Most travelers start planning their vacations by scouring the Internet for great deals on flights. Then it’s time to search for hotels. Booking the rental car is a boring afterthought.
But in 2021, you need to consider completely reversing the order of operations in which you book your next trip.
The wild case of Glacier National Park
Some experts warn that we are on the precipice of a “rental car apocalypse”, citing examples of extreme prices and sold out cars. Whether or not the apocalypse is hyperbole depends on both who you ask and what city you’re renting a car in (and for what it’s worth, many car rental companies have a lot of availability) . But overall, rental cars are generally much more in demand than in 2019. Additionally, there are many instances where the supply is simply not enough to keep up.
Consider this: NerdWallet searched in April 2021 for rental cars at each of the seven car rental companies at Glacier Park International Airport and found no availability for car rentals in July and August 2021. Good luck getting a cab to take you from the airport to 6,600 feet above sea level to the top of Logan Pass.
What caused the shortage of rental cars in 2021?
But high demand is not the only factor at play. Due to a global semiconductor shortage hampering the production of not only cars, but also phones, refrigerators and other electronics, the supply is also lower than normal.
And with that, the auto industry has experienced a domino effect which has led to higher prices.
Why a car rental should be one of the first things you book
The Glacier Park example is certainly extreme, but it illustrates how an insanely cheap flight deal makes no sense when rental car prices are massively inflated, or worse, completely sold out.
“Don’t do what you’ve done in the past, which is plan a trip, book your plane ticket and hotel, then book a rental car,” CEO and founder told NerdWallet from AutoSlash car rental site, Jonathan Weinberg. âReverse that strategy this year. First check that the rental car is available and affordable.
Demand for rental cars has increased
Rental cars have never had the massive price drop that the prices of airline tickets and hotel rooms have, probably because while interest in air travel has plummeted, interest in air travel has plummeted. for car trips has increased.
A national survey by Cars.com of 1,000 Americans found that about 25% of spring break travelers planned to fly this year, compared with 38% of spring break travelers who took the plane in 2019. Meanwhile, about 70% of spring break travelers in 2021 intended to drive to their destinations, up from 57% in 2019.
There is usually no deposit required for a car rental
Unlike most airline tickets, theater tickets, and tour bookings, rental cars are one of the few aspects of travel that usually doesn’t require an upfront payment. Most car rental companies require that you pay only when you collect the car.
âYou don’t really need to have a skin in the game,â Weinberg says. “There is almost no reason not to book a rental car.”
What to do when rental cars run out
Just because you can’t rent a car at Glacier Park International Airport this summer doesn’t mean you can’t vacation there. Here’s how you can still make your trip, even if the rental cars are sold out:
Plan an alternative route
It would seem more logical to go to Glacier Park International Airport, located just 24 miles from the park entrance, but you could get creative and fly elsewhere. Missoula Montana Airport and Great Falls International Airport are approximately a two and a half hour drive from the entrance.
Not only will you more likely find a rental car available at these airports, but you may also be able to find better flight options.
Play with reservations
A rental car can be booked for the first week of July, but may be available the next. If the price of the plane ticket is the same for either week, then this is a pretty clear indicator of which week you should choose to travel.
Weinberg also recommends another tip: book a rental car longer than you actually need.
“Why do car rental companies rent to someone who wants only three days when they can rent to someone else who is willing to rent it for six days?” ” he says. Car rental companies may not show cars are available for people trying to book short trips, even if there are cars on the lot.
If you are desperate and don’t mind paying extra for the days you don’t need a car, then paying for a longer rental might be better than having no wheels at all. And sometimes the rental companies will even give you credit to return the car sooner, Weinberg says.
Check car rental locations beyond the airport
Car rental companies are usually attached to airports, but don’t overlook rental locations attached to hotels or elsewhere in the city. The airport location might be full, but other nearby locations may have cars available. In that case, you may be able to take the free hotel shuttle or a taxi from the airport to the off-site location. Even with the price of the taxi, you could save money if the offsite locations are cheaper.
Look for car rental alternatives like Turo and Getaround
Traditional car rental companies may be sold out, but check your options on peer-to-peer car rental platforms like Turo or Getaround. These services tend to function as short-term vacation rentals for cars, where local owners put their own cars for rent.
Although Getaround has yet to reach the vicinity of Glacier National Park, rentals from Turo are available this summer.
The bottom line
This year, reverse the way you plan your trip to account for the increased demand for rental cars. You don’t want to put off booking a rental car only to find that the cars are sold out once you’ve already booked the flight.
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