(CNN) — The wait-and-see approach to travel right now is prudent from a health perspective. From a booking perspective, maybe not so much.
US airfares are increasing, rental cars are in short supply and sifting through vacation home rental sites for gems in popular destinations is the new doomscrolling for some Americans desperate for a getaway within the United States.
Carrie Shevlin owns three rental properties in Cape San Blas, along Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” an hour southeast of Panama City. One of them is under construction — still in the framing stage — and already has bookings for next summer. The others are booked up through this summer. The low-density area has been very popular with pandemic-era vacationers looking to steer clear of crowds.
“Typically in the past, people could always find something, but now the demand for houses is far exceeding the supply of houses,” she said.
Last week, the number of vacation rental property reservations made in Florida was 40% higher than it was during the same week in 2019, according to figures from Transparent, a data analytics firm for the short-term rental industry.
The summer rental market is tight on Cape San Blas in Florida.
Shevlin says about 20 people a day have been added recently to a Facebook group she administers with nearly 8,000 members where would-be Cape San Blas renters outline the types of properties they’re looking for and owners and property management companies tied to hundreds of rentals try to match their requests. Right now, renter queries are going unanswered. No inventory, she says.
But while some of the United States’ sought-after beach destinations, lakes and national parks may be booking up for summer, hope is not lost for the growing group of vaccinated travelers ready to bust out of their bubbles. It just may take some strategizing and a little more of that well-practiced pandemic flexibility.
Note that the CDC is advising Americans to delay travel until they are fully vaccinated.
Need a rental car? Search for it before you book anything else
If you’re planning a flight-hotel-car rental type of trip, flip it on its head and look for the rental car first, advises Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of AutoSlash, a company that helps renters find better prices by applying every possible coupon and applicable membership discount (Costco, AARP, frequent flier programs, etc.) and monitoring price drops.
“What we’re seeing is that people are booking trips, they’re basically booking their airfare, they’re booking their hotel and then they’re waiting until they get around to it to book their car rental and they’re realizing that there are no car rentals available,” Weinberg said.
Some of the rental cars parks by the thousands last year due to lack of demand were sold off. With demand picking up, there are car shortages.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
The precipitous drop in demand last year and ensuing financial woes prompted rental car companies to sell off a significant part of their fleets, and that supply has not been restored.
Weinberg is seeing people cancel trips because they can’t find a car or the price of those available blows their budget.
On average, rental cars are going for about double what you would normally pay, Weinberg says. But it can be three to 10 times higher in some places, and in Hawaii and Alaska, there are almost no cars available this summer.
So check on cars first and book as early as possible.
But you don’t need a car for epic trips across the US
Car rentals are extremely tight, but there is plenty of supply on Amtrak trains.
“Ridership is climbing back slowly — and it is going to take a long time to return to normal,” Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said via email. Systemwide ridership is at about 34% of fiscal year 2019, with bookings at approximately 45%.
Amtrak is bringing back daily service on 12 long-distance routes staggered to start between May 24 and June 7.
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