HOUSTON - If you're planning to travel this summer, you may end up paying hundreds of dollars a day for a rental car, if you're lucky to find one at all. A rental car shortage is driving up prices.
Airlines say domestic flight bookings are up 150% to 400% over this time two years ago as people are getting vaccinated and want to spread their wings.
"We were really struggling to find cars for customers," said Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of AutoSlash.
The struggle is real for travelers looking for rental cars, especially in popular destinations, including Hawaii, Florida, and Montana.
"President's Day, Valentine's Day weekend, we saw 18 of the 20 airports in Florida completely sold out. And where you could get a rental, rates were spiking to $300, $400, $500 per day," said Weinberg.
When the pandemic slowed down travel, car rental companies sold off much of their fleets to stay afloat. Now they're struggling to buy new cars due to the semiconductor shortage that has slowed car manufacturing.
That means the more popular the travel destination, the fewer rental cars available.
"Prices in Hawaii are astronomical. We've seen rates of over $500 a day in some cases," said Weinberg. "Las Vegas, Phoenix, Austin. The Glacier National Park airport is completely sold out for the entire summer."
So what can you do?
Experts say book as early as possible. Many travelers are turning to travel agencies and services, such as Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia, AAA, AARP, and Costco, that search many rental companies at once.
AutoSlash is a free service that applies coupons and discounts for you to find the lowest price, and then updates you if the price drops.
"We'll keep re-checking the price every day. If we find a better deal, we'll email you so you can cancel your reservation and rebook," said Weinberg.
Travelers can also consider using ride-sharing car rental services, such as Avail, Turo, or ZipCars, or renting an RV. Or fly to a nearby, less popular airport where you can rent a car and drive to your destination.
You can also use Google maps to find neighborhood rental car locations near your hotel rather than at the airport.
And consider using Uber, Lyft, taxi's, bike sharing, or public transportation.