These car rental alternatives will get you there this summer
When Ginger Moore planned a long weekend in Chicago recently, she didn’t expect to get broadsided with a $550 car rental bill.
But that’s how much the rental companies charged her for four days in a compact vehicle, more than twice what she had paid for her flight from Phoenix to Midway.
“Is this any way to get America traveling again?,” asks Moore, a retired travel agent from Deltona, Fla.
Probably not. Amid this summer’s car rental shortage — or “carpocalypse” as some insiders have started calling it — renters such as Moore have begun to wonder if there are any alternatives to renting a car.
There are. They range from car-sharing options to strategies for renting a car for less — and include a few tried-and-true choices many travelers don’t consider but should.
“The supply of cars dropped tremendously due to car rental companies having to sell them off to cut costs,” explains Sridhar Tayur, professor of operations management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “The demand for rentals increased because of vaccinations and other conditions conducive to travel. Adding new cars to the fleet is hard because of a chip shortage restricting car production.”
One of the most high-profile new entrants is Avail, a peer-to-peer car-sharing service backed by Allstate Insurance. Avail sets itself apart from such competitors as Turo and Getaround by addressing major car-sharing turnoffs: choosing insurance and dealing with owners.
“People express reservations about the inconveniences that can go along with car sharing,” explains Mike Osborn, Avail’s CEO. “We take on these hassles so borrowers and owners don’t have to worry about meeting up to exchange keys or determining whether they need insurance.”
The company handles the exchange of keys with the owner, cleans the interior and exterior, and includes insurance. Other car-sharing services require owners to handle these tasks themselves.
Avail is also growing quickly. It currently operates in 13 U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami, with plans to open more locations this summer. Prices are generally 20 percent below car rental rates. The vehicle classes are comparable to what standard rental car companies offer. The rental transaction is also handled almost entirely through the Avail app, so there is no paperwork to sign and, best of all, no upsells.
Uber Rent launched this spring and is now available nationwide. On a one-week rental in Los Angeles, I saved about $50 through Uber Rent as compared to renting through Expedia. The site also offers a 10 percent rebate in the form of Uber Cash vouchers. Uber Rent makes renting a car more convenient, but it doesn’t necessarily reduce the cost or guarantee you will avoid a car rental shortage at the airport.
Still want to go with a traditional rental? “Travelers need to reserve as far in advance as possible,” advises Jay Ellenby, president of Safe Harbors Business Travel, a Travel Leaders Network member agency. Corporate travelers should book at least 14 days in advance, and vacation travelers should book 30 days in advance, at a minimum. And be prepared to shell out anywhere from 25 to 50 percent above normal rates, and even more in some markets, he warns.
Moore’s solution was to shop around for a better deal. She saved $100 on the Chicago rental by clicking on AutoSlash, a popular car rental website that finds coupon codes for rentals and tracks price changes. It is a strategy that has served many travelers well during the shortage: Instead of renting a vehicle from a car rental company, they’re going to a third party such as AutoSlash to find a deeper discount. AutoSlash can save about 30 percent off the regular rate.
Travelers often overlook alternate car-rental options, says Mark Mannell, CEO of CarRentalSavers.com. For example, smaller, lesser-known car rental agencies such as Fox Rent A Car and Sixt Rent A Car often have lower prices and better availability. And they may not be the only ones renting cars.
“Check car dealerships,” he adds. “Nissan, Toyota, Subaru, Audi and others have rental car programs.” Note, though, that they may not be available in your area and may have mileage restrictions. But for longer rentals, they may offer a lower rate than a traditional car rental.
Getting around this summer may require some outside-the-box thinking. When Andrew Lock needed wheels in Las Vegas recently, he refused to pay $150 a day for a rental car. His solution: A U-Haul cargo van, which cost only $30 a day and included insurance.
“It was a lot like driving a large SUV or minivan,” recalls Lock, who hosts an online travel show. “I had plenty of space for my shopping.”
And there are other solutions. Gary Levine, a retired corporate executive who lives in Phoenix, plans to visit Pittsburgh in July and, like Moore, he’s dealing with sticker shock.
“A five-day rental of an economy or standard car is nearly $1,000,” he says. “It’s beyond outrageous.”
Avail and Getaround don’t operate in Pittsburgh, and Turo has only a few available vehicles in out-of-the-way locations that aren’t viable for Levine. He is considering canceling his trip because he can’t find ground transportation.
The car rental shortage may affect summer vacations in unexpected ways. For the first time in recent memory, more people may choose a destination based on ground transportation options instead of making a rental car an afterthought.
“Our clients love resorts like Disney World and Universal Orlando because transportation is included, so there’s no need to rent a car,” says Jonathan de Araujo, owner of the Vacationeer Travel Agency. “Disney and Universal offer bus, boat, skyliner and monorail transportation all free for their resort guests.”
Amid an unprecedented car rental shortage, that’s what it has come to: For some summer travelers, the best car may be no car at all.
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