Although we're no longer seeing headlines blaring "Rental Car Apocalypse!", should holiday travelers still be worried about rental car prices?
Rental cars remain in short supply because of low inventory at the agencies, compounded by a backlog of factory production of new vehicles.
"I liken right now to the calm before the storm," says Jonathan Weinberg, of the car rental website AutoSlash. "Prices have returned to the pre-pandemic normal because demand is currently so low. But the supply [of rental cars] hasn’t gotten any better since this summer, when prices spiked, so I expect them to spike again over the holidays."
What does that mean in terms of cold, hard numbers?
Weinberg notes that at the peak of summer, the national average for rental cars was well over $100 per day. For reservations over Thanksgiving and during the Christmas/New Year's period, Weinberg is now seeing advance prices at $80 to $100 per day, or double the range seen over those holidays in 2019.
He warns that people who don’t book in advance will pay even more.
"I would think [rentals will cost] well over $100 for anyone booking under three weeks out,” say Weinberg. "They’ll either pay $100 or more—or not find anything. This is particularly true for the larger vehicles, since there are far less of those. If you need to fit more than five people in the car, your choices are going to be very limited."
Rentals in Hawaii are especially problematic. Prices never dropped after the summer there, thanks to acute shortages.
And the supply issue isn't confined to the United States. Travelers considering international trips should also book their rental cars as soon as possible.
So give yourself a gift this holiday season by either reserving now or choosing a destination where you can rely on public transportation.