Most travelers start planning their vacations by scouring the internet for a good deal on flights. Then it’s time to spot the hotels. Booking the rental car is a boring afterthought.
But in 2021, you need to consider completely changing the order of operations in which you book your next trip.
Among the many changes in the travel industry around the coronavirus is apparently weird: now you may have to book your rental car before – or at least in tandem with – book your flight.
The wild case of Glacier National Park
Some experts warn we are on the brink of a ârental car apocalypse,â citing examples of extreme prices and sold out cars. Whether or not the apocalypse is hyperbole depends on both the person you ask and the city you are renting a car in (and for what it’s worth, many car rental companies have a lot of availability) . But overall, rental cars are typically much more in demand than in 2019. Plus, there are many instances where the supply is simply not enough to keep pace.
Consider this: NerdWallet searched in April 2021 for rental cars at each of the seven car rental companies at Glacier Park International Airport and found no availability for car rentals in July and August 2021. Good luck finding a taxi to take you from the airport at 6,600 feet above sea level to the top of Logan Pass.
” Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
What caused the shortage of rental cars in 2021?
It’s no secret that demand is on the rise in 2021 as many travelers take what could be their first vacation since the start of the pandemic.
But high demand is not the only factor at play. Due to a global semiconductor shortage hampering the production of not only cars, but also phones, refrigerators and other electronics, the supply is also lower than normal.
And with that, the auto industry has experienced a domino effect which has led to higher prices.
” Learn more: Rental car insurance explained
Why a car rental should be one of the first things you book
The Glacier Park example is certainly extreme, but it illustrates how an insanely cheap flight deal makes no sense when rental car prices are massively inflated, or worse, completely sold out.
“Don’t do what you did in the past, which is plan a trip, book your plane ticket and hotel, then book a rental car,” CEO and founder of the rental car site Auto forward slash Jonathan Weinberg tells NerdWallet. âReverse that strategy this year. First check that the rental car is available and affordable. “
Demand for rental cars has increased
Falling prices for airlines and hotels during the pandemic, and they are only slowly recovering.
Rental cars have never seen the massive drop in the prices of airline tickets and hotel rooms, probably because while interest in air travel has plummeted, interest in car travel has fallen. increases.
A national survey conducted by Cars.com in 1,000 Americans found that about 25% of spring break travelers planned to fly this year, compared to 38% of spring breakers who flew in 2019. Meanwhile, about 70% of travelers from spring break in 2021 intended to get to their destination, up from 57% in 2019.
There is usually no deposit required for a car rental
Unlike most airfare, theater tickets, and tour bookings, car rental is one of the few aspects of travel that usually doesn’t require an upfront payment. Most car rental companies require you to pay only when you collect the car.
âYou don’t really need to have a skin in the game,â Weinberg says. “There is virtually no reason not to book a rental car.”
” Learn more: Best credit cards for rental cars
What to do when rental cars run out
Just because you can’t rent a car at Glacier Park International Airport this summer doesn’t mean you can’t vacation there. Here’s how you can continue to make your trip even if the rental cars are sold out:
Plan an alternative route
It would seem more logical to fly to Glacier Park International Airport, located just 24 miles from the park entrance, but you can get creative and fly elsewhere. Missoula Montana Airport and Great Falls International Airport are approximately a two and a half hour drive from the entrance.
Not only will you more likely find a rental car available at these airports, but you may also be able to find better flight options.
Play with reservations
A rental car can be booked for the first week of July, but may be available the next. If the price of the plane ticket is the same for either week, this is a pretty clear indicator of which week you should choose to travel.
Weinberg also recommends another hack: booking a rental car longer than you actually need.
“Why would car rental companies rent to someone who only wants it for three days when they can rent to someone else willing to rent it for six days?” he says. Car rental companies may not show available cars to people trying to book short trips, even if there are cars on the lot.
If you’re desperate and don’t mind paying extra for days you don’t need a car, then paying for a longer rental might be better than having no wheels at all. And sometimes the rental companies will even give you credit for returning the car early, Weinberg says.
Check rental car locations beyond the airport
Car rental companies are usually attached to airports, but don’t overlook rental locations attached to hotels or elsewhere in the city. The location of the airport might be full, but other places nearby may have cars available. In that case, you may be able to take the free hotel shuttle or a taxi from the airport to the off-site location. Even with the cab fare, you could save money if offsite locations are cheaper.
Look for car rental alternatives like Turo and Getaround
Traditional car rental companies may be sold out, but check your options on peer-to-peer car rental platforms such as Turo or Getaround. These services tend to function as short-term vacation rentals for cars, where local owners post their own cars for hire.
Although Getaround has yet to reach the vicinity of Glacier National Park, rentals from Turo are available this summer.
” Learn more: Credit Cards That Give You Elite Car Rental Benefits
The bottom line
This year, reverse the way you plan your trip to accommodate the increased demand for rental cars. You don’t want to procrastinate by booking a rental car only to find that the cars are sold out after you’ve already booked the flight.
The article Start booking your trips backwards: get your rental car first originally appeared on NerdWallet.