Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at a brilliant holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: how to avoid a car hire crisis.
Book now and box clever to avoid a car hire crisis this summer. That’s the message from travel experts who fear rental costs will soar and availability will slump as summer approaches.
‘Rocketing car rental prices are set to hit holiday budgets hard wherever you go this year,’ says Rory Boland, editor of the Which? Travel guide. In the worst cases, he says some areas may run out of cars completely.
Rocky road: Travel experts expect car rental prices to soar as summer approaches
Today’s cost and availability crisis began in 2020 when the travel industry shut down and rental firms began selling cars to survive. Industry estimates say American rental firms sold a third of their cars in the first year of the pandemic, while European firms cut fleets by more than half.
But while demand from holidaymakers has recovered, rental firms are a long way from rebuilding their fleets (they say it’s due to supply-chain issues). They are also charging eye-watering prices for car hire.
A two-week summertime rental from Palma airport on Majorca that cost about £200 pre-pandemic is now on offer for more than £700, for example. A ten-day rental from Los Angeles Airport, perfect to drive the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco and back, has risen from under £500 in August 2019 to more than £1,250 this year.
Prices are equally high from Faro to Florida, and they’re expected to keep rising until at least the end of the summer. Booking early can take some sting out of the situation, as even today’s prices may look like bargains by the time the school holidays arrive.
Another tip is to pay in full when you book. That’s because rental firms may be taking bookings now for cars they hope to have delivered over the next few months. If the vehicles don’t materialise and some rentals have to be cancelled, customers who pre-paid in full should get priority over those with ‘pay on collection’ contracts.
Members of rental firms’ loyalty schemes should also get priority. Signing up is free and with Avis Preferred and others, you earn money-off vouchers for future rentals. This can normally be done even if the booking is through a travel agent.
A two-week summertime rental from Palma airport on Majorca (pictured) that cost about £200 pre-pandemic is now on offer for more than £700
If cars are scarce this summer, it’s also worth responding to any ‘digital check-in’ or ‘pre-register for a speedy getaway’ emails from your rental firm.
Recent holidaymakers say pre-registration takes time, as you may need to repeat the flight, driving licence, passport and other details you gave at the booking stage. But the more you do to ensure rental firms know you’re coming, the more likely you are to get a car.
Some say booking direct with a car hire firm makes sense this year as you won’t have to deal with middle-men if there’s a problem.
Don’t expect that new-car smell, especially in popular American destinations like Las Vegas, as rental firms are now keeping vehicles twice as long
Others like having a trusted UK-based brand in their corner. Firms such as Trailfinders, Travel Counsellors, Hays Travel, Jet2 Holidays, British Airways Holidays and Kuoni score well in the latest Which? report on package holiday service standards for flights, hotels and hire cars.
However you book, check for flexible terms so that it can be cancelled for free if you are unable to travel.
And don’t expect that new-car smell, especially in popular American destinations like Las Vegas and Orlando. Rental firms that once sold cars before they had 50,000 miles on the clock are now keeping them twice as long.