SHARE

Thanksgiving travel season is famously the worst time of the year to travel in the United States. It results in the worst days of congestion of the year, the busiest airports, probably the most crying babies on flights, and most certainly the poorest family road trip experiences anyone could have. 

There are several dominos that fall because of this surge in demand for travel, and one of the biggest is the pricing of rental cars, especially in dense vertical cities like New York City. The rates for rentals were already high in the current everything-is-expensive climate, and these types of weekends only make it worse. If you want to put a real damper on your holiday cheer, check these rental car prices out (Hint: They’re almost offensive).

Welcome to Headlight. This is a daily news feature that lights up one current event in the car world and breaks it down by three simple subheadings: What Happened, Why It Matters, and What To Look For Next. Look for it in the morning (Eastern time) every weekday.

What Happened

FinanceBuzz released a study on average rental car rates for Thanksgiving 2021 that outlined a grim and ballooned cost for rental cars in some cities. The most expensive come from New York City and Newark, N.J., just across from each other. It’s important to note that Newark hosts one of two major international airports that serve NYC. 

FinanceBuzz also took the time to analyze the cost for four days, which is a typical length of time for a typical Thanksgiving break. The resulting numbers are steep, to say the least. In NYC, a car rental will make your pocketbook $261.17 lighter per day for a total of $1,044.67 for four days. Think about paying a grand to get a Nissan Maxima “or similar” for four days that you likely won’t use much. It’s preposterous.

Newark is a close second place at $257.02 per day for a total of $1,028.09 for four days. I think this comes down to Newark being central and close to NYC, and folks are getting rentals from the airport to spider out from Newark. Still, it is steep. 

Lucky for most of us, rental car costs drop steeply from there. White Plains, N.Y., is a distant third with $186.73 daily cost and Atlanta, Ga., comes in at a long fourth at $168.26. Although that is not at all a cheap average rental, it is substantially less than NYC. The rest of the list evens out at the $120-$80 range and Anchorage, Alaska, rounds out the bottom with a dirt-cheap $50.43 average.

Why It Matters

The holidays are an interesting time of year for a lot of folks. Everyone has a different kind of relationship with family and friends, and there is certainly a pile of emotional distress that comes with this holiday for many. I can’t imagine dealing with that and also dropping the cost of two LeMons cars on a four-day rental to somewhere that is potentially not fun. I can’t say I relate, but my friends and colleagues tend to describe this season as hellish rather than fun.

Perhaps, booking a car months in advance could ease the cost substantially, but most of us don’t know when exactly we vacation until it is the last minute. It is important to also be aware of how the travel industry fluctuates based on demand and the time of the year because a last-minute trip can get expensive very quickly. 

Let’s be real here: There is also the distinct possibility of not getting a good or even a passable rental car. With the supply chain issues that currently blanket the United States, cars are more scarce than ever, and that also means rental cars. The part in the initial rental agreement that says, “or similar,” can have a pretty broad mandate. You could totally book an Altima and get a Versa. Although that is perfectly fine, it is not what you paid for.

Travelers beware, because this is ungood. But there are a few takeaways here, especially with how people move. The Christmas travel surge shifts significantly to less dense locations and more leisurely places like Hawaii, which is fascinating. Point is, this is only temporary and things could recover quickly after Thanksgiving.

What To Look For Next

After the Thanksgiving surge, things are projected to calm down, even for Christmas. NYC drops below $100 per day and out of the top 15, with its top spot taken by Kona, Hawaii, at $194.82 per day. It seems like everyone flys off to somewhere sunny and beautiful after dealing with Thanksgiving dinner. Do we really blame them?

Traveling during this season is indeed hellish. If you’re close to family or if you’re staying home, be grateful for that. You could be in a Hyundai Accent for $250 per day. 

MORE TO READ