Wait, Where Did All the Rental Cars Go?


When you book a trip, do you start by shopping for convenient flights? Maybe reserving a favorite hotel?

Here’s the new priority for 2021: Get the rental car first.

The sudden surge in post-vaccination travel is colliding with a relative shortage of rental cars. Rental-car companies sold a huge chunk of their fleets—hundreds of thousands of vehicles—to survive the pandemic. Now they can’t get cars onto their lots fast enough to meet the new demand, especially with car factories stalled by semiconductor shortages.

Travelers report sky-high prices and sold-out dates even in non-beach destinations like Kansas City, Houston and Memphis. Even travelers with reservations complain that they now sometimes show up and, with no cars on the lot, must wait for a car to be returned and cleaned before they can drive off.

Parks Shackelford of Washington, D.C., bought a ticket on Southwest Airlines to Jacksonville, Fla., for a hunting trip in southern Georgia in late March. Then he found he couldn’t get a rental car. He tried Tallahassee—no luck. Finally, he had to cancel his nonrefundable flight and buy a Delta Air Lines ticket to Valdosta, Ga., near the Florida border, because he could get a car there.

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