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National car rental shortage slams Austin

Last weekend, Austin had the second-highest car rental rates in the country. Hawaii was number one.

AUSTIN, Texas — There is a national rental car shortage leading to skyrocketing rental rates. 

Eager travelers filled the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Thursday. 

"We are celebrating someone's 40th birthday," said visitor Andrea Carpenter. "We've never been."

Carpenter and her crew flew in from Indiana with some big plans, but Carpenter said the hardest part was trying to find a rental car for the four of them.

"We have a family member who works at Enterprise and there is none in Austin," said Carpenter. "The one we did find was going to be $1,000 for the four days we are going to be here."

She's not the only traveler encountering rising rental prices. Jonathan Weinberg, the CEO of AutoSlash, a website that helps you find cheap rentals, said rental cars are completely sold out in Austin this weekend. 

Weinberg said the demand for rental vehicles dropped by 90% during the pandemic, forcing car rental companies to sell off about 1 million cars from their fleets to stay open. Now, they can't keep up with demand. 

"They tried to acquire more vehicles, but they quickly found out that wasn't possible because of the semiconductor shortage and because of factory shutdowns that happened during COVID," said Weinberg. "So they're really playing catchup right now and rates are crazy. We're seeing rates of anywhere from $100 to $500 per day. We saw 18 out of the 20 airports in Florida completely sold out for President's Day weekend." 

RELATED: New, used and rental cars all in short supply due to global chip shortage

While this is a national shortage, Weinberg said recent hail damage to vehicles put Austin rental companies in a deeper hole. He said the cheapest rental vehicle in the city last weekend was $180 per day, which was the highest in the country after Hawaii, where last week some travelers rented U-Hauls to get around because it was cheaper. 

An alternative solution could be Avail Car Sharing Company at AUS. The company rents out other people's vehicles for them. 

"Kind of like what Airbnb does for a home, we do for cars," said manager John Oswald.

You could travel using Uber, like Carpenter decided to. 

"We are just going to do rideshare," said Carpenter.

To make getting a rental car easier, Weinberg suggests planning early and sign up for loyalty programs to avoid long lines.

"They're free to sign up for," said Weinberg." Give the rental car company your credit card and your driver's license information, and you could just skip right by the counter."

Weinberg said AutoSlash tracks your rental and sends a notification if a cheaper option arises.

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