Here’s why it might be too late to rent a car for the holidays

Nov 19, 2021

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In the U.S., the traditional start of the holiday season is less than a week away and if you are still hoping to book a rental car for Thanksgiving, sorry to tell you it may be too late, especially if you’re based in New York City.

Holidays are a notoriously difficult time to find deals last minute but rental cars, in particular, have become increasingly more difficult to find throughout this year thanks to a national rental car shortage, high prices and long pick-up lines to name a few.

TPG has written a ton about this and we even deemed it a “car rental apocalypse” this June.

Your success in renting a car for the holidays this year depends largely on your location. Even in NYC, not all hope is lost; rentals for Christmas are still available. Plus, there are two alternatives to traditional rental car companies that many may find a suitable solution.

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Zero traditional rental cars available in NYC for Thanksgiving

In conducting a test search for this story, I attempted to book a last-minute rental car from Manhattan on Nov. 24 starting the day before Thanksgiving through Sunday, Nov. 28.

I first checked Enterprise Rent-A-Car and no rental cars available were available at any of their 40 locations in or around New York City. Plus, more than half of the centers were closed on Sunday, meaning I wouldn’t be able to return a car that day anyways.

Rental car options in NYC for Christmas. (Screenshot courtesy of Enterprise)

When I adjusted the return date to Monday, Nov. 29, a few cars were available outside of the city (Brooklyn, Ridgewood, Middle Village, etc.). Still, since I wouldn’t want to deal with parking a rental car overnight in the city for even one night, I moved on to National Car Rental.

Rental car options in NYC for Christmas. (Screenshot courtesy of National)

Related: Airport rental car users are increasingly dissatisfied as prices increase, per new study

The 12 National locations throughout NYC also yielded zero results for the Wednesday — Sunday timeframe and many locations were again closed on that Sunday.

Sensing a theme at this point, I proceed ahead blissfully and attempted my luck at Alamo Rent A Car, which informed me that the entire New York City area had no vehicles available during my desired dates. This would also be the case for Avis Car Rental, Budget Rent a Car, Dollar Rent a Car and Thrifty Car Rental.

(Rental car options in NYC for Thanksgiving. (Screenshot courtesy of Alamo)

For normal travel outside of a holiday weekend, it seems particularly inconvenient for rental car companies to be closed on Sundays as it is a popular time to return rental cars following weekend trips.

Options for Christmas

Since it was clearly too late to book a traditional rental car anywhere in NYC a week before Thanksgiving, I explored availability for Christmas, thinking I might have more luck given that we are about a month out.

I lengthened my search to a week rental from 8 a.m. on Dec. 23 to 12 p.m. on Dec. 29.

The only availability from National during this time frame was in Jersey City, where cars ranged from just under $700 for the week for an economy vehicle, such as a Mitsubishi Mirage, to $1750 for a premium elite SUV, think a BMW X3.

Rental car options in NYC for Christmas. (Screenshot courtesy of National)

Alamo had a bit more availability, also in Jersey City, along with cars at both Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The lowest-priced cars at JFK ranged from $825 up to $1025.

Rental car options in NYC for Christmas. (Screenshot courtesy of Alamo)

Avis, Budget, Dollar and Thrify all had economy/compact/immediate cars for around $600 for the desired week in December. Unlike the Thanksgiving search, cars were available at both city locations and airports.

Related: From sold out to $700+ daily rates, where the car rental shortage is worse than you think

Rental car options in NYC for Christmas. (Screenshot courtesy of Budget)

The same search in other cities

If you are elsewhere in the country, such as Chicago, you may have an easier time trying to find a car even for Thanksgiving. Plenty of full-size vehicles for less than $550 were available on Kayak.

Rental car options in Chicago for Thanksgiving. (Screenshot courtesy of Kayak)

In Miami, smaller cars were about the same price for a full-sized car in Chicago for Nov. 24 — Nov. 28.

Related: Renting a car in Hawaii with Turo during rental ‘apocalypse’

Rental car options in Miami for Thanksgiving. (Screenshot courtesy of Kayak)

Cars were also there for the same dates in San Francisco, although the majority available departed from Oakland International Airport (OAK).

Related: The ‘car rental apocalypse’: Why renting a car is tough in 2021

Alternatives to traditional rental cars

Even if you are not trying to rent a car this holiday season, there are some alternatives to consider year-round.

Turo

Turo was the first peer-to-peer carsharing service to launch in the U.S. in 2010 and has since allowed users to borrow a local’s car in more than 5,500 cities across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.

It’s currently available in all 50 states. However, users in New York only have the option to book with “Commercial Hosts” due to a legal dispute with the company and the New York Department of Financial Services. These hosts act as independent rental companies who provide their own insurance and are registered with the state.

“New York is the only state in the US where peer-to-peer car sharing is unavailable,” Turo previously told TPG, but NYC users wishing to go the peer-to-peer route can do so in New Jersey.

Read our guide to Turo here.

Kyte

I came across Kyte this summer after struggling to find an affordable rental car to drive from Boston to Maine in July and Kyte was the least expensive option we found. The convenience factor of a car being dropped off in the middle of Boston’s Backbay made it super easy.

The door-to-door, app-based car rental delivery company sources vehicles from various professional fleet suppliers to store and maintain on their own. Its focus on “doorstep car delivery” enables users to pick up and drop off almost wherever and whenever in select cities across the U.S., including Boston, Chicago, Los Angles, New York and Washington, D.C.

In short, Kyte literally brings the car to you.

Related: My experience with Kyte, the rental car startup that brings the car to you

Bottom line

The effects of low vehicle supply and staffing issues at rental car companies are likely to persist in 2022, which means booking rental cars may continue to be difficult, so book as early as you can and consider thinking outside of the box too.

Featured image by David Madison via Getty Images

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