Even though Americans are back to leisure travel in full swing, there’s been challenges to overcome. One of the most frustrating aspects of vacation planning right now is the lack of reasonably-priced rental cars. Let’s break down why rental cars are so scarce and how the rental car companies are struggling to provide decent service.
My rental car reservation was canceled without warning. Why?
Most people don’t know that a rental car reservation isn’t a guarantee (there’s even a hilarious old Seinfeld episode about this very phenomenon). In pre-pandemic days, this kind of thing happened infrequently. When it did, the rental car company would usually send you to another rental car company that would honor the original reservation.
But recently, there’s been a rash of news stories where travelers show up to pick up their rental car, and they’re simply turned away. The rental car company offers a “sorry” and a full refund, but there aren’t any other cars available at the other rental companies either. Or there are cars available, but for an astronomical price.
This can leave travelers feeling like they’ve been given the bait and switch. But what’s really going on?
How the semiconductor chip shortage affects the car rental business
Yep, you guessed it. It’s the supply chain, baby. Auto manufacturing is still climbing out of the pandemic-era shortage of semiconductor chips. The rental car companies sold off parts of their fleets in the early days of the pandemic, and now that they’re trying to build them back up – the auto manufacturing business has thrown a supply chain kink into the works.
The rental car companies frequently overbook
In addition, in a normal market, the rental car companies can take more reservations that will get used. You’re not required to hold a rental car reservation with a credit card, so people sometimes make reservations that never get used – no harm no foul.
But these days, the rental car companies don’t have the inventory they used to – and every rental car company is in this same boat. So, it may not be great business practice, but some desperate travelers will take the inflated rates just so they don’t get stranded somewhere.
When will the rental car shortage let up?
Things are a lot better now than they were a year ago when travel started to bounce back. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Some optimistic rental car company executives say that we can expect this issue to be mostly resolved by fall of 2022. But that doesn’t help folks planning a trip this summer.
What can you do to lock in a good price?
Well, no guarantees, every traveler should look for your rental car while you’re shopping for flights. Renting a car shouldn’t
an afterthought, after you’ve booked the flight and hotel. We recommend looking at car rentals in tandem with shopping for flights and make sure the day rate is reasonable.
Look at off-airport locations
It may be possible to book a car at an off-airport location for a better price, but do your research. It’s important to book these locations in advance as well. On a day when the airport car rentals do not have any cars, the locations off-airport will also be quite high.