Rental car agencies across Australia are battling to keep up with increased customer demand, leaving holidaymakers unable to secure hire cars for their next domestic travel outing.
With state governments offering travel vouchers to incentivise local tourism, and holidaymakers finally able to cross some borders without restrictions, bookings are booming – but stock is low and prices can be high.
A spokesperson for Hertz said the in demand in the lead up to Easter had seen fleets in some areas – including Perth, Cairns and the entire state of Tasmania – "fully booked for Easter".
"It's a national problem," said a spokesperson for the NRMA, which owns national rental car agency Thrifty.
"When the pandemic hit at its worst last year, demand for hire vehicles dropped by about 95 per cent, so rental companies had to reduce their fleets. Hertz reduced its fleet by about 40 per cent."
Post-pandemic, however, demand for domestic tourism increased dramatically – but rental car companies were unable to replenish their fleets accordingly due to a shortage of new and used cars.
"Factors driving demand include the state borders opening up and governments encouraging people to travel through measures such as the Federal Government $1 billion in airfare subsidies to encourage interstate travel," the Hertz spokesperson told CarAdvice.
On the flipside, however, "the pandemic has impacted the global supply chain and it’s harder to get new vehicles into the country," the NRMA spokesperson said.
What's more, a demand-driven pricing model means consumers should expect to pay more for what limited stock is available.
"There’s no one price that fits all and things can change quickly," said the NRMA spokesperson.
Taylor Blackburn, personal finance specialist at Finder, said the comparison site's car hire page had seen a 360 per cent increase in traffic in March 2021 compared to March 2019 (pre-pandemic).
Finder's car hire deals page has also seen a 900 per cent increase in traffic over the same period.
Until stock levels improve, Hertz is advising customers to book as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment.
"We have ordered new vehicles with the intention of increasing our fleet throughout the year if borders remain open and demand is more certain than it has been," the spokesperson said.
"However, we are still dependent on manufacturers meeting supply deadlines."
Mr Blackburn from Finder advised those looking to locate vehicles last-minute to avoid airport counters.
"Renting from the airport counter generally costs more because of the vendor's cost to have that prime location," Mr Blackburn said.
"You could find yourself a bargain if you are willing to look at rentals outside the airport. As a bonus, it's common for them to offer to pick you up from the airport to take you to their lot."
Additionally, be wary of too-high prices and do your research before committing. "Base rates may be higher on certain high-traffic weekends, especially with more Aussies travelling, but car rental prices can drop significantly when demand is low," Mr Blackburn said.
"If you suspect you are being charged too much for a rental, you are probably right, so make sure you compare your options."
For those who have hit a roadblock in their holiday planning, Finder's car hire deals page rounds up all current offers on rental car stock, while car-sharing and subscription services like Car Next Door, Flexicar and GoGet can provide short-term access to cars in select cities.