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Rental cars more affordable as demand slows

Shortage of cars, return of tourists sent prices soaring over the summer

As the demand for vehicles slows down and rental companies restock their fleets, hundreds of idled rental cars are beginning to fill the three fields behind the Kahului Airport on Sunday. Officials say that September and October are typically calmer months for the Valley Isle with incoming visitor numbers from the Mainland much lower. DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

Rental car companies are replenishing their fleets and slightly stabilizing prices as Maui’s visitor numbers and the demand for vehicles slow down this month.

Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said Friday that companies are currently bringing back about 3,000 or so rental vehicles total and “I’m sure more will be coming in as the next few months roll in.”

Arriving passenger counts have been averaging about 4,500 a day to Kahului Airport from the Mainland throughout September, with the outbound counts averaging about 5,000 passengers a day.

“Looks like these numbers will hold up for October,” Moniz said. “Historically October is one of the slower months.”

Idled vehicles in the fields by the airport are piling back up as daily car rentals are seeing a slight drop; about 800 cars a day are rented, according to Moniz. Uber, Lyft and taxi services are currently operating at stable rates, showing “no big spike” or “no big drop” within the past month.

Between the island’s busy months till now, local rental companies have experienced a drastic change.

Back in May and April, vehicles were being booked out pretty fast at Maui Car Rentals while there was a high demand for rentals and a low supply of vehicles, but the need has since slowed down, manager Kali’i Oliveira said Wednesday.

Although September and October are naturally slower months, which is when the company offers specials and sales, Oliveira said that they’ve been losing a number of reservations since Gov. David Ige’s announcement last month recommending visitors to postpone travel to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ve been getting cancellations almost everyday, from all over too — not just from the U.S. but a lot of people from Canada are cancelling,” Oliveira said. “We’ve been getting cancellations for October and even in November as well.”

The fleet size is about 120, with around 20 to 30 cars “just kind of sitting here right now,” he added.

It’s a change from earlier this year, when demand was so high that one customer even asked if they could rent Oliveira’s personal vehicle for $100 a day.

The Kahului business usually rents by the week, with prices ranging from $500 to just over $700, according to the website. Oliveira said that they are willing to match rates.

National rental car companies seem to be experiencing a steady demand for rentals, with the majority of Maui’s operators booked out until the end of October, like Alamo and Enterprise, according to the companies’ websites.

Prices are showing a very slight decline, though, averaging from about $400 to $1,850 for a five-day reservation depending on the type of car.

A reservation for a Hertz car back in May and April cost upwards of more than $1,000 to $2,000 for a five-day span, depending on the size of the vehicle. As of Thursday, vehicles for many major rental companies were not available until the end of October, but show much lower prices, ranging from just under $300 to about $730.

However, Thrifty’s availability has stabilized since the months when customers had to pay around $1,000 a week due to low supply of vehicles.

As of Sunday, a reservation for the week of Oct. 11 shows prices of about $450 to about $590, ranging from a small two-door economy car to a van.

During the rising demand for rentals at the beginning of the year, Sixt SE, an international provider with about 2,100 locations in more than 110 countries, quickly added 70,900 vehicles to its global fleet, increasing the international stock to about 146,000 vehicles total by the end of the second quarter.

“In general, with celebrations around Labor Day and the start of the back-to-school season following the summer holidays, the month of September is traditionally a slightly quieter time for travel in the US,” Sixt said in a statement Wednesday.

In general, the company recommends customers to book in advance in order to secure better prices and availability.

“The exact pricing depends on several parameters, such as where and when bookings are made,” the company said.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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