If you plan to rent a car this summer, be ready to contend with low inventory and high prices. After cutting back on vehicles during the pandemic, rental companies are facing a dearth of new cars to buy to replenish their fleets following auto-plant shutdowns last year and a semiconductor shortage that is now slowing production, says Jonathan Weinberg of AutoSlash, a site that searches for car-rental discounts.
Book early to snag a reservation at a reasonable price. But there’s a chance that when you arrive at the rental center, fewer cars will be on the lot than customers in line to rent them. At large rental centers at airports, line wait times can be two hours or more, says Weinberg.
Being a member of the company’s loyalty program—even if you have the lowest-tier status—may give you an edge. “They’re more likely to hold a car for you,” says Nick Ewen, of travel website The Points Guy. In some cases, program members get to skip the rental counter and go straight to the vehicle.
The potential advantages increase if you have higher-level status in a loyalty program, and certain cards can give you the boost. Chase Sapphire Reserve and American Express Platinum ($550 annual fee for each card) offer a complimentary Emerald Club Executive membership with National Car Rental and Preferred Plus status with Avis. (Both cards are finalists in our list of the best rewards credit cards. Check for special discounts, too; holders of the Chase card, for example, get up to 30% off Avis rentals and up to 25% off with National. Amex Platinum also provides a Hertz Gold Plus membership and some additional perks for cardholders, including discounts on Hertz rentals, a four-hour grace period on returns and upgrades to the next-highest vehicle class.
Even if your credit card doesn’t offer this kind of perk, use it to book your car rentals. Some cards offer extra cash back or points on travel purchases, plus coverage that will pay the cost of a rental vehicle’s repair or theft.
Lisa has been the editor of Kiplinger Personal Finance since June 2023. Previously, she spent more than a decade reporting and writing for the magazine on a variety of topics, including credit, banking and retirement. She has shared her expertise as a guest on the Today Show, CNN, Fox, NPR, Cheddar and many other media outlets around the nation. Lisa graduated from Ball State University and received the school’s “Graduate of the Last Decade” award in 2014. A military spouse, she has moved around the U.S. and currently lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband and two sons.
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