Hotels and Rental Cars Index Report - May 2021

Hopper breaks down the latest pricing trends for hotels and rental cars.

Adit Damodaran - May. 18, 2021

Summary: 

Hotels

  • We estimate that nationally, hotel prices are down 19% on average from pre-pandemic levels, from ~$175/night between Jan-Feb 2020 to ~$141/night in May 2021.

  • Across the board, we’re continuing to see lower prices in places that might’ve catered primarily to business travel in pre-pandemic times. Hotel prices have risen the quickest for those vacation beach destinations along the Southeastern U.S. coast, beaches on the Florida panhandle, outdoor oriented towns in Southwest Utah and the Smoky Mountains, and Las Vegas. Vacation destinations are down just 5% relative to pre-pandemic prices compared to -13% for large cities.

  • Since mid-March, nightly hotel prices are up about 11% nationwide, averaging $141/night. We’re expecting these prices to continue to rise into the summer months on the back of both seasonal demand and growing domestic leisure travel demand, likely increasing 17% to top out at $165/night on average nationwide in early July. 

  • Booking your hotel last minute might just result in the most savings if you’re heading to a big city. We see nightly hotel prices in big cities fall 13% on average in the final two weeks leading up to your check-in date.

Rental Cars

  • In recent months, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in rental car bookings and increased demand for last minute short haul getaways within driving distance. This increased demand has led to a surge in rental car prices, which are up 95% from the start of the year to average $99/day in the most recent week. 

  • These prices tend to be a relatively close measure of daily rates across cities, which do vary some but move together with the national average. As of May 2021, daily rates in Phoenix ($126), Miami ($125), and Las Vegas ($107) tend to be more expensive compared to Orlando ($94), Los Angeles ($94), and Denver ($93). 

  • We saw the most bookings for rental cars in the past month in Los Angeles (#1), Orlando (#2), Las Vegas (#3), Denver (#4), and Miami (#5)

Hotel Prices Now

Here’s a look at nightly hotel prices across the country using the latest four weeks of data (April 2021) to get average prices in various cities. The coastlines, major cities, and vacation destinations (such as Hawaii, Jackson Hole, Palm Springs, Grand Canyon, West Yellowstone, and various small towns in the Northeast) tend to be the most expensive. 

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Hotel Prices Relative to Pre-Pandemic

We estimate that nationally, hotel prices are down 19% on average from pre-pandemic levels, from ~$175/night between Jan-Feb 2020 to ~$141/night in May 2021. This varies greatly by city, with some cities still offering low nightly rates while others have exceeded pre-pandemic prices. Since we’re comparing prices to pre-pandemic levels, there is a bit of seasonal variation that crops up here comparing May 2021 (late spring) to average prices in Jan/Feb 2020 (mid-to-late winter). 

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Vacation destinations are faring well currently, with hotels in beach and outdoorsy towns being particularly popular. We’re seeing premium prices for hotels along the Southeastern seaboard and Gulf coast in places like Carolina Beach, NC (+81% relative to pre-pandemic nightly rates), Orange Beach, AL (+61%), and Myrtle Beach, SC (+34%). Among outdoorsy vacation destinations, Moab, UT (+50%), Cedar City, UT (+39%), and Sedona, AZ (+22%) stood out.  

Looking for lower prices and great deals? We’re seeing lower prices in Narragansett, RI (-11% relative to pre-pandemic nightly rates), Long Beach, CA (-12%), Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (-16%), and Ft. Myers-Naples, FL (-20%).

Hotel Prices

Large & Mid-Size Cities:

Mid-size cities such as Milwaukee, Columbus, and Kansas City lag pre-pandemic prices on average by about 5%. Large cities are a bit further behind, likely due to a combination of both less business travel and relatively lower leisure travel interest. 

Across the board, we’re continuing to see lower prices in places that might’ve catered primarily to business travel in pre-pandemic times. This includes the Bay Area in places such as Cupertino (-46% relative to pre-pandemic nightly rates) and Mountain View (-53%). San Francisco overall is down 15%, New York and Seattle are both down 16%, Boston is down 22%, and Washington DC is down 25%. San Jose is down the most in price across all major metros, -36% relative to pre-pandemic prices.

A few large cities seem to have recovered more quickly, namely Atlanta, GA (down only 5% from pre-pandemic nightly rates), Philadelphia (-1%), and Omaha (-1%). On average, we estimate hotels in Detroit are now on par with pre-pandemic prices. 

Among the mid-sized cities seeing higher prices was Jacksonville, FL (prices +11% relative to pre-pandemic nightly rates), whereas low prices can still be found in Bellevue, WA (-25%). Similar to Seattle, Bellevue is likely seeing lower prices due to less business travel. 

Popular Tourist Hubs:

Orlando, FL (-16% from pre-pandemic nightly rates), Miami, FL (-6%), and Las Vegas, NV (-5%) are still down relative to pre-pandemic prices, but have seen some of the strongest bounce back in prices from earlier in 2021 with the growth in leisure travel demand. 

In Which Markets are Hotel Prices Changing Quickest?

Hotel prices have risen the quickest for those vacation beach destinations along the Southeastern U.S. coast, beaches on the Florida panhandle, outdoor oriented towns in Southwest Utah and the Smoky Mountains, and Las Vegas. 

These include places such as:

Southeastern U.S. Coast: 

  • Virginia: Norfolk-Virginia Beach

  • North Carolina: (Outer Banks) Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Carolina Beach

  • South Carolina: Hilton Head Island, Charleston, Myrtle Beach

  • Florida: Jacksonville Beach, St. Augustine, Atlantic Beach

Florida Panhandle: Destin, Pensacola, Orange Beach, Panama City

Southwest Utah: St. George, Cedar City

Smoky Mountains (Tennessee): Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, Townsend

Las Vegas

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How have Hotel Prices nationwide trended since 2020?

Nightly hotel prices rose slightly for Valentine’s Day weekend, but otherwise trended steadily in the $125-$135 range between the start of the year and mid-March. Since mid-March, nightly hotel prices are up about 11% nationwide, averaging $141/night. We’re expecting these prices to continue to rise into the summer months on the back of both seasonal demand and growing domestic leisure travel demand, likely increasing 17% and topping out at $165/night on average nationwide in early July. 

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When should you book your hotel?

Booking your hotel last minute might just result in the most savings if you’re heading to a big city. We see nightly hotel prices in big cities fall 13% on average in the final two weeks leading up to your check-in date. 

Hotel Average Nightly Prices

The biggest exception to the “Big City/Last Minute” trend is the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale metro, where you should book closer to 90 days in advance to get the best deals. Leisure destination hotel pricing can be more varied. Whereas destinations like Orlando and Las Vegas are relatively steadier in prices (and may even present great last minute deals), nightly rates in destinations like Sedona in Arizona can rise significantly. This is where using an app like Hopper to track prices for your specific trip comes in handy. 

Hotel Average Nightly Price in Advance of Check In

Rental Car Prices

In recent months, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in rental car bookings and increased demand for last minute short haul getaways within driving distance. This increased demand has led to a surge in rental car prices, which are up 95% from the start of the year to average $99/day in the most recent week.

Car Rental Prices

Here’s a monthly breakdown of the national average daily rate for rental cars:

Average Daily Rental Car Rate

These prices tend to be a relatively close measure of daily rates across cities, which do vary some but move together with the national average. As of May 2021, daily rates in Phoenix ($126), Miami ($125), and Las Vegas ($107) tend to be more expensive compared to Orlando ($94), Los Angeles ($94), and Denver ($93).

Car Rental Rates by Month

The top five cities where we saw the most rental car bookings in the past month are as follows:

Top 5 Destinations for Rental Cars

It’s somewhat apparent but worth mentioning that these cities tend to be less accessible by public transit, which might further incentivize travelers to get a rental car. 

Methodology

We used searches made on the Hopper mobile app to track average quoted hotel prices in various cities across the U.S. over time. Rental car prices reflect prices users paid when booking their rental car through Hopper’s app as well. 

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