That Hamptons Getaway This Summer? Good Luck Renting a Car in NYC

Editor’s Note: No city is more important to America’s economy than New York, and none has been hit harder by the coronavirus. “NYC Reopens” examines life in the capital of capitalism as the city takes its first halting steps toward a new normal.

After being cooped up in their apartments for months because of the pandemic, New Yorkers are ready to reclaim a quintessential rite of summer — that long weekend in the Hamptons or the Catskills.

But finding a rental car to get there won’t be cheap or easy.

Because of a surge in one-way rentals by people fleeing the city in the past few months, cars in the metro area are in short supply. That, coupled with the fact that New Yorkers are still wary of flying or taking trains, has driven up demand and caused rental prices to skyrocket.

The average price for a one-day Avis car rental in New York has risen above $240, more than double the low in late April and 25% higher than the pre-pandemic average in February, according to data compiled by Thinknum Alternative Data.

That Hamptons Getaway This Summer? Good Luck Renting a Car in NYC

Carolyn Zezima, who rented a car to visit her elderly father in Connecticut for Father’s Day, says she spent weeks looking and was shocked to find that none were available from Enterprise.

“I had been pushing my husband — we need to rent a car,” said Zezima, who ultimately paid $252 for a one-day rental she found from Hertz. “There were never any cars.”

Enterprise spokeswoman Lisa Martini said fewer vehicles are available because a “large number of rentals” leaving the New York metro area over the last several months have yet to be returned. The company is moving more vehicles into the city to meet the increased demand.

New Yorkers aren’t alone. U.S. rental-car searches for the Fourth of July weekend have risen 20% compared with a year ago, according to the travel-search site Kayak. The increase has been particularly prominent in big cities such as New York. In Brooklyn, for example, searches have more than doubled. In Queens, they’re up roughly 80%.

That Hamptons Getaway This Summer? Good Luck Renting a Car in NYC

“Whatever cars there are, they’re being gobbled up,” said Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting Group, which studies the industry.

Those spikes in demand have led rental-car companies to boost their prices for New Yorkers looking to get away.

And while summer travel is expected to be down this year, Americans are likely to be more inclined to go by car versus other means of transportation, according to a AAA survey last week.

That Hamptons Getaway This Summer? Good Luck Renting a Car in NYC

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To be sure, the surge in rental demand in large cities probably won’t offset the steep declines in the industry more broadly. Hertz Global Holdings Inc., filed for bankruptcy in May, and rental-car companies have been looking to reduce the size of their fleets.

Companies are also taking extra steps to assure customers their vehicles are safe. Enterprise, for instance, identified more than 20 “high-touch points” it is disinfecting in addition to the usual washing, vacuuming and wipe down.

On Monday, Joe Cogen was in Williamsburg returning a Thrifty rental car after a two-week road trip with his girlfriend. Unlike many New Yorkers, the musician, who lives in Long Island City, explained that he had no trouble getting a reservation.

He booked in mid-April.

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