Hawaii car rentals have become the topic of national discussion, and it is being reported that visitors have turned to renting cars from alternative sources, including U-Haul. We even heard of visitor truck and van rentals from Home Depot. Those, by the way, run about $129/day or $900 per week, which might not be that bad for certain extreme times. Somehow we can’t picture ourselves in one of these, but whatever it takes.
We want you to know before we take a deeper dive, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. So read on f0r that encouraging news.
State of Hawaii Consumer Affairs was to get involved in the saga, but…
Three weeks ago, Stephen Levins, the head of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs for Hawaii, said it “Certainly deserves our attention. We are going to be investigating the underlying basis for charging such great amounts to rent a vehicle.” We haven’t heard from the state since. On the good side, at least car rental companies are on notice.
Hawaii is still down about 10,000 cars compared with one year ago.
Data indicates that the Hawaii car rental inventory sits at about 35,000 vehicles. That is compared with the normal inventory of about 45,000. However, we still aren’t sure if that in itself accounts for the price of cars right now. Remember that we were still getting Hawaii car rentals for as little as 15% of the current cost two years ago.
See all of our just updated tips and strategies for getting the best deal on your 2021 Hawaii vacation and 25 suggestions below.
Hawaii car rental price examples:
We checked online for all of the major car rental companies. We did not include minor companies or alternative rental sources. Vendors included are Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty.
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.
Now through early June. Honolulu from $920/week. Maui from $1,000/week. Big Island from $425/week. Kauai from $795/week.
Mid-June until mid-August. Honolulu from $861/week. Maui from $1,100/week. Big Island from $910/week. Kauai from $1,115/week.
Mid-August to October. Honolulu from $575/week. Maui from $755/week. Big Island from $515. Kauai from $830/week.
November (except Thanksgiving). Honolulu from $730/week. Maui from $600/week. Big Island and Kauai from $515/week.
December (pre-holidays). Honolulu, Maui Big Island from $515/week. Kauai from $770/week.
Christmas/New Year. Honolulu from $900/week. Maui from $825/week. Big Island from $500/week. Kauai from $860/week.
January 2022. Honolulu from $685/week. Maui From $675/week. Big Island from $500/week. Kauai from $515/week.
What these Hawaii car rental prices tell us.
You see that prices will begin moderating starting late this summer. That is undoubtedly due to more cars arriving in Hawaii. By this fall, they start to look quite a bit more normal, actually. Holiday prices are always high, so that is not unusual.
Please let us know your thoughts.
Regular commenter Mary K. said today, “It is a supply and demand issue. A lot of cars were sent back to the mainland last summer as the cars were not being rented due to a lack of tourists. Many car rental companies reduced their fleets, i.e., sold their cars. This situation is not unique to Hawaii. I saw on the news last night car rentals rates are up all over the US due to the rental companies reducing their fleets. Demand is driving the prices up. If you find people who will pay $150 per day versus $50 per day, you would charge the higher amount, too. On top of this, the computer chip shortage is keeping car production low, so who knows when rental inventories will be back to normal?”
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 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. At peak times, we’ve found their rates can save at least $20 per day compared with competitors.
- Have you tried Turo? That’s a 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 we hear it isn’t easy to find availability.
- Check AutoSlash. Reader Lee from MI wrote: “I’ve been going to Kauai yearly for 12 years now and never spent more than $600 for 2 weeks on a convertible. Today all the sites were over $1400, more than double then what I spent last year. Then WOW!! I never heard of AutoSlash before reading this blog…AutoSlash beat them by $600 with Avis.”
- Look at discounts available through AAA, AARP, and Costco.
- For periods when there are no car rentals available, some visitors have tried Craigslist. 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.
- Going further afield, consider rentals from U-Haul and even from Home Depot.
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 become tough to dispute any surprise charges.
Airline frequent flyer points may increase your rate.
- It’s always good to ask about having them included in your rental. But do find out if there’s a daily charge for the accrual, what you’ll get, and how much it will cost.
Timing is everything.
- Make your car reservation far in advance for travel during high seasons, and at least for now, for all seasons.
- Once you make a reservation, be sure to check back several times to see if better deals arise before your trip. The price is a moving target. 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). Not long ago, we rented a car from Hertz, 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. 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. 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.