Tips to take the sting out of 50% higher rental car prices – The Washington Post | Vette Leader

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When creating your travel budget, don’t assume that your biggest expenses will be accommodation and airfare. More than ever, rental cars are becoming one of the biggest — and stubbornly high — aspects of people’s vacation budgets.

While airfare and accommodation prices are certainly near all-time highs, car rentals are among the biggest price hikes of any travel expense. Comparing prices for July 2022 to July 2019 (the last normal summer before the pandemic), hotel prices are up 7% according to the latest CPI data released in August 2022. Air fares have increased by 16%. But rental cars are up a whopping 48%.

WHEN WERE CAR RENTAL PRICES SO HIGH?

Like most travel expenses, car rental prices fell sharply in April and May 2020 as people began canceling vacations to stay at home. But things started to turn around in early 2021 as prices started increasing each month, building to a record high in July 2021.

Road travel has been particularly hot this summer (hence high demand), but other factors – including a global shortage of semiconductors and labor shortages in the tourism industry – contributed to low supply. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector remains 7.8% below pre-pandemic levels, according to an analysis of data from the US Travel Association’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Prices are down slightly from the July 2021 record, but are still well above pre-pandemic prices.

HOW TO FIND CHEAP CAR RENTAL

NerdWallet conducted an analysis of 360 rental car reservations to better understand the cheapest rental options. Some of the results can help you save on your next rental car.

Among the rental car companies in the analysis, Enterprise is typically the cheapest, while National is the most expensive. The analysis also revealed that last-minute rentals are typically cheaper than those booked months in advance. And you almost always save when you book from an off-site rental location rather than at the airport.

Knowing this can help you better understand the cheapest places to book, but sometimes booking from a specific place or company is non-negotiable due to the nature of your trip. These other tricks can still help you save:

— USE TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS: Some travel credit cards offer rental car insurance as part of their benefits, although they may exclude certain types of expensive cars or rental cars in some countries. However, if it is applicable, it can save you money on the extra insurance you might otherwise have purchased at the counter.

— Join Rental Car Loyalty Programs: Benefits vary based on your elite status tier, although some tiers may include free upgrades and fee waivers. You might even get automatic status via a credit card. But even entry-level tiers with free entry can include perks like priority lines.

— BOOK NOW AND PAY AT THE COUNTER: Many rental car companies offer you the option of paying at the counter. Paying on pickup has two major advantages over paying in advance: firstly, if you need to cancel your trip, you no longer have to try to get a refund since you didn’t have any money deposited anyway. Second, if prices drop, you can always cancel and rebook at a lower rate.

HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON ROADTRIPS

Add to that the high cost of gas, and road trips might be one of the most expensive ways to travel these days. Here are some ways to cut costs.

— USE APPS TO FIND CHEAP FUEL: Apps like GasBuddy track local gas prices and can help you find the cheapest fuel stations along your route.

— CONSIDER AN ELECTRIC VEHICLE: With an electric car you completely avoid the cost of petrol. While you may still have to pay for charging, some hotels offer free electric vehicle charging as a guest benefit.

— PLAN A BUDGET-FRIENDLY ROUTE: If you are location-minded, consider driving through states with lower gas prices. In the last week of July, the three states with the lowest gas prices were Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, according to AAA data.

WHY PLAN TRIPS SHOULD START WITH CAR RENTAL PRICES

Before you get too caught up in the excitement of a road trip, make sure you can afford it. With prices so much higher than two years ago, you don’t want to be surprised. Wait until you have compared car rental prices and included them in your travel budget before booking your flights or hotels.

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by personal finance website NerdWallet. Sally French is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: sfrench@nerdwallet.com.

NerdWallet: Travel Price Tracker https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-travel-price-tracker

NerdWallet conducted an analysis of 360 rental car prices (including taxes and fees) to better understand rental car price trends. The analysis examined the price of a week-long rental from eight major rental car companies, based on the company’s cheapest car available (usually a small sedan). Data was collected for 20 regions, covering both the cost of renting at an airport location and its nearby downtown counterparts from the same company.

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