Car rental shortage affecting summer travel plans and budgets

As more Americans make plans to travel this summer, the usually cheaper option of driving may actually turn out to be more expensive because of a car rental shortage.

"So, the current situation is pretty unprecedented," said Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of the website autoslash.com, which is dedicated to helping consumers get the best deals on car rentals.

He explains that many of the major car rental companies quickly sold off a large portion of their fleet due to the drop in business during the pandemic. For some, the move was made to keep their companies afloat during the hard financial times of last year.

"The rental car companies basically went into survival mode," Weinberg said. "Their business was down about 90% and they had to sell off as many cars as they could."

So what does this mean for the consumer?

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Rental cars in certain locations, mostly leisure destinations, are becoming harder to find and are much more expensive.

"The demand came roaring back, and the rental car companies didn't have enough vehicles to satisfy the demand. We saw it most significantly in leisure destinations like Florida, Phoenix and Hawaii," Weinberg said.

The advice for travelers looking to rent a car is to book ahead as much as possible, at least a month. Those looking a week or a few days ahead will most likely not find anything.

Also, be sure to budget more money for the rental due to higher prices.

Autoslash.com assists customers on their website by searching for discount and coupon codes, as well as using price monitoring to alert customers of cheaper prices.

Weinberg explains his agents have some hacks on how they manage to find cars in locations that show they're "sold out."

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"We will go and say, 'Let's add a few days to the rental and see if we can find availability where none existed before,'" he said.

Rental companies will prioritize booking cars for longer reservations, because that means more money.

To work around that, Weinberg says to book the car for the longer period, but return it early and be sure to research if you can get your money back for the days you didn't use.

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