Cities Where It is Most and Least Expensive to Rent a Car for Thanksgiving and Christmas

FinanceBuzz collected data on rental car costs in 100 of the most popular Thanksgiving and Christmas destinations across the country to find out which cities are the most and least expensive places to rent a car or SUV for the holidays.
Last updated Nov 16, 2021 | By Josh Koebert | Edited By Becca Borawski Jenkins
Man filling out rental car form

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For many, traveling to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s includes flying to the home of a loved one or taking advantage of time off for a vacation. These travel plans often include renting a car at their destination. But throughout this year, travelers encountered issues renting cars, including lack of inventory and elevated prices. So what should they expect when they make a rental car reservation during the busy holiday travel season?

In this article

To help travelers avoid sticker shock, we looked at rental car prices in the 100 most popular cities for holiday travel based on the percentage of annual air traffic that occurs. We collected data on the total and daily costs of renting a car for each city and looked at a variety of sizes of cars, from small to SUV. We calculated both the average cost across all sizes and the cost to rent an SUV since many families traveling for the holidays need larger cars. We collected data on a four-day period for Thanksgiving, beginning the day before (Nov. 24) and ending the Sunday after (Nov. 28). Christmas data covers a 10-day period starting on Dec. 23 and ending Jan. 2.

The most and least expensive cities to rent a car for Thanksgiving

Map showing the cities where it is most expensive to rent a car for Thanksgiving


15 Most Expensive Cities to Rent a Car for Thanksgiving

Ranking City Daily cost Total cost (4 days)
1 New York, New York $261.17 $1,044.67
2 Newark, New Jersey $257.02 $1,028.09
3 White Plains, New York $186.73 $746.91
4 Atlanta, Georgia $168.26 $673.04
5 Richmond, Virginia $164.33 $657.31
6 Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina $160.03 $640.11
7 Charlotte, North Carolina $158.58 $634.31
8 Sacramento, California $157.29 $629.18
9 Memphis, Tennessee $155.92 $623.69
10 Fort Myers, Florida $155.89 $623.58
11 Providence, Rhode Island $153.14 $612.58
12 Baton Rouge, Louisiana $141.48 $565.91
13 Hartford, Connecticut $136.92 $547.67
14 Greensboro, North Carolina $136.04 $544.16
15 Detroit, Michigan $135.94 $543.78

The average daily cost to rent a car at Thanksgiving across all 100 cities in the study is $112.80. That comes to an average total cost of $451.19 for the four-day period starting the day before Thanksgiving and ending the Sunday after.

Prices vary widely across the U.S. — just ask those looking to rent a car anywhere near New York City during Thanksgiving. NYC has the highest costs, at a whopping $261.17 per day. Nearby Newark, New Jersey, is next at $257.02 per day. Those are the only two cities where costs are more than double the 100-city average and the only cities where four days of car rentals cost over $1,000. White Plains gives the New York City area a trifecta at the top, with the third-highest rental costs for Thanksgiving.

One other state has three cities in the top 15 when it comes to the most expensive rental cars. The North Carolina cities of Raleigh/Durham (sixth most expensive), Charlotte (seventh), and Greensboro (14th) all made the list.

Also of note, 11 of the top 15 most expensive cities are located on the East Coast, while only one, Sacramento, is west of Texas.

A number of factors contribute to the high costs for travelers this year. Robert Walden, editor-in-chief of Vehicle Freak, explains:

“As we approach the 2021 holiday season, rental car companies are going to continue to play catch-up following two of the most unpredictable years in the history of the industry. A “perfect storm” of conditions — smaller fleets, fleet repair delays, and simple supply and demand — has raised consumers’ prices, sometimes astronomically. A limited inventory of vehicles (slimmed down during the pandemic) may impact consumers' holiday travel.”

Map showing the cities where it is least expensive to rent a car for Thanksgiving


15 Least Expensive Cities to Rent a Car for Thanksgiving

Ranking City Daily cost Total cost (4 days)
1 Anchorage, Alaska $50.43 $201.71
2 Honolulu, Hawaii $56.45 $225.80
3 Akron, Ohio $66.97 $267.87
4 Salt Lake City, Utah $73.11 $292.44
5 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania $74.35 $297.40
6 Boise, Idaho $76.49 $305.96
7 El Paso, Texas $79.02 $316.07
8 Portland, Oregon $83.84 $335.38
9 Norfolk, Virginia $84.71 $338.82
10 Tucson, Arizona $85.49 $341.98
11 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania $85.53 $342.13
12 Albuquerque, New Mexico $88.02 $352.07
13 Tulsa, Oklahoma $89.32 $357.29
14 Wichita, Kansas $90.72 $362.89
15 Palm Springs, California $90.86 $363.42

When it comes to places where rental car prices are the most reasonable over the holiday, the top cities were much more spread throughout the country. In each of these 15 cities, renters are looking at costs of less than $100 a day to rent a car.

The least expensive city overall is Anchorage, Alaska, which is the only place in the country where costs are less than half the overall average of $112.80 (though Honolulu comes close).

The most and least expensive cities to rent an SUV for Thanksgiving

Map showing the cities where it is most expensive to rent an SUV for Thanksgiving


15 Most Expensive Cities to Rent an SUV for Thanksgiving

Ranking City Daily cost Total cost (4 days)
1 Newark, New Jersey $397.45 $1,589.79
2 New York, New York $392.30 $1,569.22
3 White Plains, New York $355.28 $1,421.12
4 Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina $295.52 $1,182.09
5 Atlanta, Georgia $290.86 $1,163.43
6 Charlotte, North Carolina $275.69 $1,102.76
7 Columbia, South Carolina $268.66 $1,074.63
8 Sacramento, California $260.95 $1,043.79
9 Fort Myers, Florida $259.74 $1,038.98
10 Baton Rouge, Louisiana $256.84 $1,027.38
11 Greer, South Carolina $256.33 $1,025.33
12 Knoxville, Tennessee $253.55 $1,014.20
13 Pensacola, Florida $251.49 $1,005.97
14 Richmond, Virginia $247.38 $989.54
15 Grand Rapids, Michigan $245.47 $981.89

For families with children, sometimes a sedan simply isn’t enough for everyone and everything. The extra room an SUV provides is not only preferred but often necessary. For that reason, we also collected data on the average costs to rent an SUV.

For the Thanksgiving holiday, the average price for SUV rentals comes in at $201.37 per day, for a total of $805.50 across the four-day weekend. That total is nearly double the average cost of $451.19 to rent a car for the same period. This shows just how much of a premium people can expect to pay for the extra size an SUV provides. Once again, the New York City area is most expensive overall, with Newark and NYC flipping first and second place.

One reason New York may be at the top of the list again: public transit. Julie Anne Bausch, Managing Editor at NPR's Car Talk explains:

"A factor for rental car pricing is the amount of readily available public transit options a city has in place to and from the airport. If a city has trams and trains that go to and from the airport multiple times a day, rental car agencies will have a harder time keeping their prices down. Ride-sharing services, and public transit, mean more options for travelers."

Map showing the cities where it is least expensive to rent an SUV for Thanksgiving


15 Least Expensive Cities to Rent an SUV for Thanksgiving

Ranking City Daily cost Total cost (4 days)
1 Anchorage, Alaska $112.76 $451.06
2 Boise, Idaho $114.17 $456.69
3 Salt Lake City, Utah $130.04 $520.18
4 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania $133.30 $533.21
5 Miami, Florida $135.79 $543.16
6 Fort Worth, Texas $137.60 $550.40
7 Dallas, Texas $138.18 $552.73
8 Las Vegas, Nevada $141.48 $565.91
9 Houston, Texas $148.54 $594.16
10 Fort Lauderdale, Florida $150.69 $602.76
11 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma $154.70 $618.78
12 San Diego, California $158.11 $632.44
13 Huntsville, Alabama $159.51 $638.04
14 Cincinnati, Ohio $159.54 $638.18
15 San Francisco, California $159.89 $639.54

At the top of the list for affordable SUV rentals at Thanksgiving are three cities out west — Anchorage, Alaska; Boise, Idaho; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Given that those cities receive a healthy amount of snow and are situated near mountains, the affordability of SUVs to handle those conditions could be a big plus for visitors.

The most and least expensive cities to rent a car for Christmas

Map showing the cities where it is most expensive to rent a car for Christmas


15 Most Expensive Cities to Rent a Car for Christmas Week

Ranking City Daily cost Total cost (10 days)
1 Kona, Hawaii $194.82 $1,948.18
2 Lihue, Hawaii $158.38 $1,583.78
3 Kahului, Hawaii $156.55 $1,565.45
4 Fort Myers, Florida $146.65 $1,466.48
5 Honolulu, Hawaii $142.00 $1,420.00
6 Denver, Colorado $114.67 $1,146.73
7 Salt Lake City, Utah $114.15 $1,141.47
8 Chicago, Illinois $108.95 $1,089.49
9 Minneapolis, Minnesota $107.02 $1,070.20
10 Baltimore, Maryland $105.90 $1,059.04
11 Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina $105.73 $1,057.27
12 Charleston, South Carolina $105.45 $1,054.55
13 Fort Lauderdale, Florida $104.76 $1,047.63
14 Detroit, Michigan $103.82 $1,038.18
15 West Palm Beach, Florida $102.97 $1,029.73

We collected data for a 10-day period starting just before Christmas and ending the day after New Year’s Day. Across the 100 cities we looked at, the average daily cost to rent a car is $86.80, with a total average cost of $867.96.

Anyone planning to spend Christmas in paradise should be prepared to spend a pretty penny. Four of the five most expensive cities for renting a car are located in Hawaii. The most expensive overall is Kona, where rental costs are more than twice the average.

Only two cities, Detroit, Michigan, and Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, are among the 15 most expensive cities for car rentals during both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Map showing the cities where it is least expensive to rent a car for Christmas


15 Least Expensive Cities to Rent a Car for Christmas Week

Ranking City Daily cost Total cost (10 days)
1 Anchorage, Alaska $48.45 $484.55
2 Cincinnati, Ohio $51.13 $511.25
3 Spokane, Washington $54.46 $544.56
4 Tulsa, Oklahoma $55.62 $556.18
5 Louisville, Kentucky $58.20 $582.00
6 Dallas, Texas $58.84 $588.44
7 Norfolk, Virginia $60.27 $602.73
8 Fort Worth, Texas $65.13 $651.29
9 Oakland, California $67.69 $676.87
10 Seattle, Washington $68.15 $681.51
11 Jackson/Vicksburg, Mississippi $68.90 $688.98
12 Dayton, Ohio $69.00 $690.00
13 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania $69.18 $691.82
14 Wichita, Kansas $69.94 $699.42
15 Lexington, Kentucky $70.88 $708.78

Anchorage, Alaska, again tops the list, making it the least expensive city in the country to rent a car over both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Four other cities — Pittsburgh, Norfolk, Tulsa, and Wichita — also made the most affordable list for both holidays.

While the cities with the most affordable rental car costs at Christmas are relatively spread out across the country, one notable group of four cities — Dayton, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Lexington — are located in close proximity to one another in the middle of the country.

The most and least expensive cities to rent an SUV for Christmas

Map showing the cities where it is most expensive to rent an SUV for Christmas


15 Most Expensive Cities to Rent an SUV for Christmas Week

Ranking City Total cost Daily cost (10 days)
1 Kahului, Hawaii $3,000.91 $300.09
2 Kona, Hawaii $2,709.09 $270.91
3 Honolulu, Hawaii $2,650.00 $265.00
4 Fort Myers, Florida $2,164.89 $216.49
5 Salt Lake City, Utah $2,040.06 $204.01
6 Denver, Colorado $2,030.67 $203.07
7 New Orleans, Louisiana $1,884.55 $188.45
8 Pensacola, Florida $1,850.03 $185.00
9 Charleston, South Carolina $1,801.82 $180.18
10 West Palm Beach, Florida $1,788.77 $178.88
11 Lihue, Hawaii $1,769.00 $176.90
12 Columbia, South Carolina $1,760.91 $176.09
13 Knoxville, Tennessee $1,760.50 $176.05
14 Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina $1,754.55 $175.45
15 Newark, New Jersey $1,730.00 $173.00

When it comes to renting an SUV at Christmas, the costs average $149.85 per day, for a 10-day holiday total of $1,498.53. Once again, Hawaiian cities are the most expensive, with the three priciest cities being located on the islands. That includes Kahului, the most expensive city overall and the only one with average costs more than twice the overall average.

Map showing the cities where it is least expensive to rent an SUV for Christmas


15 Least Expensive Cities to Rent an SUV for Christmas Week

Ranking City Daily cost Total cost (10 days)
1 Cincinnati, Ohio $97.05 $970.46
2 Dallas, Texas $104.96 $1,049.58
3 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania $105.55 $1,055.45
4 Syracuse, New York $109.50 $1,095.00
5 Rochester, New York $110.00 $1,100.00
6 Louisville, Kentucky $114.66 $1,146.56
7 Anchorage, Alaska $114.82 $1,148.18
8 Fort Worth, Texas $115.11 $1,151.11
9 Oakland, California $116.32 $1,163.16
10 Memphis, Tennessee $116.40 $1,164.00
11 Seattle, Washington $118.37 $1,183.67
12 Norfolk, Virginia $118.45 $1,184.55
13 Los Angeles, California $118.93 $1,189.29
14 Dayton, Ohio $120.73 $1,207.27
15 Burbank, California $121.45 $1,214.49

Cincinnati, which is the second-most affordable city for car rentals overall, tops the list as the most affordable for SUV rentals as well.

Tips for saving on rental cars

While costs will be up for many vehicle renters this year, at least one expert says planning ahead can go a long way toward helping travelers get the best possible deal.

“The most important thing that holiday travelers can do is to plan ahead and book their rental as early as possible,” says Jonathan Weinberg, CEO of AutoSlash, a site dedicated to helping consumers find deals on rental cars.

Weinberg also pointed out how the car rental industry affords customers more flexibility than hotels or airlines — something renters can use to their advantage. Rental cars can be booked with a "pay-later" rate that does not include credit card information. This means customers can lock in a quality rate early but continue to shop around for better prices. This relieves them of worrying about cancellation or change fees if they find a better deal. Combining that flexibility with some advance planning is a great way for savvy consumers to save on rental cars this holiday season.

Beyond booking rental cars as early as possible, here are a few more ways to save money at the rental counter:

  • Protect the car and your wallet with rental insurance. Getting in an accident while driving a rental can cost a pretty penny. Some drivers are unsure if rental car insurance is worth it, despite the important coverage it offers. Savvy travelers know that some credit cards already include rental car insurance, with the best credit cards for rental car insurance providing exceptional coverage for their cardholders.
  • Enroll in rental rewards programs. Many rental car companies have rewards programs that give you upgrades and freebies. One example is Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, which offers perks such as vehicle upgrades and the ability to add a second driver to a rental at no cost. And this is all while earning points that can be used on things like future free car rentals or transferred for use at select airlines.
  • Plan ahead to help avoid unnecessary fees and common upcharges. From paying your own tolls to renting a smaller car to sticking with a single dedicated driver during your trip, there are a number of tips and tricks for saving money on car rentals. A little research can make it easier to avoid common pitfalls at the counter and keep rental costs down.

Methodology

FinanceBuzz collected data on the total and daily costs to rent cars in each of the cities on BestPlace’s list of the 100 most popular U.S. cities for the holidays. Data was collected via Kayak using their “Recommended” results setting. We collected data on four categories of cars: small, medium, large, and SUVs. For each category, we collected data on 45 listings, or a location’s full inventory if fewer than 45 cars were available. For Thanksgiving, we collected data on a four-day period from noon on Wednesday 11/24 through noon on Sunday 11/28. For Christmas and New Year’s, we collected data on a 10-day period from noon on Thursday 12/23 through noon on Sunday 1/2. All data was collected during the period from Oct. 27-Nov. 3, 2021.

Author Details

Josh Koebert Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.