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So, buying a last-minute flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Orlando (MCO) in late April to watch an annual hang-gliding competition in Groveland, Florida—a trip the paraglider planned to take with friends flying and – it was nothing out of the ordinary. What was unusual, however, were the rental car rates Salamone found when she went to browse prices online for her three-night trip.
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She immediately called a friend with a talent for solving travel problems for advice, but they came up short. But a solution came to him when he was going for a walk.
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Salamone told TPG he found a cargo van at a U-Haul pickup site near the Orlando airport for $19.95 a day, plus an additional $10 in mileage over the course of his trip.
The entire rental cost her under $100—and she saved a lot more because she was able to forgo a hotel and sleep in the van during the event, thanks to friends in Florida who had an air mattress and pillows. book. Salamone said they even bought him a magnetic screen from ACE Hardware to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
A delayed flight meant Salamone landed at the Orlando airport late in the evening, so no one was working at the off-site U-Haul office when he arrived. Also, the U-Haul app wasn’t working for her to pick up the van.
But even though he didn’t get access to the U-Haul until the next day, Salamone told TPG he still considers the experience a success.
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“It was clean and it was super comfortable,” she said of the van. “For less than $100, I had a hotel and a car for my trip.”
With travel returning to many domestic and even some international destinations, tight rental car inventory and rising prices make finding a rental car difficult and expensive right now. Travelers everywhere have taken to calling the current situation carmageddon (among other… more creative terms).
A late April search on Orbitz for car rentals in the Florida cities of Tampa and Key West showed prices around $500 per week for May dates. In Honolulu, car rentals were priced at over $1,000 per week for the same dates. CNN recently reported rental car rates in Maui totaling $722 per day.
While not all parts of the country are experiencing this problem (for example, car rentals in Aspen, Colorado were priced around $250 per week on Orbitz for the same week in early May), travelers should be aware that renting a car right now might come with sticker shock — if you even manage to get a vehicle.
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The Travel Pro Show’s Andrew Lock says he defaulted to renting a U-Haul when he found Las Vegas car rentals skyrocketing for his mid-April trip from London. Lock, who rents a car about once a month on his travels and usually books directly through Hertz, told TPG that he has a pretty good handle on the typical prices in Las Vegas for car rentals.
“It’s usually about $40 a day, but I’ve seen rates of about $150 a day, even on sites like AutoSlash and Costco,” he said, referring to aggregator sites known for good rates.
Faced with this high price, he turned to U-Haul hoping it would be cheaper. Lock calculated how many miles he would have to drive through Las Vegas during his five-day work trip (about 100 miles) and took out U-Haul’s $40 insurance. He told TPG it was a no-brainer to rent a U-Haul rather than a traditional rental car.
“For what it would have cost me for a day’s rental, I got U-Haul for the whole time.” https://bluedove.net/
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He chose a cargo van, one of U-Haul’s smallest rental options. According to Lock, the U-Haul van was comparable to driving a large SUV, including parking. But Lock cautioned other travelers to confirm what you’re getting with U-Haul when you book so you don’t risk upgrading to something much bigger if there’s no inventory.
Turo — a car-sharing service that has been dubbed the “Airbnb of rental cars” — is another alternative to traditional car rental companies that has become popular in light of recent car rental issues.
With inventory in every market in the US, as well as Canada and the UK, the Turo app acts as an online marketplace where car owners can rent out their personal cars to people who need them. Prices are often much cheaper than what you’ll find through a rental car company—a recent search showed rates as low as $23 a day for a Fiat in Los Angeles and $30 a day for a Prius in Maui, Hawaii.
Turo is also susceptible to stockouts, though, which happened to Cindy Rich of Orem, Utah, during an April trip to Orlando.
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She and her husband changed their flights at the last minute to arrive a day early. They went to rebook the car reservation they had made a few weeks ago with Thrifty, but there was no availability. They turned to Turo as a backup plan, but Rich said there were no cars available through the app either.
“My husband had the brilliant idea to rent a Home Depot truck,” Rich said, adding that he had done it on a previous trip to Colorado. The couple drove to the nearest Home Depot and got the last rental truck in stock—a Ford 250 utility truck—for $130 a day.
“But I can’t imagine what we would have done if my little daughter had been with us. Home Depot trucks are not car seat friendly.”
Travelers lined up for car rentals at MCO. (Photo courtesy of Cindy Rich for The Points Guy)
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If you’re planning an upcoming trip that requires car rentals and find the prices too high for your budget, here are some tips and tricks to help you find an alternative:
1. Home improvement companies such as Home Depot and Lowes often rent vans which may be a cheaper option than rental cars in some markets. Note, however, that these trucks may not be suitable for families if you’re traveling with small children who require car seats.
2. If you see high rates for certain rental dates, try extending your booking window for a longer trip to see if the daily price drops, Lock advised. Often, rental car companies will allow you to return a car earlier than you reserved without penalty – and in some cases they may even refund the days not rented.
3. Be sure to also check car rental rates closer to your trip, as they may drop closer to your actual travel dates.
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4. For trips between Florida and the Washington, D.C. area, look into Amtrak’s car train to see if it might be a better deal to bring your own vehicle with you. The daily service covers nearly 900 miles (17.5 hours) along the East Coast between the Washington, D.C. areas. and Orlando.
5. Check out car dealers like Nissan and Toyota that offer weekend “try before you buy” or car rental deals. This is another option that may be cheaper than traditional rental companies at this time.
6. Finally, check aggregators like Costco and AutoSlash for deals. Be sure to tap into your AAA and AARP memberships as well.
Terry Ward is a freelance writer from Florida who travels the world with her two young children while contributing to The Points Guy Family, among many other outlets. She has lived in France and New Zealand and has a particular passion for Norway. terry-ward.com
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Editorial Note: The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, not of any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. I moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona—2,150 miles—in a U-Haul and learned a lot of lessons along the way. Learn from my mistakes!
If you’re planning a long-haul trip with a U-Haul, I have some tips learned from our trip from Pittsburgh, PA to Tucson, AZ (about 2,150 miles one-way).
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