Driving around Menorca for two weeks is an annual tradition for Natalie Ward and her family. But they have had to change their plans for the first time in 12 years due to the staggering cost of holiday car hire.
The family of four usually pay between £60 and £350 to rent a car during their trip. But this July, the cheapest deal they found was more than three times that, at £1,200 for a fortnight.
That is more than the price of an all-inclusive holiday to Menorca in August, where a two-week stay at the Globales Apartments Binimar, Cala’n Blanes, with flights from Stansted, costs from £710 per person, according to Travelsupermarket.
The eye-watering car hire prices are yet another blow to holidaymakers who already face costly bills for Covid tests
The eye-watering car hire prices are yet another blow to holidaymakers who already face costly bills for Covid tests. And it means increasing numbers of families desperate for a sunny break are finding themselves priced out of a foreign trip.
At a glance, holiday and flight prices may seem to be at bargain lows, with a return flight to Barcelona available for less than £30.
But costs linked to coronavirus, including testing and the threat of having to pay to quarantine in a hotel, mean the real cost of a trip soars by hundreds of pounds.
Earlier this week, we revealed how the average cost of hiring a car for a week in Europe had jumped by £144 to £500 since 2019. But today we lay bare the true scale of the price hikes facing families, with some rental firms now charging as much as £2,868 to hire a car for two weeks.
The price of extras such as children’s car seats has also rocketed: they cost more than double in some locations.
Experts warn that hire firms are raising prices to recoup hefty losses made in lockdown when no one could travel and cover new costs from Covid, such as extra cleaning and safety measures.
There are also fewer rental cars available after many companies reduced the size of their fleet at the height of the pandemic.
Prices begin at £1,028 to hire an ‘economy’ Ford Fiesta for two weeks on the Greek island of Corfu this month, while the average price across all car sizes is £2,868, according to car-hire broker holidayautos.com.
By comparison, a two-week all-inclusive stay on the island at the Panorama Sidari Hotel, with flights from Manchester, costs from £640 per person in August, according to TravelSupermarket. Families could also be stung with extra unexpected charges that have increased significantly.
For example, Europcar is charging £52.58 for two weeks’ rental of a car seat for children under four in Nice on the French Riviera, but £126.43 for the same seat in Sardinia or Sicily.
Travellers who have had to factor in extra holiday time to countries such as Italy — where Covid rules mean Britons must quarantine for five days on entry — are facing prices for car rental which work out more expensive than buying a second-hand vehicle.
Hiring a car for three weeks from Palermo airport in Sicily costs an average of £3,413 this August. You could buy a used car for less, with local adverts showing a 2009 Fiat Grande Punto on sale for €3,400 (£2,900) and a 1996 Mercedes Benz E Class for €1,900 (£1,600).
Natalie Ward and her family abandoned their plan to hire a car for their holiday in Menorca (pictured), after they were quoted £1,200 for a fortnight
In Verona — the airport closest to Lake Garda, Italy — budget car hire usually costs between £170 and £190 for three weeks in August, but this year the cheapest available family car for hire is £1,004.
After receiving their sky-high quote, Natalie, 35, a business director from Surrey, decided to go ahead with her July holiday to Menorca with her husband and children Harper, three, and Ethan, 22 months. But the family abandoned their plan to hire a car. ‘In the end we decided to stay local,’ she says.
‘We spent €90 to get to and from the airport, and just walked to everything else. One taxi driver told us there were not enough cars on the island because of the uncertainty around Covid. The hire companies didn’t order any, which was why the prices were so high.’
Afsaneh Parvizi-Wayne and her family booked a last-minute break to Greece, but were horrified to find the price of renting a family car was nearly £1,000 for a week. The needed the car to travel from Athens airport to their accommodation 235 miles away in the Peloponnese region.
I understand these companies have suffered in the past year and need to recover their costs, but it is jarring when you know you are being ripped off but you have no choice
To cut costs, Afsaneh, 56, a business founder from North London, resorted to booking a tiny Toyota Yaris for £745 for the week, including insurance. Her 6 ft 4 in husband Chris and their 23-year-old daughter Sophia, who is 5 ft 11 in, had to squeeze into the car with their knees up around their luggage for the four-hour drive.
‘I understand these companies have suffered in the past year and need to recover their costs, but it is jarring when you know you are being ripped off but you have no choice,’ Afsaneh says.
Ernesto Suarez, chief executive officer at iCarhireinsurance, says: ‘There is always a lot of variation in car-hire prices, which are influenced by supply and demand. This is why there can be big differences in the same locations, and you may even get a different price with the same company depending on how far in advance you book.
‘This year, rental companies will have faced additional costs to do with Covid, such as enhanced cleaning regimes and other measures to keep their customers and staff safe. These will inevitably have an impact on price.’
Holidaymakers are also being urged to check their contract’s small print to avoid being left out of pocket if travel advice changes at the last minute. Many firms have flexible booking policies to allow drivers to cancel fee-free, but some of the cheapest deals are non-refundable or require at least 48 hours’ notice.
Gerry Keaney, the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association’s chief executive, says: ‘Like the wider tourism sector, car rental prices will be adjusted to reflect supply and demand.
‘Companies are also being cautious about building up their fleet size in the face of what is a very uncertain market in terms of travel restrictions and further waves of the pandemic.’