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Las Vegas travelers to pay hefty holiday price for rental cars

Tourists planning to spend Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas may be in for sticker shock when it comes to renting a car. Or a long wait for an Uber or Lyft.

Throughout the U.S., an estimated 37 million Americans are expected to travel by air and road from Thursday to Sunday, according to AAA. And in Las Vegas, experts are urging travelers to Las Vegas to plan ahead amid a shortage of rental cars and rideshare drivers.

Jonathan Weinberg, CEO and founder of car rental booking and tracking website AutoSlash.com, said cars are still available for the holiday weekend in Las Vegas, but it will cost travelers upward of $110 per day to rent one.

Renting a sedan Thursday to next Tuesday at McCarran International Airport comes at a total of $763, Weinberg said. “And that’s just a starting point,” he said. Some rental companies are already sold out throughout the long weekend.

“Las Vegas at $110 per day is definitely on the high side in terms of pricing,” Weinberg said. In other parts of the country, AutoSlash.com is seeing rental rates averaging around $75 to $125 per day.

Demand for car rentals

AAA Nevada said Las Vegas is the top destination for car rentals booked on AAA.com within the club’s region, followed by Honolulu, San Jose, Phoenix and Kahului.

“If you’re planning to travel in 2021 your experience may be very different from the last time you traveled so being prepared has never been so important,” said AAA Nevada spokesman Sergio Avila. “It might be a good idea to look into talking with a travel agent as they can provide good advice for those taking a trip.”

McCarran spokesman Joe Rajchel said passengers are urged to book their car rentals as early as possible.

“Anecdotally, we are seeing that some of the companies are seeing a little bit of longer waits,” he said of McCarran Airport Rent-A-Car Center. “What we’re seeing here is happening nationwide – that is, there is a supply issue when it comes to rental cars.”

Several U.S. car rental chains said the summer will bring new challenges as companies look to increase their fleet.

Last year, many companies sold cars sitting idle. Rental companies now aiming to scale their inventory to pre-pandemic levels are finding difficulty as a global chip shortage is hurting automakers. And rental companies seeking used and new cars are also competing against regular buyers willing to pay a premium.

Weinberg, of AutoSlash.com, said car rental companies are doing everything they can to acquire more vehicles. “Across the board, the rental companies have been adding vehicles wherever possible but it’s not a meaningful number when compared with the additional demand they are seeing,” he said.

Avis Budget Group, which owns Avis and Budget car rentals, said it is adding new vehicles to its inventory every day and is urging customers to book and prepay a reservation in advance to get the best deal available.

“As we return to a state of normalcy in a post-COVID-19 world, we expect larger fluctuations in market demand and customer rental patterns, such as those associated with vacation destinations, and are constantly adjusting our fleet to meet that demand,” a company spokesperson said Tuesday in a statement to the Review-Journal.

Enterprise Holdings – which owns Enterprise, Alamo, and National – said it’s seeing increased demand for vehicles across the entire country. Travelers, the company said, are also increasing the length of their rentals, and it noted some specialty vehicles such as vans, pickup trucks, convertibles and large SUVs are in high demand.

“We anticipate this strong demand will continue throughout the summer,” Enterprise spokeswoman Lisa Martini said. “If you’re planning travel, we encourage you to reserve a vehicle as early as possible. Providing flexible travel dates and branch pick up locations in your search may also help increase your options.”

Ride-hailing companies see longer wait times

Getting an Uber or a Lyft from McCarran might not be any easier. Expect longer wait times. Uber spokesman Javi Correoso said the company continues to see large demand for passengers in the Las Vegas Valley.

“As a company and knowing the demand that we’re going to see this weekend, we’re definitely focused on trying to get as many drivers as possible onto the platform to meet the demand during peak times,” Correoso told the Review-Journal. “Demand continues to grow in the market and as more people become vaccinated, folks start to travel and Las Vegas is very similar to some of our Florida markets – a big part of our business is tourism.”

Corresoso said Uber has been in communication with McCarran about the increased demand on its platform.

“They understand the challenges that we’re facing right now so yeah you know we do work with them very closely, and we’ve been in communication on some of these issues,” he told the Review-Journal.

Lyft is also seeing a surge of riders on its platform.

“We’re seeing big increases in demand for rides, as vaccines roll out and people get ready to start moving again,” a company representative said in an emailed statement. “ We are working to meet demand, including providing incentives to drivers.”

Ride-hailing services are having challenges getting more drivers on the road to meet demand. Both Uber and Lyft are working on incentives for drivers.

At the same time, the two ride-hailing companies are also in contact with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office and the Nevada Transportation Authority to discuss Nevada’s state of emergency.

Typically, when rider demand increases, “dynamic pricing” – or surge pricing – helps incentivize drivers to go to areas with increased demand; that isn’t an option with the state of emergency, which prohibited dyanmic pricing for ride-hailing services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, ride-hailing companies had a workshop session with the Nevada Transportation Authority and had submitted comments to the regulatory agency to address those challenges.

Lyft said that, by working with Sisolak’s office and the NTA, it hopes “to help ensure the State of Emergency doesn’t impact rider experience and driver earnings.”

Contact Jonathan Ng at jng@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ByJonathanNg on Twitter.

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