Everything you need to know about Lyft's game-changing rental car service
The world is in the midst of the worst rental car shortage the travel industry has seen in years.
Traditional rental car companies fire-sold their fleets at the start of the pandemic in an effort to raise quick cash, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But then, travel recovered faster than expected and rental prices skyrocketed as a result.
In fact, it's not uncommon to see prices in the hundreds of dollars per day in domestic tourist destinations like Hawaii and Florida. So on a Memorial Day trip to Los Angeles, I thought finding a reasonably priced rental car would be completely out of the picture... until I opened my Lyft app.
Lyft has offered rental cars through its app for a while now. For the most part, cars are fulfilled by traditional rental car company Sixt. But in San Francisco and Los Angeles, you can rent cars directly from Lyft. The company owns and operates its own fleet of cars in these cities, complete with its own rental car pick-up counter.
I rented a car from Lyft for five days over my Memorial Day vacation, and it was everything I hoped it would be: simple, no-frills and inexpensive. Plus, there were a couple of perks that aren't offered by more traditional rental car companies. This was refreshing after having many less-than-stellar experiences with rentals car giants like Enterprise and Hertz.
Let's take a closer look at my experience renting a car with Lyft and see why you may want to consider it the next time you need a rental car. I'll start with the booking process and then dive into my experience picking up, driving and dropping off my Lyft rental car.
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How to rent a car with Lyft
Renting a car with Lyft is surprisingly easy.
Just open the Lyft app and tap the button with car keys at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. From here, you can select your city at the bottom of the screen to view your rental options. Note that — as of writing this article — Lyft rentals are mostly fulfilled by Sixt. You can find true Lyft rentals in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sixt and Lyft rentals are handled differently.
We're only focusing on Lyft rentals in this article.
Select the location you'd like to rent from to see the types of vehicles available. Generally, standard cars are hybrids and you can pay up for an SUV or larger sedan. Daily prices are listed to the right of the vehicle type.
You can now input your requested rental dates and times and see a price quote at the bottom of the screen.
If all looks good, tap the Next button to go to the review page. Here, you can add rental car coverage (but I recommend paying with a card that includes a damage waiver, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card). You can also add a ski rack, car sear and tire chains for free.
Now, scroll down and enter your driver's license information. This will be saved for your next rental, so you should only have to do it once. When you're ready to pay, confirm your payment method at the bottom of the screen and click Reserve.
And that's all there is to it. There are no corporate codes, booking portals or other things to deal with. The price you see is the price you get, and the rental is completely contained inside the Lyft app. Just bring your phone with you to the pick-up counter when you go to get your car.
Related: How to never pay full price for a rental car
My experience renting a car with Lyft in Los Angeles
Now that you know how to book, let's take a look at how my Lyft rental car experience went last month.
Pricing and added perks
My main draw to renting a car with Lyft was its price. Memorial Day weekend always means high rental car prices, but the current shortage meant that traditional rental car companies were charging $600+ for my five-day rental. I was getting sky-high prices even when using my university corporate code, which generally gives me a great deal.
Lyft, however, was very reasonable. My five-day standard hybrid rental cost $368 before the multiday discount that Lyft offers for two+ day rentals. This 29% discount knocked $109 off the price of my rental, bringing me to a grand total of $283.61 before fuel. This was $200+ cheaper than comparable rentals from Avis, Enterprise, Hertz and National.
Speaking of fuel, you don't need to fill up your Lyft rental before you return it. The Lyft app quotes a market-rate gas price based on nearby gas stations when you rent a car. Gas is particularly expensive in California right now, so I was quoted $4.30 a gallon. This was consistent with the closest gas station I drove by.
The same goes for tolls. Each Lyft rental car has a pre-installed toll transponder. Lyft will bill you for the cost of the tolls you use after you drop your rental off. You won't pay any additional fees, unlike other rental companies that add huge surcharges.
One of my favorite parts of the Lyft rental experience is the included Lyft ride credit. You get a $20 credit on your way to pick up your rental and a $20 credit after your rental. These credits must be used in full and can only be used to/from the Lyft rental lot. They can, however, be used on any class of Lyft ride, including Lux.
This is far more straightforward than any other rental car service I've used in the past.
Related: How I saved nearly $250 on a one-day car rental by taking a $110 Uber ride
Picking up my rental car
Lyft has two rental locations in Los Angeles: one near Santa Monica and one near Los Angeles (LAX) airport. I opted to rent from the LAX location because I was staying in Marina Del Rey and needed to return the rental when I returned to the airport after my trip.
I used the $20 pickup ride credit to take a Lyft from a coffee shop near my hotel to the pickup location. Upon arrival, I walked through the parking lot to the main Lyft building. This seems to be a shared facility: one half is a driver onboarding center and the other is the Lyft Rentals pickup counter.
A nice Lyft employee promptly greeted me and asked for my name, credit card and driver's license. Then, he grabbed a set of car keys and went outside to retrieve my rental car. He pulled around in a Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid. Sure, it's not the most exciting car by any stretch of the imagination, but given we're in a gas shortage, I much appreciated having a hybrid.
Unfortunately, the car wasn't in the greatest condition. There were some scratches around the vehicle, a small stain in the backseat and worn down radio buttons. That said, the Lyft representative noted all of this so I wouldn't be charged for any of the damage at drop-off.
After that, I was on the road! The car was fine to drive and handled the Los Angeles highway system without issue. I consistently got over 40 miles per gallon in fuel economy too, which was great considering gas was $4+ per gallon during my trip.
Related: How I avoided the airport rental car chaos
Dropping off my Lyft rental car
After five days of driving around LA County, it was time to drop off my car. I scheduled my drop-off for 11:30 a.m. that day. I drove back to Lyft's LAX location, pulled into the parking lot and a different Lyft representative came out to inspect the car.
He said there was no damage and that all I'd be charged for was the half-tank of gas I used. Remember, unlike other rental car companies, Lyft charges market rate for gas with no extra fees. I paid roughly $20 for the half-tank of gas.
My flight back to New York City was set to leave LAX at 3 p.m., so the extra time gave my girlfriend and me time to go planespotting at the In-N-Out Burger located just north of the airport. We used the $20 Lyft return credit to take a Lyft Lux there since it was just under $20.
Related: 11 common rental car mistakes — and how to avoid them
All in all, I really enjoyed my Lyft car rental experience. The whole process was fast, from booking to returning the car. And while the car wasn't in the best condition, it was still significantly cheaper than anything else in the area, so I'm willing to look past some door-dings and a stain in the backseat.
More importantly, however, Lyft takes the headache out of the rental car experience. There's no fee for dropping off the car without a full tank of gas or using its toll transponder. Instead, you're just billed the market rate for both. Plus, the $20 Lyft credit to and from the rental lot is far better than using a rental car shuttle and great for locals renting a car for a few days.
I hope we see Lyft expand its rental offerings to other American cities soon. It will quickly become my go-to rental car service when it does.
Feature photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy