Last Updated on November 1, 2023 by Nico

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You step off of your flight and arrive at the rental counter, only to find out that the rental desk is sold out. During the pandemic, this phenomenon of rental car scarcity has been occurring more often. The good news is there are tried-and-true strategies you can use when rental cars are sold out.

Widen Your Search

Airport rental desks are particularly susceptible to sell-outs due to chronically high demand from busy travelers. If you’re hit with a “sold out” message, expand your search to nearby neighborhood rental branches that may be a short cab ride away. The same logic applies for if you find yourself stranded at an airport branch. Though you might have to shell out for an Uber and it might throw a wrench into your schedule, widening your search increases the supply of available rentals and will get you going faster than if you waited for a chance cancellation or early return.

Ask AutoSlash for a Quote on a Cheap Car Rental

Quick Tip: AutoSlash will search for nearby locations automatically. Occasionally you may ask us for a quote for an airport rental and the results will come back empty. If that happens, we’ll automatically canvas adjacent neighborhoods to see if we can find you something in a jiffy.

If You Do Have A Reservation, Don’t Touch It

Your reservation represents an obligation that a rental company has to fulfill. If you are left scrambling when a rental company branch is sold out, the last thing you should do is cancel your reservation. Cancelling solves the rental company’s problem and makes your situation no longer one they need to deal with.

Instead, leverage your options and hold the rental company accountable. Here are a few strategies to use in a sticky situation:

  • Free Upgrades: If there are larger or more luxurious cars available than the one you reserved, negotiate to snag an upgrade at no additional cost.
  • Cover Interim Travel: If the manager expects to have a car for you within a few hours, get them to pay for a ride to and from your lodging so that you can check in and get settled.
  • Pay The Difference: Does another rental company in the vicinity have cars available? Get your rental car company to pay the differential cost to switch to a competitor.
  • Get A Discount: No matter how things shake out, you’re on firm ground to get a discount. Don’t be shy about laying out the facts and asking for some money back in your pocket.

Quick Tip: Reaching out to a rental car company on Twitter or another social media channel can be an effective way to get fast, effective help. Social media administrators deal with customer issues on a daily basis. It’s a time-efficient way to get on a company’s radar, timestamped and in writing.

Leverage Elite Status

Most rental car companies have a loyalty program that confers “elite” status to its most frequent and committed customers. A perk in some programs is guaranteed rental availability for cars booked within a certain time frame. What does this mean? Even if a rental desk is technically “sold out,” they must supply you with a car if you reserved in advance.

Let AutoSlash Track Your Car Rental for Price Drops

For example, National’s Executive Elite status guarantees an upgrade if you book a mid-sized vehicle at least 24 hours in advance. Hertz’s Presidential Circle has a similar perk. This won’t work for a last-minute reservation, but it’s good to know about if you have a reservation and get told the lot is sold out.

Unfortunately, you might end up paying a steep rate if there are relatively few cars available. The laws of supply and demand still apply here, but at least you should be able to land a car.