Cheap Car Rentals in Maui – How I Saved 70%
As travel returns to Hawaii, an emerging trend of expensive car rentals are being reported left and right. Want a compact car such as a Kia Rio? Be prepared to pay $300 / day. That’s not even expensive when you look at reports for $600 / day car rentals. On Maui, one of the most popular Hawaiian islands for tourists, you’re looking a $1,500 – $2,000 for a 5-day car rental!
Maui, like the rest of Hawaii, currently has a pandemic-induced rental car shortage. This is due to rental car companies forced to sell or send their vehicles back to the mainland during 2020, when COVID-19 shut down the travel industry, and car rental industry was dormant for 9 months. Hertz even declared bankruptcy (but will exit from Chapter 11).
Fast forward to April 2021. As travel bounces back, compounded by the spring break surge began mid-March, rental car companies now suddenly find themselves with huge demand with no supplies. Simply economics: when no one has cars, and everyone wants cars, prices go up!
How to Save Money on Maui Car Rentals
Maui is one of the most popular islands in Hawaii, and you pretty much need a car to get around the island. Although Maui does have a somewhat-reliable bus system that will get you to the main parts of the island, it simply won’t do for many scenic spots and destinations that makes you want to go to Maui in the first place. Also, unlike the bus system on Oahu, Maui buses are infrequent, and when you are on vacation, time is money.
We all know the the basics of car rentals such as booking via Expedia or with car rental companies directly. But don’t stop there! I will show you some other ways to book a car rental for cheap here.
For this article, I will be looking at a 4-day car rental for May 10-14. Why? It’s not too close-in like mid April, when supplies are surely gone (you definitely want to book early) and it’s not yet Memorial Day. If you want a deal in Hawaii, find a cheap time to go. Otherwise, you might as well be prepared to pay market rate. I also picked May 10-14 because while it’s about a month from the date of writing (April 6), some companies already ran out of inventory, and as you will see, some (but not all) traditional go-to methods like Costco already show no inventory. This creates big differences in pricing, which is exactly what I want to show you.
One thing is for certain though, you will have to do your due diligence to get a good rate! DD is not just for GameStop and AMC, folks. There is no magic formula that will get you the cheapest rate, and different search parameters (i.e. date, location, car choice, company / website preference) will result in different pricings. Expedia may be cheapest for next week while Kayak may be cheaper for the same rental next month. This is why you need to be checking every avenue available to you in order the secure the best rate.
Also, in order to simply things, I am going to make a few assumptions here:
- We are flying into Kahului Airport (OGG) – Maui’s main airport
- We want the cheapest car only from any rental company (even if poorly rated)
- Youth rate, extra driver, and other non-standard search parameters will not be considered here – but I will show you where to get some perks included – for free
- We will only prepay if the rate is cancellable (i.e. free cancel up to X amount of hours before pick up time). So hot rates (where you won’t know which company you get until you pay) will be ignored – because those are non-refundable
- Vehicle class upgrades / Brand loyalty will not be considered
- Business / Corporation codes (such as CDP codes at Hertz) will also not be considered, because there is always a chance you will be asked for ID (yes, even when using Chabad code)
- Moped / motorcycle / exotic car rentals are not discussed here as those belong in a totally separate discussion
Start with Aggregators and Online Travel Agencies (OTA)
Sites like Expedia, Kayak, Momondo, etc, do a pretty good job at combining basic rental rates from all the major car companies. Although they all serve the same purpose, you do want to check at least a few that you are familiar with. I will show you why.
My searches usually start with Expedia in order to give me a baseline (it used to be Hipmunk, but sadly, they shut down just before the pandemic).
Again, we are looking at the cheapest option here. A quick search on Expedia yields $240/ day, or $1,069 total over 4 days, taxes and fees included. This is expensive!
Orbitz, and Travelocity can usually be skipped because they are now owned by Expedia, and prices are almost always the same. A quick search confirmed that. I also don’t bother with Hotwire because I’m not interested in their Hot Rate, and their standard pricing are more expensive than Expedia, despite also being owned by Expedia.
Next let’s look at what Kayak shows:
You can see that SixT, which Expedia did not return a result for, has the cheapest rate here. It’s coming in at $762 total; better than Expedia. So it definitely serves us well to check multiple aggregators. Now let’s make a note of what rental companies Kayak searched, and let’s remember that Hertz is showing a whopping $1,058 here.
Rentalcars.com is another useful aggregator, so let’s search them too:
Wow! This is by far the cheapest so far, coming in at $486. Also, notice this is with Hertz, where Kayak showed $1,058! I will note here that booking.com owns rentalcars.com and priceline.com, and their results are the same, so I won’t get into those sites here.
Momondo is another good source, but we need to be careful to search for free cancellation options only, as they include non-cancellable rates by default.
Even cheaper, at $473! But wait – after clicking through to its supplier – Qeeq.com – you will see it’s there’s an even cheaper rate with Dollar, and the price to book in-app is only $427 (yes, it can be cheaper to book in app, and I’ve written about Expedia’s rates can be much cheaper on website vs app too):
I will note that trip.com (which also owns skyscanner.com) has the same rate as Qeeq.com – but no discount when you book in-app.
At this point, we’re starting to go down the rabbit hole of all the OTAs and aggregators out there. There is really no limit on how many of these sites you can search, but at some point you have to question the reputation of these sites you’ve never heard of. We will stop here and say $427 is the cheapest option we’ve found so far.
The takeaway here is that by searching multiple aggregator and OTA sites, you are getting a wide range of results.
Search with another Country or Currency
Sometimes you get a very marginal difference due to fluctuating foreign exchange rates. Other times you save big. Using Expedia’s outrageous $1,069 as an example. Let’s see if the Canadian version on expedia.ca yields a better result:
Wow! $592 CAD is $470 USD. By simply searching on Expedia’s Canada website, we saved 47% instantly! And that’s not even the same car: this is a standard vehicle from Hertz! For comparison, the exact same vehicle on Expedia’s US site is $1,357, for a true discount of 65%:
This is a great example of an OTA / aggregator providing drastically different results on two different countries’ booking engines.
Don't Forget to Check Costco
If you have a Costco membership, don’t forget to put it to good use! If you are not yet a Costco member, and you are visiting Hawaii, just know that the gas savings comparing to other gas stations on the island can be substantial. Something to consider if you are on the fence on justifying that $60 / year membership cost.
To take advantage of Costco’s members-only discounts when booking a car, go to costcotravel.com. Only 4 companies are searchable: Alamo, Avis, Budget, and National.
Unfortunately, costcotravel.com already sold out of vehicles (yep!) for that week. Of course, booking through Costco also gives you a 2nd driver for free! So if you need to share driving duties, further savings can be had here.
Discount Hawaii Car Rental
discounthawaiicarrental.com is an interesting site. It aggregates results from multiple companies from Hawaii only (though if I recall correctly – usually not Hertz. It used to show as a mystery brand – Brand 7, but I have not seen that as of late). The prices can be very competitive, provided you book in advance. Which, unfortunately, for our dates, that is not the case:
What’s truly special about the rates on this site is some rates allow you to have 2 free extra drivers (as shown above) and reduced fees for drivers below 25 years old! So don’t discount (pun intended) this site during your search for cheap car rentals on Maui!
AutoSlash.com - The Sleeper
AutoSlash.com works a bit differently – you enter your search information and they will email you back with some rates after a few minutes. It works – but definitely not instantaneous and requires you to provide your email. The interesting thing about this site is they have ability to search discount rates based on which credit cards you hold, association memberships, frequent flyer program, and warehouse clubs, though I have never seen a membership discount resulting from an AutoSlash search. Here, AutoSlash returned this result that takes you to Priceline to book directly with Hertz.
This is by far the best deal we’ve found so far! And this appears to be a Priceline rate, so program memberships did not factor. I didn’t cover Priceline results earlier, so let’s go back to Priceline and do a search directly on their website, and you won’t find this result:
In fact, the cheapest option comes in at $848, more expensive than other engines. So although Autoslash takes you to Priceline to book. Using AutoSlash saves a whopping 70% over booking with Priceline directly in this case!
Support Local Companies!
Don’t forget the small businesses on the islands that are not going to be included in any search engines. Yes their cars may be older, but they will run just fine in Hawaii.
Do keep in mind that most of these companies will not have provide instant quotes on their websites, and usually require you to call or submit information to get a rate. You will also need to do look into their airport pickup rates, cancellation policy and do your research on any extra / hidden charges. Results can also vary widely. I found one for $500/week, but, here is mauirentacar.com that actually offers a much cheaper rate than most of the big guys, coming in at $297 with free airport pickup:
Being small businesses, I will also make an exception on cancellation policy. mauirentacar.com requires cancellation 1 week out, otherwise there is a $30 fee. it is also notable that this company has a minimum 4-day rental requirement. These are all things to keep in mind when renting with small companies. Also, don’t forget reviews! You definitely want to read the reviews on Google, TripAdvisor, and other sources. We all know what to expect with the big guys, but with the small companies, due diligence is ever more important.
Given all that, however, this still does not beat AutoSlash’s price at $265 (for a Hertz rental booked via Priceline). If supporting local business is important to you, then you have some thinking to do.
Here are more local car rental companies you can look into – some will even rent you surf boards!
- https://www.ohanarentalcar.com/ (temporarily closed)
Search Off-Airport Locations
So far, we’ve covered methods like searching multiple engines, using AutoSlash, Costco and looking into local companies. Let’s get more creative. Sometimes, it can be beneficial to search for locations away from the airport, such as a car rental location within town (i.e. Kihei, Lahaina), or a hotel car rental kiosk at a resort (i.e. Kaanapali, Makena). Some will even give you a free pickup from and to the airport!
A quick search on Expedia shows a local Hertz location at Kihei only costs $332. Not bad, but, does not beat AutoSlash’es $265 rate from the airport directly. Can we do better?
Kihei Rent A Car, which is located in Kihei, of course, is known for good prices and services. Although free shuttle pickup is not available for car rentals shorter than 5 days, I will include them here anyway because their prices are simply too competitive. There is a $30 per way shuttle fee so that’s something for you to consider if you want to rent a car for less than 5 days.
At $215.63 before taxes, that’s a great rate! Adding on the $20 for road tax and 4.167% sales tax, and you’re still looking at about $245. Of course, you are now getting a ‘beater car’, but it will still run. However, remember AutoSlash’s pricing at $265? At $20 more (assuming the airport shuttle is free with Kihei Rent A Car), going with Hertz is probably the better option because it’s much closer to the airport, and you’d get a newer car.
Here is another local company you can try:
Search Near-By Airports
Searching a near-by, smaller airport, can potentially unlock savings! In Maui’s case, there is a smaller airport on the west side of the island, Kapalua Airport (JHM) which is served by smaller planes for inter-island travel. You won’t get the big planes from Los Angeles or San Francisco landing there, but I will get into the cost of traveling from OGG to JHM later. There is a third airport, Hana, (HNM), but it does not have car rentals.
For this example, I will only focus on Expedia. You can of course try other engine parings to see the difference in prices. I did a quick search for JHM pick up, and this is what I found:
If we were only searching on Expedia, you would think we just discovered incredible savings. Forget AutoSlash and the cheaper options for a second and let’s pretend the $1,069 rental directly from Kahului airport is currently the cheapest option. At $439, that’s a huge savings by doing your pick up and drop off at Kapalua comparing to Kahului. But does the cost of commuting from OGG to JHM make up for the difference?
Add UberX cost at $140 roundtrip, or taxi at $192 roundtrip, this still comes under Expedia’s rate out of Kahului. Of course, there is also the notion that time is money, and you can start your vacation much sooner if you pick up directly from airport and drop off the car close to the airport so you get more time out of your last day. That’s going to be a personal / family decision here.
For comparison sakes. I did a search on AutoSlash for pick up / drop off via Kapalua Airport, and it happens to match the Expedia price, but in no way beats AutoSlash’s own quote out of Kahului Airport.
And this is a perfect example of why you need to search multiple options!
For our example above. I ended up locating a decent rate at $265 from AutoSlash.com. If I had looked on Expedia only, I would have paid $1,069. That’s a savings of over 75%. I also saved 70% comparing to Priceline’s regular rates. There is no magic pill to get the cheapest rate. Even a slight difference in date (i.e. 1 day longer or shorter, or shifting rental pick up / return dates by a day or 2) can result in a totally different set of prices. It’s a lot of work, but hopefully, the process I outlined above will help you get a good handle on where to start and compare prices.
Don’t forget, prices change constantly, so you may want to repeat the process every now and then prior to the start of your trip to see if prices have dropped. Sometimes, car rental rates will drop by hundreds of dollars! This is why having a refundable rate is important to me – because I can always cancel an existing booking and grab the lower rate.