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Missoula airport seeks solutions to car rental shortage, price increases

Car Rentals
Posted at 10:15 AM, Jul 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 12:15:08-04

MISSOULA — A national rental car shortage has created challenges for travelers over the past few months, and those able to find a vehicle are often paying twice as much as before the pandemic.

While passengers arriving at Missoula International Airport aren’t alone in their frustrations over a lack of rental car options, the airport is taking steps it hopes will help alleviate the challenges.

Brian Ellestad, the airport’s interim director, said major companies such as Hertz, Avis, Enterprise and others will continue to do business at the facility. But the airport also is working to diversify its offerings and it recently approved a contract with Turo, one of the nation’s top car-sharing companies.
“Competition is key to bringing rental prices down,” said Ellestad. “Turo will be more app-based and meet the driver.”

Through an app or online, customers can book a car with Turo on specific dates and times, and from specific airports and other locations. The vehicle’s host will then deliver the car to the renter. From there, it’s theirs to use as per their contract with the host.

The agreement with Turo is one of several steps taken by the airport to address the rental car crunch and massive price increases. The shortage has vexed travelers across the country, hitting tourist destinations the hardest, such as Maui and Denver.

Rental car agencies nationwide are running out of cars or doubling prices for the few vehicles they have left. Many sold off their fleets to survive last year’s pandemic. A shortage in computer chips also has exacerbated the problem.

In Missoula, a recent check of prices had car rentals ranging from $134 to $460 a day at the airport. Along with bringing Turo to the airport, the facility also has signed a contract with Missoula Nissan.

“It’s another customer offering,” Ellestad said. “They’re set up for more adventure-style vehicles. In the winter they’ll offer ski racks and in the summer offer kayak racks. Competition is good. We see that in the airlines and we see that in the car rental industry as well.”

The latest additions aren’t the first time the airport has responded to rental car agencies. In 2018, allegations of price gouging by car rental companies at Missoula International Airport prompted the facility to address its lease agreements before they were renewed the following year.

After months of rumors, the issue surfaced in August as the airport authority considered Corpat Inc. and its plan to sell its Alamo-National car rental counter to Enterprise, raising concerns that a single entity could monopolize the airport’s car rental business.