TAMPA, Fla. — Domestic travel is picking up, and so are prices when it comes to booking a rental car that you might need to get around.
This won’t surprise you, but experts say the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame. At the beginning of the pandemic, travel stopped. Rental car companies sold off a large portion of their fleet in order to stay afloat, but now the customers are back, and the cars are in short supply.
“I usually use Enterprise, and what they told me was during those times, there were no cars available,” said Rosa Hill, who booked with Hertz.
Hill is here for the week from New Jersey. She had heard about the spike in rental car prices from her daughter.
“My daughter had just came from Puerto Rico, and she spent $600, so I was prepared to pay something,” said Hill.
But she wasn’t quite prepared to pay what she found the companies were asking.
“It was almost double then what I ended up getting,” said Hill.
She even booked her rental car a month in advance. Thankfully, she found a workaround through her insurance.
“They do have a travel plan, and as a military discount, I was able to find something that was very affordable,” said Hill.
Hill booked with Hertz, but your rental company doesn’t seem to matter much when demand outweighs supply.
“The prices are sky-high! I looked for a week, and it was over $500, where normally you could get $200 for a week,” said Sally Bernard, who booked through Enterprise.
Bernard is here from North Carolina for the week, but she’s only renting a car for half of the trip due to the high prices.
“We chose to return the car on Wednesday, and then borrow my daughter’s car for the rest of the week,” said Bernard.
Unfortunately for travelers like Bernard and Hill, who are hoping for a break in the trend, experts warn the problem might be here to stay.
“We think it’ll be with us through the summer,” said Jonathan Weinberg, Founder and CEO of AutoSlash.com, a car rental website that applies coupons to help get your rate down initially, then keeps rechecking prices, and if it drops, they tell you to rebook in order to save.
Right now Weinberg says prices are only showing signs of getting worse.
“The reason is because there’s a semiconductor shortage right now,” said Weinberg.
Cars run on computers nowadays, and without a semiconductor, they’re not rolling out of manufacturing facilities. Then when they are, they’re going to dealers.
“They’re competing with consumers, consumers are paying top dollar right now at the dealership,” said Weinberg.
Weinberg says the problem is exacerbated in vacation hot spots Florida, Phoenix, Hawaii, and Las Vegas. If you’ve got a summer trip booked to Alaska or Yellowstone, he says no dice.
“We’re seeing rates of $100 to $200 a day, which is anywhere from three to five times what you’d normally see,” said Weinberg.
These are the things Weinberg recommends in order to get the best possible rate:
- book as far in advance as possible;
- sign up for the rental companies free loyalty program to avoid a long wait at the airport;
- choose the “pay later” option, then cancel if you find something cheaper;
- use websites like AutoSlash, who will help you recheck for the best rate.
But as far as travel goes this year, you’ll want to plan to spend a little extra.