Navigating through the Hawaiian Islands this winter poses a significant challenge even beyond securing affordable accommodations or airfare. First, Hawaii car rental prices calmed significantly since the car shortages and other problems following Covid. We found that to be true in rentals through most of 2023. But now, finding a reasonably priced Hawaii car rental without hidden catches of some kind is once again proving to be an arduous task.
We ran into the problem for an upcoming visit to Honolulu in mid-February. The cost of Hawaii car rentals went ridiculously high again. We wondered, wasn’t much of that supposed to be over?
Do you think there might still be a shortage of cars? It’s not the reason; we’ll show you how we know. And here’s what we’re doing to fight back.
We started with our tried and true technology and checked all the likely sources. The selection we wanted was a compact car or above from an agency, preferably Hertz or Avis (but willing to consider other majors). We also prefer not to prepay and thus keep our options open.
The places we checked included the following:
- Discount Hawaii Car Rental.
- Costco Travel.
Here’s the latest we found for a 4-day rental. Keep in mind these change frequently:
- Avis – $458 – not prepaid; via Priceline. Also $480 via Costco Travel.
- Dollar or Thrifty – $551 – not prepaid; via Kayak.
- Hertz – $659 – not prepaid; via Kayak.
The only cheap deals we could find were from a rental company unknown to us, by the name of Economy. Their rates strangely started as low as $180. However, some independent review checking we did of that rental company entirely slammed the door shut on that possibility.
Ultimately, the most economical choice emerged from Avis via Priceline for a non-paid rental of $458. We snagged that for now and set it up for the tracking of price changes on Autoslash.
Experience tells us to avoid prepaid rentals at almost all costs.
Unfortunately, on our last rental with Thrifty at Honolulu Airport late last year, a daunting, apparently multi-hour line at Thrifty and a seamless albeit more expensive situation at Avis dictated the decision to jettison the Thrifty reservation and head to Avis.
In our Hawaii car rental experience, enrolling in a frequent renter program usually enables customers to bypass long lines or, in some cases, encounter no lines at all. But that didn’t happen with Thrifty because we booked through Priceline and had to use their regular counter instead.
While Thrifty’s line snaked out the door and beyond, Avis provided an immediate and efficient check-in process, highlighting the value of time on time-limited precious Hawaii vacations. The experience underscored the importance of the rules we’ve set out for ourselves for Hawaii car rentals.
Rule 1: First, establish a free frequent renter account with the car rental company before making a reservation to reduce airport wait times significantly. But be aware of the new games car rental companies are playing in that regard below.
Rule 2: Avoid prepaying for car rentals to retain flexibility in making changes, capitalizing on lower prices that arise, and avoiding problems during the car pick-up.
Rule 3: Continuously check for better car options and prices until the last day before the trip. Set up a notification for rental price changes at Autoslash.
Rule 4: Explore multiple sources for the best deals, as the same source may not consistently offer the most favorable rates. We’ll mention Costco Travel as another potential cost-effective option.
Rule 5: Assess the need for a car rental throughout the entire stay, especially in areas like Waikiki, where alternative transportation methods may suffice for shorter distances, reducing overall costs, including parking. Consider the difference between city and airport rentals and leverage public transportation options like TheBus in Honolulu when a car is unnecessary.
How we can see that lack of inventory is not the issue.
To confirm that there was or wasn’t adequate car rental vehicle inventory on at least one island, we headed over to Lihue Airport on Kauai. There, at Ahukini Landing, you can see whatever car rentals are parked in their storage lots. And here’s what we found. In a word, “tons” of cars. This photo is of just one of the lots and it appeared to be full of cars.
On Kauai, for the same period in mid-February, the cheapest major company car rentals are starting at $665. That’s for the least expensive, non prepaid rental.
The latest consumer trickery in Hawaii car rentals.
In recent rentals, we found that companies including Thrifty and Dollar would no longer honor their free club advantages when the reservation came directly through a website other than theirs. Thus, when we booked through Priceline, we could not use the Dollar Express (shorter) line, even though we were Dollar Express members, and the membership number was entered in the reservation. While we haven’t found this to be true across the board yet, it does appear that a move is afoot to only offer express services to those who rent at a higher cost directly on the car rental company’s website.
In navigating the challenges of Hawaiian car rentals, we hope adopting these suggestions may help Hawaii visitors make informed decisions and enhance their overall experience in the islands.
What’s been going on with your Hawaii car rentals lately?