Car-Rental Deals Help Drivers in Pandemic as Companies Struggle

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  • Luxury rentals for as little as $33 per day for the month of April are the good news, along with the fact that any car you rent now will probably be extra clean.
  • But with travel way down because of the coronavirus pandemic, airport parking lots are full of rental cars, while layoffs are hitting workers hard.
  • Down the road, used-car prices could benefit because rental companies are expected to put more of their fleets onto the market in coming months.

    It only makes supply-and-demand sense that when people are forced to stay home, they are no longer renting cars for vacations or work trips. But the sad fact of the COVID-19 situation does mean that, if you do need to rent a car, there are some good deals to be had. These deals come with some special cleaning rules and, unfortunately, news of a number of layoffs.

    The available deals are due to situations like those reported at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport in Arizona in March. Rental-car agencies there are parking unwanted rental cars in the airport’s special events parking lot, as well as on side street lots and other nearby locations, since demand was so much lower than expected. While this means that people who are still traveling and need some wheels are likely paying less, the Los Angeles Times predicted that the drop in rental demand now will likely lead to lower prices for used cars in coming months. The Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index and Cox Automotive found that prices for model year 2019 vehicles have been leading the way downward, “likely driven by a surge of rental fleet vehicles entering the wholesale market.”

    The rental agencies need to try to drum up business as much as is safely possible, and one way to do this is to talk about cleanliness. Company websites are full of the ways they are taking extra precautions between rentals. Thrifty, for example, is “reinforcing our rigorous cleaning process which includes priority areas such as door handles, steering wheel, dashboard, console, seats, etc.”

    Deals Include One-Way, Long-Term Rentals

    Let’s move on to the deals. Through the end of April, SIXT is offering a premium sedan like the BMW 3-series for just $33 per day, with a five-day minimum. For comparison, a sample search for a similar luxury vehicle turned up a price of $56 a day at Avis. If you’re sticking with SIXT and have a few extra dollars to spend each day, you could also rent a Mercedes-Benz GLC (or similar) for $36 a day right now. They’re also offering long-term (more than a month) rentals such as a Chevy Suburban for $139 a week.

    Since it’s difficult to consistently be socially distant on a plane or in airports, some rental-car companies are offering more than better prices on luxury rides to try to get people to rent cars. Calling these “extraordinary times,” Hertz is offering one-way rentals for $49 a day or $249 a week for cars rented through the end of April. Enterprise has similar deals, but not a blanket offer on one-way rentals. Instead, the company has a page up with cheap one-way deals from a number of airports starting at $49.99 a day in some locations, $9.99 in others. Most of these offers are good for the rest of the month, but in Florida the deal—one-way rentals starting at $19.99 a day—lasts until the end of May.

    Deals or no, it’s too late for a large number of rental-car company employees, as the layoffs and furloughs that have hit the rest of America have affected them as well. In the Minneapolis area, for example, Avis recently laid off over 70 people. According to sources that spoke with the New York Post, Hertz is now facing a $1 billion to $1.5 billion budget shortfall in the next few months, started laying people off in March, and there’s even a risk that the company will go bankrupt. Despite this, the company made news for recently spending $2 million to offer free vehicle rentals to more than 2000 health-care workers in New York City.

    The one possible upside to this distress, for the consumer, is that rental companies are willing to be more flexible: relaxing age restrictions, being more generous with changes and cancellations, cutting prices, and offering perks like delivery to the customer’s location. So, if you must travel, this could be a good time to check out a rental.



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