June 22, 2021

Gp Delivers

The excellent automotive artisans

Vacation savings: How to find the best rental car deals amid skyrocketing, post-pandemic prices – That’s Rich!

CLEVELAND, Ohio – If you haven’t checked on the price of a rental car lately, you might be in for some serious sticker shock. Prices in many markets are up, way up, the product of surging demand and a supply that shrunk as rental companies sold off big chunks of their fleets last year.

But that doesn’t mean you should stop searching for a good deal.

I found that it can still be easy to lower the car portion of your vacation budget with some regular checking. By regular, I mean at least daily, if not multiple times a day, until you’re comfortable you’ve settled in on the low end.

Prices fluctuate like a crazy day on the stock market.

The good thing is that unlike airline tickets, canceling one reservation and replacing it with another is fairly easy. A lot of rental car deals come with no cancellation penalties right up to the time of the rental.

Maybe you give up a few bucks by not locking in and paying in advance, but you maintain flexibility.

Consider my circumstances in securing a 10-day rental in and out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, for June.

After a lot of searching, the best deal came by using my AAA membership, in part because of some added benefits. So I reserved a midsize car for $780, including taxes, for 10 days – way more than I originally anticipated but what turned out to be a good price in the current market.

That reservation for a Thrifty rental through AAA was made at just after 11 p.m. on May 14.

Then, I continued to check. Often the prices were higher. But about 12 hours later, the price dropped. So I modified my reservation to $765, a modest change but a savings. It was hassle-free. Basically one click to confirm the change.

Up and down the rates continued, until I had the chance to save a few more bucks, modifying to a new rate of $748 on May 16 at about 11 a.m.

Not done yet, I spotted another dip, locking in $734 that night, at about 9 p.m. Remember, all this was done by checking the same website and submitting requests for modifications.

Was it worth all that checking to save $46? Maybe not, in some people’s eyes. But in watching the changes, I gained appreciation for how quickly the prices change. At several points during my search, the same rental would have cost north of $800.

Meanwhile, I also signed up for Thrifty’s free customer loyalty plan as a “Blue Chip member.”

In initially checking Blue Chip rates, they were higher than what I had through AAA. But that eventually changed. The size of car I had reserved through AAA became available through Thrifty’s Blue Chip member site for $689, including taxes – $111 below my initial reservation.

It looks like I secured the price just in time.

By early this month, searches for cars through Thrifty and its sister company, Hertz, began showing up as not available – sold out – for my dates in Albuquerque. And it became difficult to find similar cars from other national outlets for under $900.

Lesson learned.

Shop early. Check back often.

What I stumbled across in planning my first extended trip since before the pandemic, the pros already know.

“Rental car rates are really volatile,” says Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of the consumer rental car price shopping website autoslash.com. “It has to do with supply and demand. It has to do with competition. It has to do with how many cars they have available.”

Weinberg, during a telephone interview from his New York City office, explained that computers are at work trying to find the best price points for the rental car companies just like consumers are trying to find the best deals for themselves.

“If you are the lowest priced provider in the market, the water will continue to flow,” Weinberg says, likening the flow of business to the flow of water taking the easiest route. “As soon as someone underprices you by a dollar, the water turns off.”

His advice pretty much echoes my experience.

* No. 1 – Book a pay-later rate for a reservation that can be canceled.

* No. 2 – Take advantage of whatever discounts you have available, whether it be AAA, Costco, through a credit card or anything else.

* No. 3 – Keep shopping for a better deal.

* No. 4 – Join the free rental agency loyalty programs.

This summer’s market will be especially challenging for travelers, he noted. In parts of Alaska and Hawaii, no rentals were left for the entire summer when we talked, Weinberg said. And peak periods will be difficult elsewhere. This started over Presidents Day weekend in February, when several locations in Florida were sold out, he noted.

Rental car companies sold much of their fleets when business was down during the pandemic and then have found it difficult to replenish amid a shortage of new cars. Some companies, for the first time, resorted to buying used cars to build up their fleets, Weinberg explained.

If you want a good deal but don’t have the patience to track the changing prices, consider seeking help. One option is Weinberg’s autoslash.com. At no charge to you, you can plug in your trip details, check off special discounts available to you such as Discover, MasterCard, AAA, AARP, United Mileage Plus or others, and submit.

I tried it and within minutes received an email back informing me of a range of options. The best price was what I had found elsewhere, but with fewer clicks.

This past week I checked again for my vacation dates: autoslash.com said the best rate was $946 – almost $300 more than I’ll pay from the reservation I secured just a few weeks ago.

That serves another reminder. Check early and often if you’re even considering a vacation this year. With a free cancellation reservation, there’s no risk.

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