Figuring out car rental pricing and availability is as much an art as a science. Sure, there are tons on online aggregators that will compare published prices from all the major car hire companies. However, Those aggregators have a big flaw that sometimes makes their information nearly useless.
Online aggregators for car rental, hotel bookings, airline flights, and similar vacation and business travel details don’t control the supply of anything they list. They’re just websites and phone apps. They simply display information they scrape from the companies that offer the services you’re looking for. But buyer beware: prices for all kinds of travel reservations can change daily, or even hourly. And there are so many variables like coupons, frequent customer discounts, and membership deals, that it’s nearly impossible to tell what you’ll pay until you plunk down your money. When shopping for car rental here and overseas, one of the most common questions we encounter is, do car rental prices go down closer to the date? The answer to that question might surprise you.
Is There an Ideal Lead Time for Car Rentals?
If it were true that car rental prices go down closer to the date, the ideal time to make a reservation would be while you’re standing at the car rental counter with a suitcase in your hand. That’s a recipe for disaster in today’s car rental marketplace. There’s an enormous shortage of rental cars, due to multiple factors. In some areas, the shortage of rental cars has forced consumers to rent UHaul trucks, Home Depot trucks, and other non-standard forms of transportation. It may take years for car rental fleets to return to normal. Smart consumers will avoid waiting until the last minute to rent a car for the foreseeable future.
Are Last Minute Bargains Still Available?
When hotel, airfare, and car rental companies had plenty of capacity, it was fairly easy to find last-minute bargains. Hotels were especially prone to giving heavy discounts to fill empty rooms on short notice. There were several successful website aggregators that did nothing but scan airfares for last-minute deals. All those approaches relied on unused inventory, and the travel industry doesn’t have that luxury anymore. Planes are jam-packed, and flight cancellations are common. Hotels are short-staffed, and it can be hard to find an empty room in any season. Many car rental lots are close to empty, and not likely to be restocked for many months, or even years.
If you’re stuck looking for a last-minute car rental, the key to success is to be flexible. Car rental agencies quickly run out of popular rentals all the time, not just during school vacations and other busy times. If you need a car rental pronto, be prepared to accept a different kind of car than the type you’re used to. You have to be willing to rent what they have on the lot. If you can’t be flexible about what you drive, it’s smart to reserve well in advance to avoid being left high and dry.
What’s the Best Day To Rent a Car?
In short, it doesn’t matter all that much which day of the week you place your reservation for a car rental. However, there are certain days of the week when it can be much harder to find a rental. For example, a car rental company near Disneyland will likely have a chronic shortage of cars on Saturdays. That’s because weekly vacation packages often include air travel arrivals on the weekends. In other locations, business travelers rule, and Mondays could be a difficult day to find a car. In any case, it’s
It’s Not Really a Reservation if There’s No Car Available
Back when car rental supply was plentiful, many travelers made reservations far in advance and then cancelled them when they found a better rate. Large, traditional car rental companies sort of encouraged this behavior with their complicated pricing structure. This approach to jumping from one reservation to another to save money won’t work in today’s marketplace. Online aggregators that encourage this approach are setting up their users for possible disappointment. Seinfeld made the problem famous: It’s only really a reservation if there’s a car available to fill it.
No matter how long in advance you reserve, always make sure to check with a live person at the car rental counter before you trust a car rental reservation. Never trust an online clearinghouse to have accurate information. Only the clerk at the car rental counter will actually know if there’s a car on the lot with your name on it.
When Is the Best Time To Book a Car Rental?
In general, you should plan as far ahead as possible to ensure that you’ll be able to rent a car. That being said, most car rental companies don’t really schedule car rentals more than 6 months in advance. They’ll pencil them on their calendar, but they expect many people to cancel or change their reservations in the interim.
If you plan 3-6 months ahead, you’re likely to get good rates and ensure some kind of car is available. You’ll have a better selection at 4-6 months than at 1-3 months of course. In today’s car rental market, planning less than 30 days ahead should be considered last-minute. So, do car rental prices go down closer to the date? Not likely. And waiting too long might make you into a permanent pedestrian.
Renting a car in Los Angeles and Pasadena
If you traveling to the Los Angeles area, or if you’re a resident or intern, count on Value Rental Car for short and long term car rental. Value Rental Car is a family-owned and run company that works with consumers to get them on the road with a minimum of hassle. Unlike many other car rental companies, they offer cash car rentals, debit card car rentals, and discounts for long term car rentals. Contact Value Rental Car today!