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Can You Still Get A Rental Car For The Holidays?

December 19, 2013, 3:21 PM HST (Updated December 19, 2013, 5:01 PM)
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The holidays are a tough time to find a rental car on the Big Island if you haven’t already made your reservation.

Holiday visitors snap up just about everything available between now and Jan. 1, and the major car rental agencies all sound a similar refrain when you call.

“Sorry sir, … nothing available.”

“It’s the same every year,” said Nicolas Kern, owner of the Maui-based Car Rental Hawaii, which books cars for visitors with major rental companies on all of the Hawaiian Islands.

The rental firms can’t afford to beef up their island fleets for just the holiday period, Kern said. Between Dec. 20 and Jan. 1 “you cannot pick up a car.”

“You could pick one up this afternoon,” he said on Dec. 19, “but no way tomorrow. They’re sold out every year. There are more people coming than cars.”

So if you’re here and without wheels, your best bet may be a local, independent agency, where the cars may have a little more mileage, or “island character,” but still get you around.

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Even these guys are being stretched to the limit during the holidays.

Krystle De Los Santos, rental manager at Ainoa Car Sales, said, “Right now, we’re just filling in the gaps.”

De Los Santos has been trying to accommodate people who call but she doesn’t always have a vehicle available when it’s needed. “I’ve had to turn down a lot of people today,” she said Thursday.

“People are frantic,” she said. “By the time they get to me some they they’ve been looking for two months. Some just don’t realize how big the Big Island is and they need a car to get around.”

Others get the airfare, the hotel, and say they just “didn’t think about the car,” De Los Santos said.

Big Island Auto Rentals in Puna is sold out from the 24th through Jan. 5, said owner Mike Hale. However Hale keeps two vehicles close by as replacements if needed and he’ll rent those out to someone who needs a quick ride but on a 24-hour basis only.

For the still-frantic types, Island Discount Rentals in Hilo will have cars available beginning Saturday and throughout the holiday season, said owner Ken Sanders.

“We’re licensed,” Sanders said, cautioning consumers against renting cars from private, unverified and unlicensed sources online that could be rip-offs.

So what’s the best advice if you’re stuck without your own rented ride on the island? There’s always the Hele-On bus.

Better yet, next time plan ahead and reserve your rental car early.

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