Devon is a business consultant who specializes in rental car operations. He has over 10 years of experience in the field.
Rental companies, like most other companies, have a cyclical business. Their business cycle exists on a yearly, monthly and even weekly time frame and has a big effect on both price and availability.
I've worked in the rental business for over ten years and I can tell you that rental vehicle supply and demand is extremely predictable. We often planned our fleet and pricing well in advance to meet the level of business that we were expecting to get. With that said, there are clearly better and worse times to rent vehicles. In this article, I'm going to outline the best times to rent a vehicle so that you get the best choices at the lowest cost.
These are not listed in any particular order.
Right After a Major Holiday
This might seem pretty intuitive. It's no secret that people tend to travel for major holidays to visit friends and family. But there are particular holidays that people tend to specifically rent cars for. Believe it or not, Christmas is not one of them. The two biggest holidays that people rent cars for are Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Many people rent larger vehicles than they own to take trips on these holidays and return their cars right after. If you want to rent a car after these holidays, you will have a great deal of choice and bargaining power.
Another notable holiday is Labor Day. Many people rent cars at the end of the summer to either get that last vacation in with the kids, or to bring their kids to college. Right after Labor Day, the rental car companies are looking to bring their fleet size and price down to get ready for the fall and winter months.
Renting a car after a major holiday is a great way to save money.
In the Fall or Spring
Summertime is the peak season for vehicle rentals. The demand and price are far above what they are the rest of the year. Vehicles like Minivans and Large SUVs are really priced at a premium. In the winter, accident claims are at their peak and the insurance-replacement rental is in very high demand. It's probably no surprise that renting any type of four-wheel-drive vehicle after the first snow of the season will be almost impossible. It will also be very difficult to get any vehicle after any major snowstorm, as there will be a high demand for insurance replacement-vehicles.
The Fall and Spring really have no major travel holidays and are not peak travel seasons and so they are the very best for renting a vehicle.
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Thursday Afternoon or Friday Morning
The weekly business cycle for a local rental car company is typically as follows: Monday morning is insanely busy renting cars to corporate and insurance replacement customers. Tuesday is similar to Monday, renting more cars to insurance replacement and dealership customers. By Wednesday, the rental location is completely out of cars and often has a waiting list of people looking to rent a car. Thursday afternoon, all of those corporate and insurance customers return and the lot is full of cars by the end of the night. On Friday morning, the rental location is desperately trying to get as many cars rented for the weekend and is usually willing to make a deal, especially on larger vehicles.
This means that the best time to rent is either Thursday night, or Friday morning. The downside of Thursday night is that you will probably have to wait in line behind all of the people returning their rentals and also wait for your rental to get cleaned up. If you rent Friday morning, you will typically get special weekend pricing (For Friday through Monday) which can be half off in a lot of cases.
Rent on Friday morning and get that great weekend special!
What Do You Think?
Renting a car can be stressful. It's even more stressful when you show up and there are no cars on the lot at the rental company. Add to that the extremely high price you could potentially pay for a rental and it sometimes doesn't even feel like it's worth the stress.
You can save a lot of stress and money by following the guidelines from this article and pairing them with great hotel deals (their business cycle is pretty similar to the rental business). I've been able to go on Long Island getaways with a rental vehicle/hotel package for what seemed like pennies just by travelling on off-peak days.
So what do you think? Do you have a story of a time when you got really great deal on rental? Did you ever pay too much for a rental? Let us know in the comments below!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Devon Lemieux
Devon Lemieux (author) from Gardner MA, on October 14, 2018:
There are certainly a lot of similarities and a lot of times the two go hand in hand. I think the big difference between the two is really the winter business. Once the big snowstorms hit, you can expect most rental agencies to be sold out and running a waiting list.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 14, 2018:
There seem to be a lot of similarities between hotel bookings and rental cars. Sunday nights are often the quietest in my experience. Monday through to Thursday hotels can charge high corporate rates and rooms are more expensive.