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Astronomical rental car prices have eased, but will they skyrocket again?

Oct 25, 2021, 6:25 PM | Updated: 9:18 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Whew! We survived it. The 2021 rental car apocalypse seems to be winding down.

After months of astronomical rates for car rentals, prices are finally falling back to Earth.

But the pandemic is not over and there is still a shortage of new cars, so why are rental prices coming back down? And will they stay there? 

If you have reserved a moving van to avoid paying an arm and leg for an economy rental car, travel expert Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights has some good news. 

“You no longer need to plan to pack the family into a U-Haul rental,” said Keyes. “You no longer have to plan to rent a pickup truck from Home Depot. You can probably go the normal route for your rental car on your next vacation.” 

Vacationers were actually renting moving trucks in Hawaii over the spring and summer as prices shot up to $1,000 to $2,000 for five-day rentals.

Rental rates were sky high all over the country as travel demand surged after taking a drastic hit when the pandemic erupted.

Travel site Hopper pegged the national average rate at $120 per day over the summer, compared to $45 before the pandemic.

Struggling rental car companies sold off hundreds of thousands of cars to stay afloat. 

“In the spring and summer of 2021, the car rental agencies were left flat-footed and had to jack up the price until they could start to replenish those fleets,” Keyes explained. 

Fast forward to today, rentals are going for normal, pre-pandemic levels, according to Keyes’ latest price check. 

“The prices were essentially how they had been pre-pandemic. Orlando, the daily rates again were $20 a day. Vegas, $36 a day, Honolulu $32, Denver $43. So, these are the types of kind of normal daily car rental prices that I think folks had come to expect pre-pandemic,” said Keyes. 

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Supply chain issues continue to hurt the car industry, with new cars rolling off the line slower than most would like. But the rental car companies have managed to slowly rebuild their fleets after selling off most of their inventory to financially survive 2020. 

“While they haven’t, I think, quite entirely replenished their fleets, there’s still certainly a shortage of demand for our supply for cars nationwide,” Keyes explained. “They’ve been able to piece-by-piece, slowly but surely, buy more cars.” 

Because of that, Keyes believes the eye-popping, wallet-gouging rates will not make a comeback when the spring and summer travel season returns. 

“It’s going to stay a little bit more stable, a little bit more predictable, and that’s going to prevent the types of wild price swings that we saw in car rental prices earlier this year,” he said. 

Keyes does expect car rental prices to go up somewhat for the holidays. 

“If you were looking to rent over the Christmas, New Year’s period, it is going to be more expensive, but that’s how it’s going to be every year,” he explained. “You can expect that all the prices of everything related to travel, tend to jump over the winter holiday period. Your best bet in many ways is actually to make that reservation today.” 

Keyes added we should keep checking rental rates, even after you have booked the car.

He recommends always booking as soon as you know your dates, so if prices drop — you can rebook the car at the cheaper rate and then cancel the old reservation. 

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Astronomical rental car prices have eased, but will they skyrocket again?