How I avoided the airport rental car chaos

Jun 8, 2021

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My family and I hadn’t traveled by plane since December 2019 — a few road trips within several hours of our home near San Francisco is as far as we’d gone together in almost 17 months. However, since my husband and I are fully vaccinated, our toddlers do pretty well wearing their masks and President Biden extended the federal mask mandate on all federal transportation through September 13, we felt comfortable enough this spring to travel a little further and fly to New Orleans.

For our mid-May trip, we wanted to rent a car upon arrival to make transportation easier and more reliable. Between juggling two toddlers, all of their stuff and nap times, a car was the most convenient option. Not to mention, ride-sharing apps don’t have an option to choose cars with car seats.

I was wary about experiencing the car rental apocalypse that some of my colleagues here at TPG have talked about — and we almost did. But I was resourceful and actually came out ahead.

Here’s how I avoided the airport rental car chaos on my recent trip to New Orleans.

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Several people waiting in line for a rental car at an airport
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

My original reservation

I’d planned to reserve a car with Avis because I had an offer on my Amex Platinum for $75 back after spending $250. But when I sat down to reserve and pay for my rental car, I was shocked at the cost of the car: more than $650 for five days for a small SUV. Even with the offer I just couldn’t do it. I was actually so taken aback by the cost that I decided to just reserve the car instead of prepaying — even if it meant that I would pay more at pick-up. Reasoning that maybe the sticker shock would have worn off by then, or another deal might materialize, instead, I opted to just reserve the car and pay at the counter.

Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY)’s car rental terminal is about a 10-minute shuttle ride from the baggage claim area. It’s a little inconvenient and good to keep in mind if you’re running to a meeting or dinner reservation. By the time we’d grabbed all of our luggage and strapped the kids into the carrier and the stroller, we were the last to get inside to the car rental counters.

There were about 30 people ahead of us and only one employee at the counter. I asked my husband to stay with the kids while I got in line. After a few minutes, I was starting to get anxious that they would run out of cars like I know has become common in places like Hawaii so I left the line (where I was dead last anyway) and went to the National counter, another rental car company, to see if they had anything available for right now. The woman at the counter politely said no.

(Photo by Michael H/Getty Images)

Change of plans

Never the type to take no for an answer the first time, I decided to check online at Enterprise to see if they had any cars available to rent at our location that were available right then and there. There was no one currently at their counter, but maybe, I rationalized, there was someone in the back just hanging out? I had to try.

Luckily, they did have cars available and it was even cheaper than the original car that I had reserved; I saved almost $100. It turns out their counter inside was empty because they have a kiosk in the garage instead. I was able to walk just a short distance and pick up the car that I’d reserved just seconds before.

By the time I’d signed all of the disclosures and gotten my credit card back, there was a line behind me of people who were being sent outside because the other companies didn’t have cars for them.

Bottom line

There’s a lot of talk about how hard it is to get a rental car right now and I can vouch that it’s not as seamless as I remember it being. I was so shocked at the price of renting a car I decided to reserve one without paying in advance and take my chances that I could find a lower price, even though it was cheaper to pay in full up front.

I got lucky and was able to find a last minute reservation for $100 less than my original reservation (and skipped waiting on a 30 person line), by continuing to check for availability after I arrived at my destination.

If you haven’t already prepaid for a rental car, you might be able to make a last-minute decision and hedge your bets on another option like I did. In this case, being flexible paid off, and we were comfortably on our way even sooner than we anticipated.

Featured photo by Kiyoshi Hikiki/Getty Images

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