When will car rental prices drop?
June 22, 2021 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Along with many other now-vaccinated stir crazy US families, we are traveling this summer - and the prices for rental cars are wildly expensive. I know there are various pandemic-related reasons for the cost, but does anyone have an estimate as to when the prices may subside, or what indicators there might be for prices dropping closer to pre-pandemic prices?

Basically, I'm planning to either a) make a decision to accept that renting a car will cost more than actually flying to our destination and stop stressing about it or b) put in a little time monitoring car prices through the summer. Or, if you know other ways to reduce the cost of a week long car rental in August this year, I'd love to know!

(If useful to know, we'll be in the US West, in and around Denver CO.).
posted by RajahKing to Travel & Transportation around Eagan, MN (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you checked Turo? I haven't used it before, but for a week in Denver in August there were a few cars in the $50/day range.
posted by jabes at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2021

Make a reservation at Costco Travel, it's easy to cancel if you find a better price.
posted by notjustthefish at 10:49 AM on June 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

The rental car companies dumped a load of inventory during the pandemic. I am guessing they are trying to make the most of the renewed interest in travelling to build money back up to re-populate their fleets and recover money lost initially. This will take time, and I suspect it may not be done by August. I think prices will come down some by August, but I think it will be nearer the end of the year before we see pre-pandemic prices again.

The only suggestion I have is to book in a way that allows cancellation (if you want to make sure you have a car) and keep looking/rebooking as necessary. I managed to get my last work trip down by $70 doing that method without the risk of not having a car/them running out while I gambled on prices.
posted by Brockles at 11:01 AM on June 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It will take awhile. With such low demand last year for service, car fleets cut their cars and also didn't buy new cars. Low supply, low demand.

Now we're in low supply, high demand. This cycle is impacting many things in all industries beyond cars but also including the used car industry which has exploded partially because car services were not selling their old cars.

In short, I don't expect it to reverse any time soon unless there was competition driving prices down as the supply will not instantly rebound. If demand drops due to prices being too high, they will obviously lower too but people want to travel it seems like.

Here's an NPR article on the topic of used car sales that may help explain some things: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/28/927971920/a-pandemic-sticker-shock-used-car-prices-are-through-the-roof
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:03 AM on June 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might be able to save some money by not renting a car for the entire time. For instance, you could take a shuttle to your hotel for the first night, do something in Denver that you can reach by public transportation the first day, then rent a car for a couple days to see things outside of Denver. Return the car the day before you fly back, and take the shuttle back to the airport.

You can also use Lyft/Uber, though the rates on these services are also higher (in part because of high rental and used car prices). The Denver airport is quite a distance from most of Denver.

Oh, and in case you haven't checked -- in the past it has often been cheaper to rent a car from a location that is not at the airport. Enterprise in particular is often good to check for this. If you are renting a car in a city where you live, Enterprise requires an excessive amount of documentation, but if you have proof that you arrived on a flight and are leaving on a flight that should satisfy them.

I don't know how public transit is in Denver, but I have often found it interesting in different cities to check out the public transit system. It lets you see the city in a different way than a tourist (which you might like or dislike).

Another option is that you could replace some of your rental car days with activities that include transportation. Tourist bus or trolley sightseeing tours, outdoor adventures that include transportation, etc.
posted by yohko at 11:21 AM on June 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, and to answer your actual question of "When will car rental prices drop?"

Not until after the summer surge of now-vaccinated stir crazy US families ends, if not later. Expect even higher car rental prices for Thanksgiving-Christmas.
posted by yohko at 11:24 AM on June 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Yeah assuming the pandemic continues to recede in the US (not a foregone conclusion in my view, maybe especially in the west and south) I’d bet we are into next winter before we see rental car prices diminish to closer to pre-pandemic levels. It’s a multimodal problem and none of the component parts will change quickly, less so their reintegration. Travel demand as such is the biggest unknown — apparently it’s not returning as fast as it seemed to a few weeks back and resurgent delta-variant pandemic clusters popping up regionally could modulate it further.
posted by spitbull at 11:25 AM on June 22, 2021

People have covered why this will take awhile to get back to normal, but one tip based on an NPR segment I heard:

-Get creative with where you look- rental locations near airports and in city centers are where demand is the highest. It might be much cheaper to rent from a more remote location.
posted by coffeecat at 11:33 AM on June 22, 2021

This isn't answering the question, just a caution: the line to pick up a reserved rental car at LAX last week around midday was over three hours long. So if you reserve a car somewhere try to find out how easy it will be to pick up!

(We waited outside the building for ~90 minutes, got inside only to be told the wait from that point was two more hours. We left and went back around 7pm, waited only another hour to get the car.)
posted by anadem at 11:34 AM on June 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

My gf rents cars on the regular. I had to rent one for 4 days last month. She is a member of whatever AVIS club. Her rate was significantly lower than the same one they offered me. If you can or want, join the premier club and see if they offer lower rates. Two, it makes a difference where you pick up and drop off. When my gf rents in NYC or out of a local White Plains office, it is generally more expensive than when I drive her to HPN (White Plains Airport) to get a car. I think it is worth noting that up until about three weeks ago, the rental lot at HPN was usually sparsely populated with cars. For the last two times I went, it was packed with available rentals. Fwiw, I saw some pay now options that lowered the cost a decent amount if you don't want to be caught short a car.

If you are flying into the Denver area, check rates at both airport pickup and local pickup in town. THe Denver airport is huge and a hub, so I imagine they will have the most available and maybe most affordable, but worth checking into.

THe summer travel months are generally higher priced months to rent. Supply and demand thing. Now with supply down, it is, as everyone noted, a price floor.

The other thing I have found in the past is that I make a reservation with one company that is cancelable at any time, including no show, and when I arrive at the airport I ask at the other companies if they have any cars available and at what rate. I shop for the lowest rate then and there knowing I can always use my reservation. Also, a willingness to take offbeat cars. I am always willing to take a pickup. Sometimes that is all they have available and will give me a good rate on one.
posted by AugustWest at 12:26 PM on June 22, 2021

Another point of anecdata: we are on a PNW trip and reserved a car far in advance. We reserved a small SUV/mid-sedan for comfort and mountain driving. We got to the rental shop and they had one car option for us. ONE. It is a Mitsubishi Mirage....a 3-cylinder 78-horsepower thing the size of a roller skate. Herr Duck is 6'5". Given we had no choice (despite reserving months in advance), we took it.

So he barely fits in it and we have really pushed the limits of this little car on Mountain roads, but we're still having fun. It's kind of comical at this point. I guess my advice is to be flexible and prepare for surprises. If you NEED a particular size car (like, to fit a car seat or mobility equipment or a Saint Bernard) I would make that clear and check in before arriving and finding something that completely does not work for you.
posted by Gray Duck at 12:39 PM on June 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

If there is a carshare outfit in your area (a la Zipcar), it may be worth buying a membership -- even if you wouldn't ordinarily -- to have access to it in cities you are traveling to.

And who knows, you might discover you like it.
posted by humbug at 12:42 PM on June 22, 2021

I'm a travel writer based in Denver who does not own a car, and a bit of an expert at this. MeMail me if you'd like some tips ... Denver is a great place to vacation without a car!
posted by cyndigo at 12:43 PM on June 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You should have already made a reservation, of the sort that requires no deposit and thus has nothing to refund if you cancel. You should then check every week (or every day depending on your downtime and obsessiveness) and try to get lucky on a better rate. If you find a better rate, make a new reservation and cancel the old one after you have a confirmation number. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This was already the best way to find a good rate on a rental car before pandemic-induced shortages. As others have said, the rental car companies shrunk their fleets when nobody was traveling, and component shortages have slowed manufacturing of new cars, keeping agencies from being able to rebuild their fleets. Rates are not likely to make any big downward moves by the summer, or even by Thanksgiving.
posted by fedward at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2021

Just nthing:

Make a reservation with Costco Travel

Check different pickup and dropoffs

Check different pickup and dropoff dates

By messing around with different locations and dates, I saved 50% taking my rental from 1000 to 500 though we are picking up in a different city and dropping off at a downtown location instead of the airport. With rental prices so high, I suspect the downtown location is happy to have the dropoff from another city.
posted by RoadScholar at 2:21 PM on June 22, 2021

Kayak.com lets you mess around with pickup/dropoff locations and dates like RoadScholar and others have recommended. I can also second the fact that Denver is a great place to visit without any car at all!
posted by acridrabbit at 3:27 PM on June 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Another compounding issue is that there aren't enough new cars for rental companies to buy in order to replace the ones they dumped last year. A shortage of processor chips would normally be a minor blip in the road, but car companies are now fighting for the same COVID-shrunken chip supply as device manufacturers, resulting in car companies being essentially the fifth person in a room with four seats, supply-wise.

So to answer your question: I would not expect prices to drop significantly by August. I'd take the "resign myself to spend a lot more than originally planning on" option and not worry about it, if you can afford to do so.
posted by pdb at 3:31 PM on June 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I recently got an outrageously good rental car price with AutoSlash. I don't know what kind of magic they used, but they found me a Costco rate that was roughly half of the rate I was seeing on the Costco Travel website. Worth a shot!

(No affiliation, I promise, just something that happened to work well for me.)
posted by mosst at 6:31 AM on June 23, 2021

Goodness knows if this is really the sort of thing that works, but I read an article about a couple visiting Hawaii with a similar problem who rented a U-Haul truck, because it turned out to be much cheaper than your usual rental vehicle.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:07 AM on June 24, 2021

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