The new shortage of rental cars during the pandemic. When you book a trip, the order is usually flight, hotel then eventually, reserve the car — but not anymore.

This year, experts say to book that rental car first. Tina Sumerford and her family headed to Phoenix, Arizona last month to celebrate her daughter’s 30th birthday. 

They booked a rental car but when they arrived at the counter, they say they were told, ‘sorry, no cars available.’

“I was very flabbergasted at the situation,” said Tina Sumerford.

Ultimately spending $600 during the trip on hired cars to and from the airport when they only expected to pay $330 for the rental. 

“What’s the point of the reservation?” added Sumerford.

“If they’re going to not give you your reservations, they should actually somehow compensate you in some way, said Chris Sumerford.

Tina and Chris are not alone. Social media is full of posts about shortages and pictures of lines for rental cars hours long in airports across the country, and those were just the people who were able to get reservations.

Hertz reporting its inventory is below 300,000 — that’s down 42% compared to 2019. Avis reported that it “profitably disposed” of 250,000 vehicles globally last year.

”Rental cars had a terrible business situation during the pandemic. So they sold off, in some cases, as much as half of their fleet,” said Scott McCartney, Wall Street Journal, travel columnist. “They sold off really more than half a million cars. A lot of cars, they found a very strong used car market to sell into.”

But now as they try to replace those vehicles, another shortage is compounding the situation.

“Then you mix in the problems that the rental car companies have had getting new cars out of factories from manufacturers which have had to slow down because of a shortage of semiconductor chips,” added McCartney.

Hertz confirms these issues adding “we anticipate strong demand for car rental to last several months and throughout the summer and encourage customers to book as early as possible and at the same time they’re making other travel arrangements.”

”I think the lesson that I’ve learned is that I will make sure that I’m calling before to confirm and making sure that our reservation is going to be there,” said Tina.

There is no quick solution to this problem, but there are some tips.

Give yourself extra time at the airport for getting the rental car. Consider renting at an off-airport location. A drastic recommendation — some are resorting to renting U-Haul pickup trucks for their vacation.

One other suggestion worth looking into, peer to peer sharing sites like Turo, GetAround, and Avail.

It’s like Airbnb for cars and it can save money.

For example, a Memorial Day weekend rental in Honolulu is more than $1,300 dollars with national rental chains – but on Turo just $137.

Of course, keep in mind, you don’t know how those private owners are maintaining their cars and a lot of people rely on their credit card companies to provide rental car insurance  – that may not work here. 

You may need separate insurance.