Rental Car Companies Reeling From Uptick in Travelers

Jason R. Sakurai
by Jason R. Sakurai
rental car companies reeling from uptick in travelers

Rental car companies are their own worst enemies, having sold off much of their fleets during the pandemic’s height. With travel restrictions easing in many places they find themselves with no inventory.

Consolidation is another aspect that hasn’t helped whatsoever. There’s Enterprise Holdings, which is Enterprise, National, and Alamo. Hertz and Advantage are one. Avis and Budget are another group, as is Dollar and Thrifty. In some places, you’ll find Sixt, a German mobility service provider. Other than that, there’s maybe a few regional players. The point here is that in many locations, they’ll rent you the same vehicle under one brand or another. This reduces the total number of cars they need, if demand is up at Budget, but not so at Avis because they’re generally more expensive. The same goes for Hertz, which is usually the highest-priced.

Last October, I went to Phoenix for a business meeting. While there were few passengers on board the plane, it was a different story on the ground in Phoenix. With fewer restrictions in that state, it appeared to be pretty much business as usual. The big change was instead of thousands of rental cars in this mammoth holding area that all the rental companies use, there were hundreds. Empty parking spots in the multi-tiered lot outnumbered those with vehicles waiting. All of them were rented, and anyone waiting at the airport for a vehicle was going to be there a long time.

What happened in Phoenix then has spread to other areas of the country. Friends vacationing in Florida said that they are using Uber because there were no cars to be had in Orlando, and they hadn’t planned ahead. A story today by only confirmed what I knew already. Prices in some areas are $700 a day, higher than they are for airfare and hotels.

Planning ahead is the only way to avoid these horrendous rental charges. Heading to a tourist hot spot? If you don’t have a reservation, try finding a local agency within a short distance away from the airport. Some local agencies will pick you up and drop you off at the airport, saving you a taxi ride. No, they may not have the same selection of vehicles, but wheels are wheels, right?

[Images: © 2021 J. Sakurai/TTAC]

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  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Apr 18, 2021

    My family, located in CA, WA, and two different parts of TX, usually reunites somewhere in the Rockies for the summer. This year, it's in Utah. The CA and WA groups will drive, but we're already having to worry about this for the two Texas contingents (one of which is big enough that it needs a van or large SUV). Current rates are around $2000 for the week; that won't fly, so we'll have to do something else.

  • Jmo Jmo on Apr 19, 2021

    "If you don’t have a reservation" Just an FYI a car rental reservation doesn't mean all that much. You can and will get to the counter and they will say, "Sorry, we don't have any cars." "But I have a reservation!" "I don't know what to tell you, sir. We don't have any cars." And unlike airlines or hotels that bump/walk you and offer a financial incentive. Car rental companies don't.

  • Dawn Maple They haven't even fixed the airbag issues and recalls completely, so why waste more time and money on another "safety feature" that removes choices from the driver? We would be safer getting in a car driven by Helen Keller. Oh wait with driver assist, all she has to do is find her car and turn it on.
  • Lorenzo I'm out. I'd never find it in the dark.
  • VoGhost Minivans don't sell well, and the market has been declining. And while the entire 'range anxiety' myth is mostly a big oil propaganda designed to scare the weak minded, minivans are often how families travel to grandma's house, so that will be a concern, unless VW can gain access to the Supercharger network. I could see 50K units at peak, declining to 25K/year after a couple of years, unless VW can price competitively with Tesla.
  • VoGhost Glad you're healthy, Tim
  • VoGhost 20 years ago, Sportage was the bottom of the barrel, a joke. Kia's come a long way.