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When Terika Haynes landed in Mexico, she skipped the rental car — and she skipped the taxi, too. Haynes, who works as a professional travel planner, did the math and determined that a limo was the cheapest option to get her and her friends from the airport to their resort.
She calculated the cost of insurance, refilling the gas tank and resort parking prices, not to mention the inconvenience of having to stand in line at the rental car counter. In short, it wasn’t tough to justify a limo for her 2018 trip.
Fast-forward to summer 2021, when most travel experts agree we’re in the midst of a rental car apocalypse of sorts. Rental car prices are soaring, and some of the most popular tourist destinations are sold out of rental cars on busy weekends.
In this era of COVID-19 travel, limo rentals might not just be easier to justify — they might actually be cheaper than car rentals and taxis. In 2021, there are many instances where renting a limo is the smart move.
What's been happening
Several factors are contributing to the current rental car shortage. Because many travelers are still hesitant to jump on a plane, road trips are hot this year. Some rental car companies adjusted their supply to reflect the low 2020 travel rates — but travel has resumed faster than some expected.
Throw in a global semiconductor shortage that's slowing car manufacturing, and finding a rental car in 2021 may be harder than finding toilet paper in 2020.
Schedule in advance to secure a deal
Especially in tourism-dependent cities that are still recovering from the shock of COVID-19, it’s not tough to find a deal on a limo.
Unlike rideshare services, where prices can fluctuate at any moment, you can easily search for limo deals at your destination before arriving. Airport transportation specials or other promos may be offered, so you can often find a reasonable rate if you reserve in advance. What’s more, you might be able to negotiate the rate by contacting the company directly.
For example, in Las Vegas, stretch limos can be found for about $65 per hour. Luxury sedans can be rented for even less, at just about $45 per hour. That’s not much more than the roughly $45-$50 it would cost to hail an Uber from the airport to downtown Las Vegas. And it’s cheaper than the roughly $50-$65 it costs to use Uber Premier, which is the car’s luxury service.
Even if you’re just going to the Strip, a rideshare from the airport to a mid-Strip location, like Caesars Palace, can be upwards of $30 for the short ride, unlike the full hour you get with limo rentals. And if you can find a rental car in Las Vegas, be prepared to pay $200 — or even more — just for a weekend rental.
And this isn’t exclusive to Las Vegas. Tourist-heavy cities provide several limo options that are likely to be competitively priced.
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The benefits of a limo vs. rental cars or taxis
Even if the price tag is more than a rental car or a taxi, there are more benefits to having a limo beyond feeling like a VIP.
You’ll be able to make multiple stops
Paying for individual cabs to take you between tourist destinations isn’t just pricey but also includes the inconvenience of having to hail a cab each time. A limo will drop you off and be waiting for you when you’re ready to move on.
That was the case for real estate entrepreneur Mattias Magnusson. He was living just outside of San Francisco, on the other side of Golden Gate Bridge, and had family visiting from Europe. The group of six wanted to hit all the tourist spots — like Lombard Street and Chinatown — in one evening, plus they wanted to spend a night at the famous Fairmont Hotel at the top of Nob Hill.
“Saturday night prices and availability for taxis, Uber rides and ferries did not make for a fun alternative,” he said. “When we compared prices, time and flexibility, it soon became obvious that booking a limo was going to be worth our while.”
Along the way, they could also break out bubbly — something you probably can’t do in a taxi.
“With one fixed fare, a vehicle that turned up on time, multiple stops, a luxury experience and six out-of-towners that were more than impressed, it was worth every dime,” he says.
You can use your limo to load up on trip supplies
And while you might stop at tourist destinations, you might also find yourself using your limo to make more practical stops.
That played into Haynes’ decision to rent a limo for her Mexico trip, which was planned primarily so she could host an event for her luxury travel company, Dynamite Travel. Upon landing, she needed to pick up supplies, decorations and refreshments. Given the number of stops needed for errands, a limo was cheaper than hiring a cab, which typically charges a base fare, plus a metered rate based on time and distance.
Even if you’re not putting on an event, you might want to replenish the sunscreen and toothpaste that you couldn’t pack in your carry-on rather than pay inflated prices at the hotel convenience market. Further, you might consider saving money by stopping at the grocery store to load up on snacks, alcohol and easy-to-make meals (room service cereal is expensive). If you’re staying at a condo or rental house, you’ll definitely need to stock up on food and drinks.
It’s not every day you see a limo pulling up to a grocery store, but it can make sense.
You can also have a built-in tour guide
For Karen Arrington, who works as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of the Miss Black USA pageant, a limo was a lifesaver during one trip to Italy.
“Not only did my driver take me wherever I wanted to dine, he served as my personal tour guide and assistant,” she said. “He took me to the best coffee shops to find Italian coffee, negotiated with vendors for me because I do not speak Italian and carried my bags.”
Who should consider limos?
For an individual or small group that needs a car for long periods on most days of the trip, a rental car might be wiser. But there are circumstances where a limo makes sense.
Given that Haynes had a small posse with her on her Mexico trip, a limo also proved to be a money saver. Larger groups will likely need to rent a large van or SUV, or break people up into multiple sedans or taxis. Consolidating everyone into one stretch limo may not only cut costs but also cut down on chaos with fragmented groups.
Visitors to cities that are walkable or offer extensive public transit
“You really don’t need a rental car in Las Vegas, New York City or most major cities unless you plan to explore outside the city more extensively,” says Bruce Rosenberg, president of HotelPlanner.com, a website that specializes in hotel bookings for groups.
With hotel parking fees well above $50 nightly in many major cities, it’s likely not worth dealing with your own rental car. In Las Vegas, you’ll likely find yourself walking up and down the Strip, which is part of the fun. And in New York City, you may find the subway is faster anyway.
Travelers staying at resorts
If you're staying at a resort, you likely won't use a car much, if at all. Many large resorts are designed so you never need to leave — they have all the pools, restaurants, entertainment and activities you want to experience on your vacation onsite. Even if you want to leave the resort, it's likely your hotel offers a shuttle service to the big tourist spots. Or the concierge can likely assist you in booking tours, including transportation.
And there's one unintended benefit: Haynes said she found herself walking more than a normal day during her Mexico vacation since she didn’t have a car. Without a car, you might get more steps in than you're used to and your health will appreciate it.
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If you’re having trouble finding a rental car
If you don’t need to rely on a car for the majority of your trip, it might make sense to skip the rental car and go all out on a limo. In some cases, the cost will be a wash; in others, you might even come out ahead.
Be sure to factor in all the costs associated with renting a car: the base rental amount, gas, parking fees and even tolls in some cities.
“Price compare and incorporate your transportation costs into the all-cost of your trip,” Rosenberg says. “Look for hotels that have a free shuttle service to and from the airport, downtown and popular local destinations. That’s the best way to save money.”
And for that occasional jaunt out on the town, a limo rental might be both the most glamorous — and the cheapest — way to make it happen.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
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Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card