Hawaii car rental at a Bargain Price

With a little planning and a small investment in time, you can find the perfect rental car for your trip to Hawaii – without breaking the bank.

There are many factors that affect the price of a car rental in Hawaii. These factors include the time of year that you travel, the length of your stay, pick-up and drop-off times, the class of vehicle desired, when you make your reservation, where the pick up lot is located and which rental company you make your reservation through.

Time of Year
In Hawaii, most rental agencies increase their rates over high-traffic periods, such as the summer and holiday seasons.  The rates usually go up in mid-June through mid-August and again in mid-December through the end of the year.

It is strongly recommended that car reservations be made at least three months in advance, because most of the agencies will sell out their entire fleet over these peak periods, leaving you with very few options, if any.  Rental agencies on the Big Island (at the Kona and Hilo airports) tend to sell out sooner than the rest. Also, there are usually several companies who choose to not raise their prices over the summer. Due to changing costs of operation, rental agencies set their pricing structure annually. Therefore, the companies which choose to not raise rates over the summer months this year may still change their rates the following year. In 2007, for example, Avis and Budget chose to keep their rates flat over the summer months.

Length of Stay
Most rental agencies give you a break for a week-long rental. They charge you for the first five days and give you the last two at no additional charge. The easy way to check this is to look at the daily and weekly base rates.  If the daily base rate on a minivan, for example, is $50.00, the weekly base rate should then be $250.00.

Hawaii consists of a chain of seven islands, with each island having a different feel and “personality” to it.  Because of this, many travelers like to island-hop or travel to a few different islands in one week.  In such an event, please remember that you do not get to combine rentals on different islands to get the weekly rate.  The rental companies bear the same costs associated with a rental at each location (such as the agent at the counter, processing paperwork, clean up and moving of the cars, etc.), so it would make little sense for the rental companies to combine rentals across the islands – even though you may use the same company. Therefore, if you can stay on one island, you can usually receive a much lower rate than if you reserve vehicles on various islands. 

Pick Up and Drop Off Times
When determining your flight plans, please keep in mind that all of the major rental agencies in Hawaii charge for additional hours on top of a daily or weekly rental.  For example, if a daily rental costs $60.00, then the rental agencies will divide this number by three to get the hourly rate, and then for every additional hour over the daily rate, they will apply the $20.00 base rate.  In this case, if you wanted to rent the car for one day and three hours, you would be paying for the full, two-day rental rate of $60.00. With this in mind, you can save money on your car rental if you pick up and drop off in 24-hour increments or less or if you choose to return the car an hour earlier than needed.

Class of Car
This one is kind of a no-brainer.  If a car is in high demand (convertibles, Jeep Wranglers) or expensive to purchase (SUVs, luxury cars) or seats a lot of people (minivans), the rental agencies will charge more for them.

However, there are a few tricks to know. Most midsize cars available for rent come with five seatbelts.  If you do not have a lot of luggage, you can downsize from a full-size car to a midsize car when traveling with five people. One company, Avis, actually has a free upgrade program where you can upgrade from a compact to a midsize or from a midsize to a full-size at no additional charge, based on availability at the time of pick-up.  Statistically, these upgrades are said to be available about 85% of the time, so unfortunately, it is not guaranteed.

When to Make a Reservation
In Hawaii, it is not difficult to find a rental agency who will allow you to make a reservation with no cancellation penalties. Therefore, you are at no risk if you make a reservation in the very early stages of your planning process. During slow rental periods, rental agencies will sometimes drop their prices a week before the pick up date in an attempt to attract last-minute travelers.  However, due to the high cost of purchasing a fleet of vehicles, the rental agencies plan their fleet sizes out precisely; and thus, there are few slow rental periods. If you wait until the last minute to reserve a vehicle, you may find that a lot of agencies are sold out and/or that the cars that are available are at a very high price. Therefore, we always recommend making your car rental reservation at least three months in advance.

We also recommend that our customers with reservations in place go online and check the rates a couple of weeks before they are scheduled to pick up their vehicle. If the rates have gone down, a new reservation can be made at the lower rate, and the original reservation can be canceled without penalty.

Pick Up Lot Location
The term, “on airport location” can be a little misleading in Hawaii. With the exception of the Hilo Airport (where the pickup lot is just across the street from the baggage claim area), customers will take a free shuttle bus ride from the baggage claim area to the pick up lot. A shuttle bus ride to an “on-airport” pick-up location will take approximately four minutes, whereas a shuttle bus ride to an “off-airport “pick up location will usually take between eight and ten minutes.  If a rental agency operates on airport property, they are charged a concession fee per rental, which is a little over 8%.  This rate is then passed along to the customer in the form of a surcharge.  If you would like to save 8% on your car rental, in exchange for five more minutes on the shuttle, you may want to consider reserving through companies like Enterprise and Thrifty, which are usually located off airport grounds in Hawaii and will therefore not pass along a concession fee to their customers.

How To Search For A Good Deal
We strongly recommend that our customers search for the best deal through various sources. First, you can go directly to the rental agency via telephone or online to obtain a quote. Most major agencies have locations in Hawaii, such as Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and Thrifty. All have pricing that fluctuates with the time of year as well as with demand, so it is always worth checking the rates through various companies before placing a reservation. There are certainly a lot of rental companies to choose from, but if you have a favorite rental company that you have reserved through before, that can help narrow the search down.

Most of the major rental agencies offer rentals through a variety of partners as well.  These partners, or affiliates, usually do their sales and marketing online.  They function like wholesalers and operate with set pricing throughout the year. The set pricing is frequently lower than the pricing offered directly by the major rental agencies, so these “rental partners” are worth looking into as well. Searching Google, for example, and typing in major search terms such as “Hawaii car rentals” will yield a nice list of affiliate companies that offer comparison pricing at discounted rates throughout the islands.

These rental affiliates have corporate contracts with the rental companies, and these contracts frequently enable them to offer additional benefits that you would not receive if you book directly with the rental company. For example, if you reserved a car through one of Thrifty’s partners in 2007, you could receive additional benefits such as no additional charge for drivers under the age of 25 and any number of additional drivers at no additional cost.  In 2007, Enterprise also offered no charge for drivers under 25, but only when the reservation was placed through one of their rental partners.

As you can see, there are a variety of factors that influence how much you will pay for a car rental while vacationing in Hawaii.  By carefully planning when you travel and how long you will stay and spending a little time to research the type of vehicle you wish to reserve and which company to reserve it through as well as making the reservation well in advance, you can greatly reduce the amount of money you pay for the rental while still getting the right vehicle that best suits your rental needs.