Travel looks a lot different than it did just a few years ago. Fewer people are taking exotic vacations to overseas destinations, for instance. Business trips have been severely cut back. People are traveling less, and when they do travel, they stick closer to home. Road trips are more popular than in the recent past. But there are many pressures on the price and supply of everything that make planning a trip for business or pleasure much more difficult. Nowhere are these new pressures more evident than when travelers try to find the best way to rent a car.
Until recently, it was really difficult to nail down the best price for air travel. Airline flights were really expensive, and planes were overbooked. Travelers spent hours scouring airline price comparison websites and calling ticket counters to get their tickets. Travelers just assumed that after-flight details like car rental and lodging could be handled on the fly after you landed.
In the current travel landscape, the situation is totally reversed. Airlines are having their problems, but since air travel is cut way back, they’re hungry for fares. Cancellations are a problem, but you can get where you’re going at a reasonable rate without too much comparison shopping. Car rental is a completely different story. It’s hard to find a rental car in most major metro areas in the US, and the prices have gone way up. Smart travelers are now forgetting about shopping around endlessly for deals on airfare, and trying to find out the best way to rent a car first.
Why Are Rental Cars Scarce?
So, why is it hard to rent a car all of a sudden? A number of factors happened at the same time to drive down rental car supply and push up prices. At the outset of the pandemic, all the major, traditional car rental agencies predicted that travel would crater. They figured they’d be stuck with lots full of empty cars and no customers. Most major car rental companies got nervous and sold the vast majority of their fleets on the used car market. They figured wrong. Demand for rental cars is stronger than ever, but the supply isn’t there.
The major car rental companies compounded their error by predicting they could simply buy new cars when business picked up. However, big disruptions in the supply chain made buying enough new cars difficult or impossible in some cases. And a shortage of brand new cars leads to a shortage of recent model used cars, too. Non-traditional car rental companies who rely on pre-owned cars have to pay more in a tight market. All these factors make supply short and prices high.
The Best Way To Rent a Car in Today’s Market
So, what’s a smart traveler to do? We’ve rounded up a list of the best ways to rent a car in today’s travel world:
Stay Away From Airport Car Rental Counters
The days of walking up to an airline car rental counter and walking out with the keys to an affordable rental are long gone. Airport car rental companies pay a huge fee to be able to offer rentals inside the terminals. They pass that cost on to you. Like the difference in price from a corner convenience store and a big shopping center, you’re paying a huge premium for convenience. There’s no reason to get taken in the airport, however.
There are usually plenty of car rental companies near the airport, but not directly in it. They’re always cheaper than the airport rates. Also, since many are independent car rental companies, they may have less strict rules and fewer hidden fees than the big major car rental agencies. Taking a taxi from the airport just a few miles to the local auto rental place can save you hundreds.
Rent What They Have
There are thousands of articles online with car rental advice that doesn’t work anymore, if it ever did. One favorite strategy touted by coupon-clipping sites is to reserve the smallest, most affordable rental cars you can find. They counsel that the least expensive rentals will be overbooked, and the car rental companies will be forced to give you a free upgrade to a bigger, fancier vehicle. In today’s car rental world, this is very bad advice indeed.
Car rental companies are faced with too many customers and not enough cars right now. They’re not going to give free upgrades to nicer cars when they can rent those cars to willing travelers at top-dollar rates. Trying to game their system is going to leave you stranded at their counters with no rental, not a freebie. It’s much smarter to rent what they have.
It’s much better to contact the car rental agency and ask what they have to rent. They’ll be glad to rent out inventory that’s less in demand. You’ll probably end up saving money in the long run. You’re much more likely to find your car on the lot when you get there, too.
Reserve Far In Advance
Rental car counters are busy places. They have to deal with reservations, pickups, dropoffs, and a lot of other details that go into your rental. Last-minute rentals put an even bigger strain on their personnel. Most car rental companies charge more for last minute rentals. To save money, rent as far in advance as possible. You’re more likely to get the vehicle you want. You’re also more likely to get it at a price you can afford.
Rent Longer Term
Auto rental companies have to complete the same paperwork and perform the same customer service for a one-day rental as they would for a one-month rental. That’s why short term rentals are so pricey, and in this market, and nearly unavailable now in big markets like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.
Save on Auto Rental Insurance
Smart travelers save money on car rental insurance. However, they don’t save that money by skipping the peace of mind that comes with insurance coverage. The best way to save money on insurance is to see if your auto rental insurance is covered by their existing car insurance policy, or by their credit card fringe benefits. Many consumers have this coverage but are unaware of it. If in doubt, contact your car insurance agency to find out, and check the fine print on your credit card statements.
Many younger drivers are unaware that they can be added to their parents’ driving insurance policies for an affordable rate, and this can qualify them for car rental insurance, among many other benefits.
Car rental overseas is another matter, however. You may be required to buy driving insurance whether you have other coverage or not. It pays to check out the driving regulations at your destination before leaving and plan accordingly.
One Car, One Driver
Rental car contracts are generally based on one car/one driver. The car rental agency may base their rates on the age, driving record, and other details of the person making the reservation. Most will modify their contracts for multiple drivers, but you’ll probably pay a premium. Save money and avoid disappointments at the counter by having one person handle the driving chores. You should also make sure that the person that will be doing the driving makes the reservations using their information and credit or debit card. This avoids confusion and delays at the car rental counter.
Skip the Extras
When you’re on vacation, it’s tempting to splurge on luxuries. That’s fine, but it won’t save you any money on car rental. Car rental agencies offer many optional goodies like GPS and satellite radio. You can save some money on upsells if you bring along what you need to travel, or do without.
Price Shop for Gasoline
Car rental companies are usually located in busy areas with lots of traffic. The fueling stations in dense urban areas near airports and other travel hubs are almost always more expensive than gas stations located just a few miles further out. It’s very expensive to return a rental car with less than a full tank of fuel, so always return the car topped off. However, to save some money, use price-shopping apps like GasBuddy to find deals.
Value Rental Car Is the Best Way To Rent a Car
If you’re renting a car in Los Angeles or Pasadena, Value Rental Car is the best way to get a great deal. We offer long-term rentals, cash car rentals, debit card car rentals, and young driver car rentals along with friendly, attentive service.