Last Updated on March 29, 2021 by Chris
Throughout most of the Covid-19 pandemic, car rentals were dirt cheap. But those days are long gone. There’s a car rental apocalypse on the horizon, and booking too late can backfire in the worst way. Here’s how to avoid a last-minute car rental this summer.
Dos and Don’ts for Avoiding a Last-Minute Car Rental
Do book your car as soon as you’re thinking of a trip.
In an ideal world, you should book a rental car as far in advance as possible. These days, it’s smart to aim for at least a month ahead. The U.S. has a rental car shortage right now, and the earlier you book, the more likely you are to find vehicle availability. Booking early also allows time for AutoSlash to track your car rental reservation and watch for an even better deal. In these volatile times, be sure to book the “Pay Later” rate so you won’t be charged until you pick up the car.
Don’t walk up to the counter without a reservation.
Walk-up rates are rarely going to be a good deal, but nowadays you are likely to be shut out of a car altogether—or, if there are cars available, you could end up paying an exorbitant nosebleed rate.
Online rates are typically set by number crunchers whose sole job is to make sure rates are competitive. Walk-up rates, on the other hand, are typically set each day by the rental office’s local managers. They don’t spend nearly as much effort on being competitive and, unless they’re nearly sold out, typically choose a middle-of-the-road rate that is usually higher than what the reservations department has set. Even if you book online just a few minutes before showing up at the counter, you’ll almost certainly get a better rate than if you arrive without a reservation.
Do use AutoSlash to help you find discounts and availability.
Don’t waste valuable time searching for coupons and discounts yourself. Instead, request a quote from AutoSlash and you’ll receive a selection of deals, generally within 15 minutes. We have access to over a thousand coupon and discount codes that can knock anywhere from 10 to 50 percent off the walk-up rate—and sometimes even more.
Do check both airport and off-airport locations.
Since supply is so restricted these days, it’s worth checking rentals both at the airport and off-airport locations. Local neighborhood offices with small parking lots often don’t keep a lot of cars in inventory, so rates can be sky high or cars might be sold out completely. Conversely, if you’re flying into an airport and can’t find a good rate, try neighborhood offices near the airport. These locations tend to cater to a different market and often offer lower rates—and lower taxes, too. In many cases, renting off-airport is much cheaper even after paying for an Uber or taxi from the airport.
Don’t panic if everything is sold out online.
Here’s another reason to request a quote from AutoSlash: If our system doesn’t find any results, our team gets an alert and we’ll take an extra look at your request with the aim to find you something that will work. Sometimes a slight adjustment to the time, car size, or location can reveal options that were hidden.
Don’t feel pressured to buy insurance on the spot.
Take the time to research your insurance coverage. Keep in mind that rental agents work on commission, so they’re going to recommend that you buy insurance from them. Just know that if you live in the U.S., have a mid-status credit card and own a car that’s covered with an automobile insurance policy, you’re almost certainly already covered for a rental car. Need some additional protection? AutoSlash has partnered with Sure to offer deeply discounted collision coverage—and you can even buy a policy the same day.
Check walk-up rates only as a last resort.
If there really isn’t anything available online, you can always try walking up to the counter—but again, this hail-Mary strategy is likely to flop as long as there is a rental car shortage.
Still, if there happens to be a no-show, you could get lucky. Many rental companies compensate their employees for walk-up rentals, so the person behind the counter may be highly motivated to get you into a car. Agents often have some flexibility on the rates, so try not to look too desperate or eager. Just politely ask what is their best rate—which signals to the agent that money is an object for you. When you hear the rate, feel free to try to negotiate or ask if there are any discounts available.
Conversely, if you are truly desperate and willing to pay through the nose, tell the agent you want the collision coverage with your rental. Most rental agents work on commission, and insurance is one of the biggest opportunities for bonuses. Letting an agent know that you want insurance is as good as waving a fistful of cash in front of him or her.
Do stand your ground if you have a confirmed reservation.
It doesn’t matter whether you booked your rental car three weeks or three months ahead: a confirmed reservation is guaranteed, and major rental brands have official statements to back that up. If you have a reservation and the rental office tells you it has no vehicles for you, it’s on them to find a solution, which might be:
- upgrading you to a larger vehicle at no additional cost
- locating a replacement rental from another agency and reimbursing any difference in rate
- covering your transportation to your hotel and getting you into a vehicle later that evening or the next morning
- putting you in a smaller vehicle for now and arranging to switch you into your reserved class (or larger) later when it becomes available
In all of these cases, you should expect additional compensation to cover the inconvenience caused by their failure to honor what they promised in your reservation.
If the office is unable to find a solution in a timely fashion, request a commitment in writing that the company will cover the difference if you have to rent elsewhere at a higher rate.
Need a car? Whether it’s one week or six months from now, AutoSlash finds better rates than you’ll see anywhere else.