Boston travelers are facing sky-high prices for rental cars, or no cars at all, ahead of the Boston Marathon weekend, one of the busiest tourism weekends since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
After selling off much of their fleets in 2020 when people abruptly stopped traveling, rental car companies are struggling to meet demand as new cars are slow to come on the market because of a shortage of semiconductors.
On Thursday, five rental car counters at Boston Logan International Airport had no cars available.
The lines of hopeful travelers holding printed reservations at the Logan rental car center Thursday extended past the retractable belt barriers at some check-in counters. Those turned away could be seen nearby scouring ride-share apps for the best deals to make it to their destinations.
Bianca Silva, 29, said she has been trying — and failing — to book a rental car online since arriving in Boston on Monday ahead of her boyfriend’s nephew’s baptism celebration this weekend. Each time, the rental car websites said they were sold out.
Increasingly desperate, on Thursday she trekked out to Logan’s rental car center hoping she’d have better luck in person. But as she made her way down the line of company counters, she heard the same reply from agents at Thrifty, Hertz, and Enterprise: No cars to rent.
“It’s just crazy,” she said, exasperated. “Everyone used their pandemic money to buy cars and now they’re out.”
The rental car shortage reached its peak in Boston starting last weekend, ahead of the New England Patriots vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, said an agent with rental company SIXT, who declined to give her name. Agents from Hertz and Enterprise said they’ve had to turn away customers without reservations in recent days. An agent at Enterprise said the company only had “exotic” cars available, like Range Rovers, that cost more than the average rental.
In a statement, Enterprise Holdings, which owns Enterprise, Alamo, and National, said reserving a car as early as possible is critical while the industry weathers supply chain challenges.
“In Boston, we are seeing additional seasonal and event demand, further increasing the local demand for car rentals,” the company said. “Our teams are working hard to meet the increasing travel demand and support customers’ broader transportation needs.”
Some of those with reservations Thursday had made them well in advance.
Michelle Hoffman, 50, visiting from Philadelphia, booked her car from Enterprise in April for a trip this weekend to Salem with her niece. Salem’s ghost tours and Halloween attractions have long been on their bucket lists.
She wanted a sport utility vehicle, but only compact cars were available, she said. She paid $500 for three days.
“It was slim pickings,” she said.
Cosmo Dischino, 66, visiting Boston from Palm Beach for his son’s baby shower this weekend, reserved a car from Thrifty three weeks ago for $600. The only option was a mystery vehicle.
“It’s crazy, just ridiculous,” he said, while waiting in line Thursday. “I might get a Kia or something.”
Rental car companies have been experiencing shortages nationwide for several months, said Jennifer Mehigan, director of communications for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Boston Logan International Airport.
“We are hearing there is high demand for cars with the Marathon on Monday, the Red Sox in the post season, and the overall fall foliage season in New England,” she said in an e-mail.
Rental cars aren’t the only way to get to and from the airport, Mehigan pointed out, citing Logan Express bus service, the MBTA Blue and Silver lines, water taxi and ferry, private bus, ride-share apps, limos, and taxis.
“We would recommend passengers plan ahead and look at our website for information on transportation options,” said Mehigan.