Holiday Car Rental

As the calendar turns to December, many families will begin to think about travel logistics for the holiday season. Whether that trip includes a flight or a road-trip from home, rental cars are often part of that equation. One-third of the population traveling at the same point in time means substantial demand for various transportation services. The market for rental cars is particularly strained, as air travelers will be looking for rentals upon arrival and many non-flyers will be looking for rental vehicles with more capability (or space) than their personal vehicles. Exceptional demand plus the desire for "more space" leads to many sellouts during the holiday season, especially for vehicles larger than a full-size car. Travelers without rental car bookings for the holidays should be booking now, and could be thinking of next summer/fall already!

Need a Larger Car? You're Not Alone 

The AutoSlash team is among those seeking larger vehicles for our holiday travels. Our everyday vehicles aren't large enough for the people, pets, luggage, and gifts associated with the holidays. And we know when to make reservations -- as soon as the travel dates are known, as soon as possible, up to 330 days in advance. Renters can book a car almost 11 months in advance of a major holiday or vacation, and we recommend booking as early as possible. Many locations are already selling out for the Christmas through New Year period, where holiday travelers plus heavy end-of-year vacationing leads to many renters holding desirable vehicles for extended rentals. 

Why Book Early?

Looking for a reservation this holiday season? Book now. Rental car station managers have the goal of maximizing the revenue of their location, and decisions always come down to simple supply and demand. If the rental car company is projecting a shortage of vehicles, rates will increase. If the rental car company is projecting a surplus of vehicles, rates will decrease. Those rental car station managers (and us at AutoSlash) know a few crucial facts:

  • There’s a lot of competition for those travelers thinking of renting a “larger vehicle”.
  • There are only three basic types of vehicles (minivans, full-size SUVs, and full-size vans) that accommodate families of 6 or more people. For a family of 8 -12, there’s only one appropriate vehicle type.
  • All vehicle types have limited quantities – the company will not go buy a vehicle just because one customer wants to reserve it for a week.
  • Once a vehicle type sells out, the rental car company won't take a reservation unless the customer has a status-based exception with the company.

How AutoSlash Benefits Car Renters

The keys for the potential holiday renters using AutoSlash? Booking a reservation and tracking for lower rates as soon as possible gives us more days to look for lower rates on a renter’s behalf! While we never know when (or even if) lower rates may be issued by the rental car companies, customers with the earliest reservations have a higher probability of encountering price drops on their reservations – there are simply more opportunities to catch a price drop! Those early reservations also avoid the scenario of sellouts.

How do the Status-Based Exceptions Work?

Once a rental car company stops listing a vehicle type, that vehicle is not going to be available unless the renter has elite status that grants an override, which we mentioned in a separate blog post on weather delays. Those rates have to be booked directly through the rental car company in question (AutoSlash can't help) and those override reservations are at the maximum daily rate, which renters want to avoid. At the time we wrote this post, the Hertz location at JFK Airport was already sold out of all vehicles except luxury vehicles. Many of our team members have Hertz President's Circle status, so we could make a reservation for other vehicles at the maximum allowable rate. But rest assured we're not willing to spend $810 on a two-day minivan rental! Waiting is exceptionally costly, even for the company's best consumers!

We could (but won't) reserve this full-price minivan!

Other Helpful Tips

When preparing for holiday travel with larger groups, groups and families should:

  • Consider multiple types of vehicles (or even multiple vehicles) that might meet the group’s needs. A traveling party of 7 might choose a full-size van, full-size SUV, or minivan. A minivan might have less “street cred” but does offer far more passenger and storage space than the average SUV. And often, when vans and SUVs are in high demand, splitting your group up in two standard cars may end up being more economical.
  • Factor in whether driving responsibilities will be shared, as the rental car companies charge for additional drivers (unless eligible for an exception). While many firms provide methods of avoiding extra driver fees, some companies won’t even waive the fee for spouses/partners. We sometimes see rentals where the additional driver fee(s) exceed the cost of the car itself, and that’s a scenario to avoid. 
  • Choose a rental duration that's non-rushed. The holiday season can be costly and families might be tempted to return a rental car quickly to “save money”. If the family is considering “rushing back” to get a vehicle returned in 5 days to save funds, avoid the rush! In many cases, a rental between 4.5 days and 7 days will be priced at the exact same base rate (a "weekly" rental), except for the daily fees that might be assessed by local tax authorities.
  • Recognize that neighborhood and airport locations have separate inventory. An airport location selling out doesn't mean that all the sites in neighborhoods have sold out, and sell-outs in a neighborhood don't preclude the airport from still having cars. Remember to search both options if no valid results come up for your initial search.
  • Sign up for the loyalty program of the rental car company before making a reservation and enter that member number at the time of reservation. If there’s a shortage of your vehicle on the day of pickup (which the rental companies estimate to happen in less than 1% of rentals), a member of the loyalty program gets preferential treatment over the non-member. As a bonus, you’ll likely earn benefits (such as points toward future rentals) from the rental car company!


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