Memorial Day weekend is expected to be a coming out party.
Roads and airways likely will be crowded with travelers seeking an adventure after being stuck at home during the COVID pandemic.
But advisors are warning travelers about a shortage of rental cars in many cities, including popular destinations such as Hawaii, Las Vegas and various parts of Florida.
“I wouldn’t show up in a town with no reservations.” said Steve Cosgrove, president of Dynamic Travel & Cruises in the Southlake-Grapevine area. “If you’re going any place, it’s hard to find a car right now, and if you do find a car it’s going to be expensive.”
Many car rental agencies sold off their fleets during the COVID-fueled economic downturn, thinking they wouldn’t need those wheels for months to come. But as serious cases of COVID continue to drop and vaccinations increase, those rental car companies now find themselves without enough cars to meet consumer demand.
AAA advises travelers to book cars while making flight reservations, if possible, or to work through a travel advisor to ensure that ground transportation will be available at your destination.
A quick check on American Airlines’ online reservations system at www.aa.com showed no rental cars available on Thursday at either Honolulu or Miami. However, for those wishing to travel to Las Vegas, compact rental cars were available for $139 or $140 per night through American’s booking partnership with either Avis or Budget Rent a Car.
Some travelers might find it easier to rent cars at off-airport locations in many cities, said Daniel Armbruster, AAA-Texas spokesman.
In all, AAA expects 37.1 million Americans to travel during the Memorial Day weekend period.
Of those, 34.4 million will travel by car, 2.5 million by air and the remaining 237,000 by buses, trains or other transportation modes.
The amount of travel is a whopping 61% higher than the same period last year, when many Americans were in the early weeks of a pandemic shutdown that would last for much of the rest of 2020 and part of 2021.
However, travel is still about 13% below pre-pandemic levels — as some travelers are hesitant to go back into public areas, and some popular destinations such as New York still aren’t up and running at 100% capacity.
In Texas 3 million people are expected to travel during Memorial Day weekend — including 2.8 million by car.
“Many Texans are excited to travel this Memorial Day holiday as more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence grows,” Kent Livesay, AAA-Texas vice president and general manager, said in an email. “This is in large part a result of pent-up demand that will lead to a significant increase in Memorial Day travel, which is also a strong indicator for summer, though it is important to remember to continue taking important safety precautions.”
Local Dallas-Fort Worth traffic
For drivers, the busiest times to initiate travel will be Thursday and Friday afternoons. During that time, traveling motorists will be on the roads at the same time as weekday commuters, which can double or even triple the gridlock in metro areas, said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at the analytics firm INRIX.
“Although vehicle trips are down as much as 40% in some metros, afternoon congestion is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels,” Pishue said in an email. “With the increase of holiday travelers to the typical afternoon commute, drivers in the larger metros should expect longer delays heading into the holiday weekend. Travelers should anticipate delays to start on Wednesday and continue through Memorial Day. Our advice to drivers is to avoid the evening commute times and plan alternate routes.”
Motorists can expect to pay steeper prices for gasoline — possibly more than $3 per gallon of regular unleaded in some areas. In Texas, the average price at the pumps is about $2.76, AAA reports.
AAA doesn’t expect the price at the pumps to hurt Memorial Day travel, as many consumers opt to spend less on meals and other incidental costs to make up for the fuel costs.