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Renting a car this summer? Things are getting better, but it could still be dicey

May 07, 2022
5 min read
Rental cars at STL airport
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“Sean, did you book the rental car yet?”

It’s a question my wife knows to ask me, since I have, historically, had a habit of booking almost every aspect of our trip far in advance — flights, hotels, entertainment — but leaving the rental car until the last minute.

I’m apparently not alone, and industry experts tell TPG breaking that habit is among the best things you can do right now. That's because rental car companies are preparing for a summer onslaught of travelers even as they still try to climb out of a car shortage that’s plagued the industry since travel began bouncing back from the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are some of the issues travelers may still face if they need to rent a car this summer.

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Car shortage

TPG has reported on the rental car shortage for many months now. Rental car companies sold off cars when demand dipped by as much as 80% in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As travel has returned, though, the companies have not been able to replace cars at a fast enough rate because of problems with the global supply chain. Shortages of key parts like microchips have slowed new car production across the board, and the rental industry has been particularly affected.

Rental cars await customers at the Hertz President's Circle section of a garage. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

A spokesperson for Enterprise Holdings, which includes rental car brands Enterprise, Alamo and National, told TPG the global chip shortage continues to be a “key challenge” when it comes to new car availability but the company remains "optimistic."

Related: What it’s like to rent a car in 2022

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There's still concern among industry leaders, though.

“It’s a challenging time and a tough time out there,” Greg Scott, spokesperson for the American Car Rental Association, told TPG Monday.

Scott recalled a recent situation where he was not able to find a rental car at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

“We’re trying just about everything we can do to increase these numbers,” he said. While there has been moderate improvement, Scott said, “There is just not as many cars in the rental pool as we would like” given a resurgence in both leisure and now business travel.

(Photo courtesy of Hertz)

Reserving a car, only to find none available when you arrive

Is it possible, with the shortage, you could reserve a car online, only to get to the rental car facility to find no cars available?

Scott said that’s the “last thing” the car companies want — and it’s not entirely out of the question given the current situation. That's because when companies have fewer cars, there’s less flexibility at a single location if a few customers return vehicles late or a couple of vehicles have to go out of service because of mechanical issues.

“The cushion that was there in 2019 is no longer there,” he said.

Related: Ways to save on rental cars

Preparing for your travel

Both Scott and the rental car company representatives that TPG spoke with encouraged travelers to book a rental car as early as possible.

Enterprise called this “critical,” and Hertz said customers should book their car right as they book their other travel arrangements.

A Hertz spokesperson also recommended customers check neighborhood car rental locations, “which may have more availability when airport volumes are high.” The company has thousands of non-airport locations nationwide.

Speaking from experience, I’ve found neighborhood rental car facilities to be low-stress, with short waits — and they are often located very close to your home or hotel.

(Photo by Roman Tiraspolsky/Getty Images)

Scott pointed out that reserving your car early doesn’t just lock in your reservation. It also gives the rental companies an early heads up on where demand is going to be high so they can move cars to the area. That means more of a cushion if cars break down.

A Hertz representative told TPG it’s consistently moving vehicles to areas with the highest demand, which Scott said was a best practice across the industry.

“We’re asking our customers to help us … by trying to get out in front of their reservation as early as possible, and give us a signal where we have to get these cars,” he said. “And we’ll try to get them there.”

It’s also a good idea to join the loyalty program for the car rental company you’re using and look at the options the companies have (often free of charge) that allow you to manage your reservation from your phone or even skip the line and counter when you go to pick up your car.

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

While rental car companies work to improve the inventory problems that have plagued the industry during the pandemic, Scott said it’s clear this will continue to be an issue through 2022, and particularly over the summer, given the supply chain problems.

To give yourself the best chance at avoiding unpleasant surprises when you try to reserve or pick up a car, book it early. Also, tap into whatever free loyalty benefits the car companies are offering and keep neighborhood locations in mind if something goes wrong and you need to look elsewhere for a car.

Featured image by The rental car facility at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL). (Photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023