NBC4 I-Team

Car Rental Prices Spike During Pandemic, Making it Almost Impossible to Plan Vacations

On a recent trip, another I-Team producer paid $250 to rent a car for the day. She was lucky to even find one, said rental car expert Jonathan Weinberg.

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If you’re planning a long-awaited summer vacation, there could be a huge, unexpected hiccup in your plans, which could cost you a lot of money... or it might even turn your vacation upside down.

It was a long-awaited trip to see family in Durham, North Carolina, with just one snag, as an I-Team producer recently experienced: the cost to rent a car. It was nearly $100 a day.

It’s even worse in Florida. On a recent trip, another I-Team producer paid $250 to rent a car for the day. She was lucky to even find one, said rental car expert Jonathan Weinberg.

“We first noticed the problem leading into President’s Day weekend,” said Weinberg. “When we saw 18 out of 20 airports in Florida completely sold out for President’s Day weekend.”

Weinberg runs AutoSlash, a website that helps you snag the best deal on car rentals. He said inventory is extremely low, because car rental companies sold off most of their fleets when the pandemic hit. 

“That worked fine in 2020,” Weinberg said. “But as 2021 came along, people started getting vaccinated, which was great news, and people started feeling comfortable traveling again, and the demand came roaring back. And the rental car companies were just completely caught off guard.”

And that means you’ll pay the price, that is, if you can even find a rental. The I-Team looked for cars to rent this summer in popular vacation spots and came up empty. The Big Island of Hawaii, Glacier National Park and Alaska - we couldn’t find cars. We did find some to rent in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for $280 a day.

This could be why reports have surfaced that some desperate travelers are renting U-Hauls to get around instead. 

“We’re now in a situation where rental car companies have more demand than they know what to do with, and they just can’t get enough cars to satisfy that,” said Weinberg.

Weinberg said car rental companies are trying to replenish their fleets, but they’re having a tough time finding new cars to buy, thanks to that semiconductor shortage that’s slowing down auto production. He doesn’t expect inventory and pricing to return to normal until September.

“I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Weinberg said.

So what does that mean for your summer travel? You might want to rethink how you book it - secure your rental car before booking your flight and hotel. Because what good is a vacation if you don’t have wheels to get around?

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