This year has been like no other when it comes to practically everything, including renting cars. Because of the pandemic, rental car agencies were forced to sell off their fleets to survive. Then, when travel abruptly bounced back in March, car rental companies couldn’t get cars from automakers, due to a global computer chip shortage. That’s why you’ve been seeing headlines like “Car Rental Apocalypse!”
Not only are rental cars much more expensive than they have been historically, but in some markets (ahem, Maui), you might not be able to even get one, which is why consumers have been getting inventive. If you’re planning on renting a car this spring or summer, here’s my advice:
1. Check Rental Car Prices First
Before you buy your plane tickets or make lodging reservations, be sure to check rental car prices before you plop down your credit card. There’s a chance it could be prohibitively expensive so you might want to change your plans.
2. Don’t Wing It
This is not the year to just roll up to an airport car rental counter without a reservation. Book as early as possible.
3. Reserve A Car As Soon As Possible
Book your rental cars well in advance to secure your vehicle.
4. Where To Reserve
Check all the typical car rental sites but also check directly with the agencies and sites like RentalCars.com, Expedia, Priceline and don’t forget my booking tool (just click the “cars” tab) . However, I usually find the best deals on Autoslash and Costco.
5. Book Refundable Reservations
Don’t pre-pay even if you’re 100% sure you’re going because unforeseen things can happen, like the time my drivers license fell out of my stupid shallow pants pocket on a flight to Miami. You can’t rent a car without your license. I learned the hard way. Here’s that story and some takeaway tips.
6. Keep Checking Rates and Availability
Keep checking rates even after you reserve a car. In the past, car rental prices tended to go down closer to the pickup date. If you find a cheaper deal, book it and cancel the original one.
7. Are You Already Insured?
Before renting a car, check if your car insurance and/or credit card provider has you covered so you don’t have to buy the car rental company’s expensive coverage. RELATED: The Best Credit Cards with Rental Car Perks
8. Join Programs
Sign up to the car rental company’s frequent renter programs and download their apps so you don’t have to wait in any long lines.
9. Inspect Your Vehicle
Always inspect your vehicle for scratches, dents and cracks in the windshield. Check the tires (here’s why), trunk for a spare tire and check to see if the registration sticker is valid.
10. Report Your Vehicle
If you find anything wrong with the car, either get a new one or make sure an employee documents your record. Get their name and make a video using your phone.
11. Get Creative
If there are no rental cars available, get creative. You can rent cars from the general public using Turo.com or if you’re really desperate, like some people in Hawaii have been, rent a U-Haul.
12. Try an auto dealership
I learned this tip from Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times who writes: “That $2,000 rate in Bozeman might make your Yellowstone trip a nonstarter, but before you ditch your plan, check out Toyota of Bozeman, where you can get a Toyota Rav 4 for $222 a week.”
13. Compare on- and off-airport rates
Another tip from Catharine: “In Seattle, which is notorious for the high cost of airport rentals, you can rent a Chevy Spark at the airport for $555 for June 11-18, about $80 a day, through Carrental8.com. In town, you can rent a Spark at Thrifty for $414 for the week, or about $59 a day.”
14. Get Crafty
That’s similar advice to that of the NY Times: “If the car rental search engine says the cars are all gone, get crafty,” said Leigh Rowan, the founder of Savanti Travel, a travel management service, who recommends using Google Maps to search for car rental locations near your hotel or vacation home rental. “In major tourist spots like Wailea in Maui, there are four different car rental spots walkable from hotels.”
15. Price Out Weekly Rates
Autoslash recommends pricing cars out for a week, even if you only need it for a weekend, because sometimes weekly rentals are cheaper. Just make sure you can bring it back early with no penalty.
Did I miss anything? I’m happy to grow this list so please send over your car rental tips! KEEP READING: Always Do This Before Renting a Car
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