Laura Begley Bloom Senior Contributor
Remember the good old pre-pandemic days, when you could plan a trip somewhere, then show up at the airport car-rental counter upon arrival and find a cheap last-minute vehicle for your trip? Or even during the pandemic, when there was a virtual fire sale on rental cars? Those days are gone.
Welcome to 2021, when a last-minute car rental might cost you $700 a day for a lowly SUV. And yes, that actually happened. According to Jonathan Weinberg, CEO and founder of car-rental site AutoSlash, that was the lowest price a customer could find for a trip this coming weekend in Arizona. Spoiler alert: They didn’t rent the SUV. “I think there was a bit of sticker shock,” says Weinberg, whose company specializes in getting the best possible deals on rental cars and tracking prices in case they drop.
But even deal wizards like AutoSlash can only make so much magic. According to Weinberg, the U.S. is experiencing a major rental car shortage that has been driven by the pandemic, which walloped this sector. “It all started with Covid, going back a year,” explains Weinberg. “The rental car companies were forced to go into survival mode and they sold off as many vehicles as they possibly could.” On top of that, 2020 witnessed major companies like Hertz (which also owns the Dollar and Thrifty car rental brands) and Advantage Rent A Car declaring bankruptcy, plus Europcar entering a restructuring.