Car bookings

The best ways to avoid a car rental nightmare while on vacation

Revealed: The best ways to avoid a holiday car rental nightmare, from joining loyalty programs to trusted brands to book with

  • Sign up for a rental company loyalty program to get priority car rental
  • Book with a trusted brand like Trailfinders, Travel Counselors or Hays Travel
  • Check the flexible conditions so that reservations can be canceled free of charge if necessary

Each week, our holiday hero, Neil Simpson, takes an in-depth look at a brilliant holiday topic, doing all the groundwork so you don’t have to. This week: how to avoid a car rental crisis.

Book now and box smart to avoid a car rental crisis this summer. That’s the message from travel experts who fear rental costs will skyrocket and availability will plummet as summer approaches.

“Soaring car rental prices are set to hit holiday budgets hard wherever you go this year,” says Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel Guide. In the worst-case scenario, he says, some areas may run out of cars altogether.

Rocky road: Travel experts expect car rental prices to skyrocket as summer approaches

The current cost and availability crisis began in 2020 when the travel industry shut down and rental companies started selling cars to survive. Industry estimates indicate that U.S. rental companies sold a third of their cars in the first year of the pandemic, while European firms cut their fleets by more than half.

But while demand from holidaymakers has picked up, rental companies are a long way from rebuilding their fleets (they say it’s due to supply chain issues). They also charge exorbitant prices for car rental.

A two-week summer rental from Palma Airport in Mallorca that cost around £200 before the pandemic is now on offer for over £700, for example. A ten-day rental from Los Angeles Airport, ideal for driving the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco and back, has gone from under £500 in August 2019 to over £1,250 this year.

Prices are just as high from Faro to Florida, and are expected to continue rising until at least the end of summer. Booking early can alleviate the situation, as even today’s prices can look like bargains by the time the school holidays arrive.

Another tip is to pay in full when booking. Indeed, rental companies can take reservations now for the cars they hope to have delivered in the next few months. If vehicles do not materialize and some rentals need to be cancelled, customers who have prepaid in full should be given priority over those with “cash on pickup” contracts.

Members of rental company loyalty programs should also be given priority. It’s free to join, and with Avis Preferred and others, you earn coupons for future rentals. This can normally be done even if the booking is made through a travel agency.

A two-week summer charter from Palma Airport in Mallorca (pictured) that cost around £200 before the pandemic is now on offer for upwards of £700

A two-week summer charter from Palma Airport in Mallorca (pictured) that cost around £200 before the pandemic is now on offer for upwards of £700

If cars are in short supply this summer, it’s also worth responding to any “digital check-in” or “quick getaway pre-registration” emails from your rental company.

Recent holidaymakers say pre-registration takes time, as you may need to repeat the flight, driver’s license, passport and other details you provided when booking. But the more you do to make sure rental companies know you’re coming, the more likely you are to get a car.

Some say booking directly with a car rental company makes sense this year because you won’t have to deal with middlemen if something goes wrong.

Rental companies now keep vehicles for twice as long, especially in popular US destinations like Las Vegas, so don't expect that new-car smell.

Don’t expect that new-car smell, especially in popular US destinations like Las Vegas, as rental companies now keep vehicles for twice as long.

Others like to have a trusted UK-based brand in their corner. Companies such as Trailfinders, Travel Counsellors, Hays Travel, Jet2 Holidays, British Airways Holidays and Kuoni score well in the latest Which? vacation package service standards report for flights, hotels and rental cars.

Whichever way you book, check the flexible terms so they can be canceled free of charge if you can’t travel.

And don’t expect that new-car smell, especially in popular US destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando. Rental companies that once sold cars before they had 50,000 miles on the odometer are now keeping them twice as long.

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