In case any of us thought the worst was over or that it couldn’t get worse, we were wrong! So what are visitors to do in Hawaii, where the very experience of the islands, except perhaps in Honolulu, is so intrinsically tied to car rentals?
When we last reported on this just over a month ago, there appeared to be some light at the end of the tunnel. At that time, we found cars later in the year starting, for example, from $500 per week at Kona. But if you didn’t rent them then, we’re sorry to say those same cars are renting for $1249 today, which is 250% of what they were earlier in the car rental crisis!
Hawaii car rentals remain the topic of national discussion, and visitors have to rent cars from any and all alternative sources, including U-Haul. Truck and van rentals from Home Depot have been going for $900 per week, which might not be that bad when you see what we found below. But before heading in those directions, the state has now said it frowns on visitors’ rental of non-traditional vehicles like those.
Can you share your thoughts on this?
We can’t make any sense of these “surge” prices ourselves, in relation to the car rental fleet inventory, or anything else we’ve come across. We simply feel like sitting ducks.
Below is what is being done and exactly what the new normal is likely to be for Hawaii car rentals.
The state of Hawaii gets involved to a degree.
Hawaii has been relatively quiet on the car rental crisis. But now that there are no signs of improvement, it is starting to look more involved. The state has launched a ground transportation portal on the HTA website where it has amassed resources encouraging car rental alternatives by island. Those include new shuttle services in addition to taxis, ride-sharing, bus, and shuttles. The state has also started suggesting that visitors obtain car rentals before making other reservations.
“Please plan ahead to secure a reservation first before making the rest of your travel arrangements. The Hawaii Tourism Authority does not condone visitors renting moving trucks and vans for leisure purposes.” That is because those vehicles are needed for other, non travel reasons.
As you will recall, two months ago, Stephen Levins of Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs said of the crisis, it “Certainly deserves our attention. We are going to be investigating the underlying basis for charging such great amounts to rent a vehicle.” But, unfortunately, we still haven’t heard anything from the state in that regard since.
New shuttles coming to Maui and Kauai.
The HTA said last week that it is helping Maui and Kauai counties to start shuttle programs for visitors, transporting them between airports and resort destinations. The Kauai shuttle is due to launch as a pilot sometime in July.
Do consider where you are staying in Hawaii in relation to your ability to obtain a car rental.
Last week, veteran Polynesian Adventure announced its own “Hop On Hop Off” Kauai shuttle service. Their “Aloha Shuttle” will start with a Poipu area route, followed by Kapaa and Princeville routes. Each will stop at resorts, attractions, shopping, and dining options. Prices start at $20 for an all-day one-route pass.
Hawaii still down 10,000 cars compared with one year ago.
The Hawaii car rental inventory remains at about 35,000 vehicles compared with a normal inventory of about 45,000. Confirming those numbers, The University of Hawaii recently called the situation a “near-term supply constraint.”
Hawaii car rental price examples as of June 14, 2021.
We checked online for all of the major car rental companies. However, we did not include minor companies or alternative rental sources. Vendors included are Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty. We also checked with car rental alternative Turo, while we did not check Craigslist Hawaii car rentals due to ongoing concerns you should read about.
Prices are intended as guidelines only and fluctuate rapidly. They varied greatly both by island, by season, and by dates within each season. Prices are before any discounts and include taxes. Many of the best rates now require pre-payment.
Note: We found many dates that were entirely sold out. But when we did find availability, these were the cheapest prices.
Mid-June until mid-August. Honolulu starts from $1,100/week. Maui starts from $1,100/week. Big Island starts from $1117/week. Kauai starts from $1,480/week.
Mid-August to December (except Thanksgiving). Honolulu starts from $715/week. Maui starts from $742/week. Big Island starts from $890. Kauai starts from $845/week.
Christmas/New Year. Honolulu starts from $1221/week. Maui starts from $1249/week. Big Island starts from $1249/week. Kauai starts from $860/week.
January 2022. Honolulu starts from $682/week. Maui starts from $678/week. Big Island starts from $681/week. Kauai starts from $681/week.
What is the new normal for Hawaii car rental prices?
Based on our checking, it appears we can expect to pay about $100 per day for car rentals, even after the current crisis abates. So it looks like car rentals will now cost more than your Hawaii airfare.
Hawaii car rental consolidation preceded this crisis.
Keep in mind that car rental prices were going up rapidly before all of this inventory issue even began. That is largely due to the consolidation within the industry.
Nearly 95% of the car rental market is now controlled by just three companies, which continue to market through their multiple brands. Enterprise includes National and Alamo, Hertz includes Thrifty and Dollar, and Avis includes Budget.
What else has happened to Hawaii car rentals?
1. Industry consolidation as indicated above.
2. Demand for Hawaii car rentals has always exceeded capacity at peak periods. That’s true at both holidays and mid-summer.
3. Exorbitant taxes and fees. In addition to high base rates, there are the following additional mandatory fees and taxes. General excise tax (varies by island) up to 4.71%. State motor vehicle $5/day. Vehicle registration up to $1.45/day. Customer facility charge $4.50/day. Airport concession fee 11.1%.
Want the cheapest car? Economy isn’t always the one.
Especially now, you could be renting a car that isn’t your first choice, when you can even find one. Larger cars or trucks are often cheaper than more coveted compact ones.
Plan for Hawaii car rental the same way as flights to Hawaii and accommodations.
Car rentals remain the third largest expense for most Hawaii vacations, and they are fast becoming the second largest expense. The first is accommodations, and the second has traditionally been airfare to Hawaii.
While many others have written about money-saving tricks for car rentals, the following are our suggestions, from a local Hawaii perspective:
25 Tips to Get a Discount Hawaii Car Rental in 2021/2022.
Alternative car rental sources and discounts.
- Check several sources and compare rates and availability before booking. Look at both airport and city locations for pickup and drop-off. To get a feel for prices, you can try working with online travel agencies and other sites. Check the actual car rental company sites as well as those below.
- Discount Hawaii Car Rental (our advertiser we learned of from our readers) is an excellent resource we have frequently used ourselves. We’ve found their rates can save significantly compared with competitors at peak times.
- Try Turo. That’s the giant peer-to-peer car rental service that is similar to Airbnb for cars. If you decide to try it (we have not), let us know your thoughts. Keep in mind that Turo has been experiencing unprecedented demand as well, and clearly, it isn’t easy to find availability. Nor is it cheap. Check options, including premium insurance coverage.
- Check AutoSlash, which has also been recommended by our readers.
- Look at discounts available through AAA, AARP, and Costco although those may be challenging at this time.
- For periods when there are no car rentals, many visitors are turning to Craigslist. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend that route as we have heard of way too many problems, including insurance protection and breakdowns. We would, however, suggest checking multiple car rental sources frequently for sold-out dates that could subsequently become available.
Continue to protect yourself against damage, dirt, and other fees.
- Damage Protection Tip: Consider using your cell phone to photograph the car before driving it off the lot. Colleen, our good friend and Beat of Hawaii reader takes the photos with her husband standing next to the car holding that day’s paper. It’s also a good idea to do the same thing on return, such as when you drop the car before or after office hours. Dollar once accused us of not returning their car at Oakland Airport. When we got back to Hawaii, there was an urgent call from them. We had dropped the car off early that day before they opened, and it was sitting in their lot.
- Hawaii Dirt Tip: Hawaii car rental agencies can charge a fee of $50-$100 or more for excess dirt. It is effortless in our environment to end up with mud inside or outside of the car. If this happens to you, get to a car wash before returning it to the agency. Consider having newspapers or other floor protection if you’re going to be hiking or when it is muddy.
- Get a Final Receipt Before Leaving: We’ve learned this one too the hard way. Be sure the contract is closed out, and you have a complete and final receipt/accounting before leaving the car rental facility at the end of your trip. Otherwise, it will
Timing is everything.
- Make your car reservation far in advance for travel during high seasons. For now, book car rentals in advance of other reservations, no matter the season. We’ll let you know when that changes.
- Once you make a reservation, be sure to check back several times to see if better deals arise before your trip. Even now, availability and the price are moving targets. This has saved us untold hundreds of dollars in car rental charges. Frequently (and more so all the time), prepaid can become the best deal (but it is not always). We rented a car from Hertz not long ago, where the total on first checking was $1,600. In the end, we paid $600 for the same rental by checking, canceling, and remaking the reservation, then finally asking the counter agent if they could do better (which they did).
- Set a reminder to recheck car rental prices a day or two before you travel for any last-minute offers.
Know your insurance needs before you get to the car rental counter.
- Additional coverage may or may not be necessary. Before your trip, check your own insurance policy and your credit card company to determine what coverage may be offered at no cost. Don’t just blindly fork over an extra $10-$30/day when you show up unprepared at the rental counter. Agents may have a strong incentive to sell insurance and other upgrades.
- Reader Oliver’s advice: “Many credit cards offer secondary insurance, i.e., they will pay if you don’t have any other insurance such as your own car insurance. But you may not want to use your car insurance, as a claim will likely drive the rates up. Some cards offer primary rental car insurance. Note that credit card car rental coverage is in a state of flux, resulting in frequently less or no coverage. Be sure to check and not assume.
- Check Priceline. While we have never used them for flights, for car rentals, it usually doesn’t matter to us which “major agency” provides the car, and a loyalty program credit isn’t as important, so I use them occasionally.”
Additional driver and underage fees add up and can be confusing.
- Fees vary widely by company and rental location. If more than one driver is on the rental agreement, inquire when making the reservation. Costco rentals include a second driver. Many companies include spouses or business partners automatically. But work through this in advance to avoid a surprise of perhaps $10/day. We recently saw a couple with a 24-year-old driver accessed a $25/day fee for being under 25, so it pays to check and be prepared.
Car sizes, upgrades, and pre-payment options.
- Car rental prices are based on demand, not size. Research different size rental cars to see what offers the best deal. Larger cars are often cheaper than smaller cars.
- Many of us prefer somewhat smaller cars that are fuel-efficient, and equally important, are easy to maneuver in Hawaii. In Honolulu, a compact car will be far more nimble in tight parking lots and generally.
- Do you really need GPS when you already have it on your phone?
- Check into pre-payment options, but consider those carefully as 1) you will be locked in and 2) it doesn’t guarantee you the best rate.
- Pre-paying gas generally comes with a much higher price per gallon. So check that before you drive off.
Join the rental company’s frequent renter program.
- If it doesn’t save you money (such as credits towards a future free day), it will most likely save you considerable time when picking up your car. After a long flight to Hawaii, that will seem as good as cash.
Determine the grace period of the contract.
- Previously this was 59 minutes. So if the car was due back at noon and you had it in by 12:59, there was no charge. Now, however, some companies have no grace period whatsoever. So be careful with this one, as the excess rate on car rentals can be up to $15/hour plus taxes.
Is the price the total price?
- Hawaii airport surcharges on car rentals have gone up. Often, car rental quotes don’t at first show taxes and other fees. That can add up fast, so click on through to see what the total bill will be first. And prepare for a bit of sticker shock.