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Travel plans are back on the menu for U.S. families and businesspeople in 2021 and beyond. Rental cars are in high demand with traveling consumers around the nation but many are met with sticker shock from unexpectedly high prices. Vehicle types, price ranges, and brands are still available in many selections but how do you find the best car rental service/prices for your needs? Why are car rental prices historically high?

Car rental services are located near airports, train stations, and hotels in major cities and remote locations alike. Events in 2020 demanded a lot of safety-based distance between loved ones. Methods of doing business were also changed drastically. Do you need a rental car for a cross-country family trip? Are you traveling state-to-state to reestablish connections with important business clients? Read an important guide on 2021 car rental services and how to find the best rental prices for your needs today.

Pricing Crisis

As a family previously in quarantine or a businessperson excited to replace online dealings with face-to-face meetings again you are looking forward to traveling again in 2021. Renting a car was previously a simple task with moderate expenses. Car rental customers today are unfortunately experiencing a historic pricing crisis and major unexpected sticker shock. 

For example, renting a car in Hawaii costs approximately $50/day in 2019. Some rental prices in Hawaii have reached $500- $700/day in 2021. This makes renting a car certain locations unaffordable for surprised and disheartened travelers. What is the primary reason behind the pricing crisis Forbes is labeling as a car-rental-apocalypse? During the early COVID-19 pandemic car rental companies engaged in a mass fire sale on cars from their national fleets. Travel was restricted and/or forbidden. Companies were bleeding money nationwide and needed to avoid permanently closing down franchises. Selling off inventory was the only way to accomplish this. Now that travel is steadily opening up again the supply of rental cars simply cannot meet the demands.

Do not be quick to only blame the rental companies, as this is not simply base-level price gauging. The two trillion-dollar Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act largely overlooked the car rental industry because it did not spend as much lobbying money as airlines and other travel-related businesses. In order to weather the financial storm created by COVID-19 and the lack of government-funded relief, most rentals services had no choice but to increase prices on a temporary basis.   

Tips to Getting Better Rental Prices

Car rental companies want your business. Ways to get lower prices in 2021 do exist. Credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Hertz Amex platinum card offer discounts on car rental services. American Express rental car insurance and Capital One car insurance rental rewards programs also get you better deals on rental prices when qualified. Some rental cars start at $10/Day. It's possible to find the best deals!

Book your car rental services as early as possible. Better deals are often available to further out from actual rental dates. Use an extended search strategy. Car rental companies are listing some rental dates as unavailable as a means of forcing rentals into peak periods (and therefore higher price ranges). Expand your rental dates to longer than you need, but return your car early. Most car rental services do not charge for unused dates. Booking in excess of your needs is a crafty way to potentially save money. Take advantage of online promotion deals and deals offered through proprietary smartphone apps. Travel websites such as Expedia also offer resources for finding the best current car rental deals available.

Car Rentals - Types & Brands Available

Car rentals are categorized based on vehicle type/size. Rental prices are not based on specific models but rather the category in which the model is placed. It is possible to ask for a specific model in a category but availability to fulfill your request is not guaranteed. In fact, the model you choose to rent when making your initial selection might not even be available when you arrive at the rental service location but rather a similar-style replacement car is assigned.

Categories of available car rental types/brands start with smaller less-expensive vehicles and work up. Choosing a car from the right category is crucial for the comfort levels and budget needs of your trip. Car rental category types and some examples of cars within them include:

  • Mini (Toyota Aygo; Hyundai i10).

  • Economy (Fiat Panda; Ford Fiesta; Jeep Renegade).

  • Compact (Ford Focus: Nissan Versa: Hyundai Accent).

  • Intermediate, Standard & Fullsize (Ford Fusion; Toyota Camry; Chevrolet Impala).

  • Estate (Ford Mondeo Estate; Volkswagen Golf Variant; Mercedes C Class Estate).

  • 5, 7 & 9-Seat Minivans (Volkswagen Touran; Ford Galaxy; Hyundai Kona).

  • SUVs (Toyota RAV4; Ford Escape; Mazda CX-5).

  • 4X4 (Mitsubishi Montero; Toyota Land Cruiser; Chevrolet Tahoe).

  • Convertibles (Ford Mustang Convertible; Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet; Jaguar F-Type Coupé).

  • Premium (Nissan Maxima; Buick Lacrosse; Cadillac CTS).

  • Luxury (BMW i8; Aston Martin DB11).

  • Cargo Vans (Nissan NV200; Ford Transit Wagon). 

America’s Favorite Car Rental Brands

Americans have favorite brands of vehicles they prefer to rent. Some vehicles are rated as the top new cars available based on quality or materials, performance, safety and more. Directly below are lists of some favorite brands/models of cars Americans prefer to rent in 2021 as well top rated new vehicles based on quality.

Favorite U.S. Rental Cars

  • Toyota Yaris.

  • Honda Accord.

  • Nissan Maxima.

  • Ford Ranger.

  • Honda Odyssey.

  • Ford Expedition.

Top-Rated New Cars Based on Quality

  • Kia Rio.

  • Chevrolet Malibu.

  • Nissan Maxima.

  • Hyundai Sante Fe.

  • Cadillac Escalade.

  • Chevrolet Silverado HD.

Top 5 Car Rental Service Providers

Car rental services had higher consumer ratings prior to the COVID-19 pandemic than they do today. Renting a car was one of the most pleasant highlights of traveling experiences prior to early 2020. Current high prices and vehicle shortages are the two primary culprits impacting customer experience in 2021. Service providers are adding personalized car rental apps and reducing pickup times to bolster consumer support during challenging times. The top car rental service providers are also improving customer service dynamics to keep rental sales higher until fleets are restocked sometime in 2022. The top 5 car rental service providers based on consumer satisfaction are:

  1. Hertz.

  2. Enterprise.

  3. Alamo.

  4. National.

  5. Avis.