Summer Travel = Rental Car Rigamarole

by Chris Bjorklund

I’ve rented a lot of cars over the years, but I’ve never seen what I’m seeing today. Prices are high due to low inventories, and in some cases, no cars are available at any price. The strategies I’ve used in the past to save money have been upended by unanticipated consumer demand. The rental car industry sold off large numbers of vehicles during the pandemic to stay afloat, and those same companies are now having trouble ramping up with new cars due to manufacturing delays. This shortage in some popular destinations could last through the summer.

On a recent trip to Phoenix, my first rental car reservation at the airport was more than $700 for one week. I decided to price a rental at a downtown location two miles away. They offered the same car for $281 a week. I checked the airport again closer to the trip and found the price had gone up to $1,100 a week, and many models were sold out. Now, I’m booking again for a trip to the East Coast, and surprisingly, I’m saving $300 by picking up the rental car at the airport rather than in town!

So, my advice is to book your rental car way in advance, even before you finalize your other travel plans. I know people who were stuck without a car in Hawaii because no rentals were available. Another idea is to keep shopping for the best deal after you make a reservation because prices fluctuate. Discounts can be found through AutoSlash, Costco Travel, AAA, AARP, frequent flier plans and some credit cards. Don’t forget to compare rates at rental agencies in town versus at the airport. Check rates again a few days before departure because prices may change in your favor as the rental car inventory improves.