When should you rent a car for your trip to Hawaii?
Travelers have found that sometimes, just before departure, they can find greatly reduced deals on airfare as the airlines try and fill empty seats. This is, of course, a gamble but it does work out sometimes for the last minute traveler. In my experience, rental cars do not work this way.
The car rental agencies will stock their fleets at a level they hope will be profitable. This means they want to limit the amount of cars sitting around during slow times but have enough on hand to get the most profit during Hawaii's peak travel season. Because of this, they are willing and plan to accept a low percentage of idle cars and thus do not cut rates at the last minute to increase rentals.
Tourism in Hawaii is at its peak from December 15th to March 1st. The last two weeks of December tend to be so busy that the majority of rental car companies will increase their rates greatly over this period of time. If you search far enough in advance, you may find a company which offers flat rates over that period of time but they will be completely sold out 3 to 4 months in advance of the peak season.
As far as rental classes, Minivans will sell out first. Generally, minivan inventory on all islands is sold out three months in advance of the peak season. Minivans you find after this time frame usually come at a steep premium. If you want to find the best deals, you need to reserve your minivan six months in advance, not at the last minute.
SUVs tend to sell out next as they tend to carry 5 passengers, have a lot of room for luggage and usually four wheel drive capability. SUVs will sell out about 2 weeks after the minivans are sold out.
The next spike in tourism in Hawaii comes over the summer months. Again, many rental agencies increase rates over the summer. Several are now offering flat rates through the summer, so again, it behooves one to rent 3 months in advance of the summer season.
Car rental availability also depends on the destination island. Hawaii is the island which experiences the most tourism in the Hawaiian Island chain. As such, it sells out earlier than the others. There are two major airports on Hawaii, “The Big Island”, Hilo and Kona. Hilo is the smaller of the two and thus sells out sooner as it has less inventory. By the end of November, Kona tends to be completely sold out of every type of vehicle let alone the vehicle of your choice.
Molokai sells out next due to its small size and limited car inventory. Next comes Kahului on Maui and then Lihue on Kauai. By the first week in December, you are no longer searching for deals on your desired car, but merely searching for any available car. Instead of a minivan, you are now renting two full size vehicles, etc.
One other issue to consider is that the major rental agencies do not charge for cancellations or changes. With this in mind, there is little or no monetary risk involved in making an early reservation.
So, a few rules of thumb:
So, in summary, rent 6 months in advance of the peak winter season and at least 3 months in advance of the busy summer season. Remember, there are no penalties for cancellation and changes. Take the money you save on your car rental and use it to buy additional activities to maximize your vacation fun.