How to Get a Rental Car When None Are Available

How to Get a Rental Car When None Are Available

by Kurt Knutsson

Everything you already heard about rental car availability in popular summer destinations is true. Prices are through the roof and some travelers are finding that despite having a confirmed reservation, it does not guarantee cars will be available upon arrival.

One of Hertz Presidential Gold Plus customers found herself waiting several hours on the day of her confirmed arrival for a car to become available. Her valued status lets her skip the long line and pick a car from the VIP section of the lot. That’s a wasted exercise when no cars are in that VIP lot and the rental counter line gets longer and longer.

Priceline is reporting that rental car rates are well over 30% higher compared to pre-pandemic travel at the same time in 2019. I just rented a $1150/wk car that normally would price at around $600-700/wk. It made me realize that you need to figure in the high cost of a car rental into the cost of a trip.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that a car will be there upon arrival.

You may have heard of people getting creative booking a U-Haul truck when all rental cars were sold out in Hawaii. That extreme can hopefully be avoided if you tap into the following tips and embrace some new technology and good old fashioned phone calls to secure a car.

12 Strategies to Get a Rental Car when the location appears sold out

  1. Start as early as possible. Book a rental car reservation at the same time or before purchasing flights and booking accommodations. Many vacation rentals and pre-paid hotels will not allow cancellations once purchased and locked simply because a rental car is not available.  The majors are Alamo, Dollar, Hertz, Enterprise, National (National military special) and Thrifty.
  2. Shop beyond rental car sites alone. Try travel sites like Expedia, Kayak, discounters Costco and Priceline.
  3. Bundle your rental car with a flight and/or hotel package. Some booking sites have inventory available when rental car sites show sold out. In the past I have used this trick to get a better price for airline tickets back in the days of overflowing car inventories.
  4. Sign up for rental car company loyalty programs. You can save time once arriving and in some cases it may unleash inventory when showing sold out for non-loyal customers.
  5. Link Credit Card Benefits to Rental Car Company.  Check to see if any of your credit cards give you preferred status benefits with a rental car company for potentially better access. Link the car rental and credit card benefits accounts before you rent.
  6. Shift your return date around. For example, you may need the car for a week, but it’s only available for the first 5 days. Book the first 5 days and then extend the rental 2 days. Careful to read the cost and rules for additional days beyond the planned return date.
  7. Rent away from the airport. It may be worth taking an Uber or taxi to a nearby rental car location away from the airport where cars may be available. City locations and hotel rental inventories are often different than fleets at the airport.
  8. Car dealerships sometimes rent cars. A phone call is normally required but a few have online booking tools.
  9. Silvercar program links car rentals of Audi cars from nearly 30 dealerships in the US with rates that start around $50-60/day. Check to see if your destination is served and start the process ahead of travel. Discount code VISAINF20 to save 20% off rental for some Visa cardholders.
  10. Try non-traditional rental cars normally marketed by the hour. Zipcar is a non-traditional rental car company that operates from an app. Cars are typically rented by the hour, but this could be an option for extended rentals too.  Zipcar is often found in major cities and worth a look.
  11. Turo and Getaround peer-to-peer car rental apps. Think of these as the AirBNB of cars. People rent their own cars and often times will bring the car to you. Look carefully at all of the ancillary fees such as end of rental clean fee and refueling charges.
  12. Uber or Lyft instead. While we are talking about ride share companies, consider using Uber’s price estimator tool to see how much taking an Uber or Lyft during your trip would cost compared to renting a high-priced set of wheels.

BONUS: Rent an RV or camper van instead of a car. RV Share and Outdoorsy are the leaders in this space and my research showed that I could rent a cool retro VW van for less than a regular rental car for about $130/day. Meanwhile, I noticed a camper company also listed their Tesla Model 3 for an astronomical price of $579/day. That’s crazy.. and greedy. But hey, supply and demand, right?

That would make my 1 week, 3 day rental car bill just shy of $7,397 for our 10 day trip. Fortunately, I used the tips above and will be picking up a National car rental for a fraction of that amount.  It pays to follow these tips no matter where you are renting a car.

Learning the discount codes that can work will shave off money during these expensive rentals before car companies are able to add more inventory to fleets that were sold after sitting idle for months.

Travel Tips and Tricks to Plan the Perfect Post Pandemic Trip

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