cancel the original one.
6. Are you already insured?
Before renting a car, check if your car insurance and/or credit card provider has you covered so you don’t have to buy the car rental company’s expensive coverage. RELATED: The Best Credit Cards with Rental Car Perks
7. Join loyalty programs
Sign up to the car rental company’s frequent renter programs and download their apps so you don’t have to wait in any long lines.
8. Inspect your vehicle
Always inspect your vehicle for scratches, dents and cracks in the windshield. Check the tires (here’s why), pop the trunk and look for a spare tire and check to see if the registration sticker is valid.
9. Report your vehicle
If you find anything wrong with the car, either get a new one or make sure an employee documents your record. Get their name and take a video of the vehicle’s dings or damage with your phone.
10. Get creative
If there are no rental cars available, get creative. You can rent cars from the general public using Turo.com or if you’re really desperate, like some people in Hawaii were in 2021, rent a U-Haul.
11. Try an auto dealership
I learned this tip from Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times who writes: “That $2,000 rate in Bozeman might make your Yellowstone trip a nonstarter, but before you ditch your plan, check out Toyota of Bozeman, where you can get a Toyota Rav 4 for $222 a week.”
12. Compare on- and off-airport rates
Savvy travelers know that airport car rental rates tend to be much higher than off-airport car rental rates. That’s because they often add airport surcharges and taxes. So always compare airport and off-airport rates as you could save a significant amount of money.
RELATED: Always Do This Before Renting a Car
13. Get crafty
That’s similar advice to that of the NY Times: “If the car rental search engine says the cars are all gone, get crafty,” said Leigh Rowan, the founder of Savanti Travel, a travel management service, who recommends using Google Maps to search for car rental locations near your hotel or vacation home rental. “In major tourist spots like Wailea in Maui, there are four different car rental spots walkable from hotels.”
14. Price out weekly rates
Autoslash recommends pricing cars out for a week, even if you only need it for a weekend, because sometimes weekly rentals are cheaper. Just make sure you can bring it back early with no penalty.
Did I miss anything? I’m happy to grow this list so please send over your car rental tips!
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