With its rich whaling history, quaint Quaker architecture and 80 miles of gorgeous beaches, the tiny island of Nantucket has a deservedly oversized reputation as a summer playground. Thinking of renting a car to explore the island? At first, rental prices can seem obscenely expensive, but there are ways to bring that cost down.
If you're staying in Nantucket Town and plan to spend most of your time there, you could consider getting around on a rented bike. But if you're renting a vacation home or condo outside of town, or if you simply prefer to explore the island by car, you have a few options.
Getting to Nantucket
It's not easy to get to Nantucket, which is part of the appeal but also what drives up costs. There is just no super-cheap way to visit the island and have access to a car, even if you drive your own vehicle and then bring it on the ferry.
Your first option is to fly straight to Nantucket. Seasonal service is offered by Delta, American, United and JetBlue plus several regional airlines, such as Cape Air and Southern Airways Express. There are flights out of Boston, New York, Washington DC, Charlotte and Philadelphia, as well as other hubs in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. Flights arrive at Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK).
Alternatively, you can take a ferry from New York City, New Bedford (about an hour south of Boston) or from Hyannis or Harwich Port on Cape Cod. Only the ferry out of Hyannis carries cars as well as foot passengers.
3 Ways to Find a Cheap Rental Car for Nantucket
There are few rental car companies on Nantucket and only one major brand—Hertz—has a branch. In a nutshell, high demand combined with limited supply is what can create crazy triple-digit prices.
A basic mid-size car can cost as much as $139 per day at the height of the summer season. If you want a 4WD vehicle like a Jeep, expect to pay north of $200 per day, including an over-sand permit. If that sounds out of reach, there may be more affordable options.
If you are staying more than five days on Nantucket, you can often save money by renting a car off the island, driving to Hyannis on Cape Cod, and bringing the vehicle along with you on the ferry.
Rent a Car Near Your Home and Take the Ferry
No matter where you live, it's very likely that you can rent a car for a fraction of the daily rate on Nantucket. But then you need to factor in the cost of gas and ferry passage with a vehicle. For passage between Hyannis to Nantucket, the Steamship Authority's ferries carry cars for $460 to $550 roundtrip, depending on the length of the car and the day of the week. (Even during the winter off season, it can cost between $310 and $340.)
Rent a Car at Hyannis Airport and Take the Ferry
When planning your trip, also research flights into Barnstable Municipal Airport (HYA) in Hyannis. It may be cheaper to fly to HYA, rent a car at the airport, then take that vehicle on the ferry to the island. Four major car rental companies—Avis, Budget, Enterprise and Hertz—have branches at Barnstable Municipal Airport.
Again, the ferry fare will be at least $460, so the longer you stay on the island, the better the value.
Rent a Car in Hyannis and Take the Ferry
Yet another option is to fly into Barnstable Municipal Airport (HYA), and take a cab into Hyannis, where virtually all the major rental car companies have branches, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National and Thrifty. More competition usually means better prices.
Remember when choosing your rental vehicle that the ferry will charge according to the length of the vehicle.
More Tips: Renting a Car for a Trip to Nantucket
Since there are so many moving pieces for a trip like this, it really pays to plan far ahead. There are all sorts of nuances that can affect price, including the availability of rental cars, the availability of reservations on the car ferry, and so on. The further ahead you start your research, the more choices you'll have and the greater the opportunity to save.
After you book your car, ask AutoSlash to track your reservation. We'll let you know if there's a price drop so you can rebook at the lower rate. The average customer saves 30% with this simple trick.