Most likely you have stumbled upon this page in a moment of panicked research because you just learned that a safe rental car to drive from the Bozeman Airport to Big Sky is likely more than the down payment of your first house. I wish I had some better news for you other than transportation to Big Sky is extremely expensive. There have been changes this past year with rental car and bus options, so stay tuned….
The Bozeman Airport is going bananas. The construction of a massive parking structure (that will allegedly be almost exclusive for rental cars), a new Central Valley Fire Station, a visit from Airforce One and a Trump Rally, a Mike Pence visit, FU 45 mowed into a field beneath the runway- and so much more!
Well, guess what, pretty much all the fancy improvements that the Bozeman Airport does are funded by the Airport Concession Fee. The airport requires rental car companies to charge renters 10% of their total car rental amount for rentals originating at the Bozeman Airport. So if the base price of your rental SUV is $2,000, count on an additional $200 going to BZN. In many ways this is great for our community as the airport doesn’t take tax dollars, funding (last time I checked) something like 70% of annual budget from rental car concession fees. Great for the community, not so great for consumer. But let’s be honest, the prices you are paying at the ski resort are even more outrageous and all that is doing is making a private company wealthier. So kudos to BZN in this humble writers opinion.
YOU NEED FOUR WHEEL DRIVE TO GET TO BIG SKY IN THE WINTER.
Moving forward: daily rental rates for SUVs at BZN (that will most likely be four-wheel-drive, like Chevrolet Suburbans) are extremely high and not likely to go down. Rental car companies love the high prices, and the airport loves the high prices. Demand for four-wheel-drive rental SUVs is so high from the Yellowstone Club members, that price has seriously become a non-issue. Daily rates for prime ski season seem to be around $650/ day for a “Premium SUV”. This will most likely be a Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon XL, or Toyota Sequoia. None of the on-airport rental car companies will guarantee a four wheel drive or all wheel drive vehicle. There is a very good chance it will be 4wd- but they will never, ever, guarantee it. If you do not need to move a fleet of people, smaller SUVs at the Bozeman Airport seem to be around $200/ day.
Note: Driving to Big Sky from Bozeman requires four wheel drive or all wheel drive. You might get lucky with a dry day and be OK in a 2WD car, or the weather may turn and you end up off the road and dead in the river. Snow tires greatly decrease your risk of accident in Big Sky.
ON AIRPORT RENTAL CARS AT THE BOZEMAN AIRPORT
Hertz is still the biggest player in the Bozeman Airport, but seems to have recently acquired a slew of unhappy reviews on Yelp. Thrifty, Enterprise, Avis- they all are there and seem to have the same cars and competitive pricing. Costcotravel.com is usually your best pricing. We have heard good things and bad things with Hotwire “surprise cars”. Great pricing, but sometimes you get a sweet Toyota Tacoma and sometimes a super crappy 2wd Ford Escape.
We do not have any main differentiators for the on-airport rental car companies. Most of the renters we speak with are totally happy with their on-airport experience. Some of them are not happy. It is worth checking out reviews on Yelp or Google and make your decision accordingly.
Pro: Vehicles are on-airport. Usually a fast experience getting on the road.
Con: Vehicles are on-airport. Can be a LONG icey walk to a cold car covered in snow (hence new parking garage). Count on 10% concession fee. Lines at the counter to get car can also get long when flight delays happen. You never really know what kind of rental car you are going to get.
Sometimes it is worth calling the actual desk in Bozeman Airport and talking with a human:
If you haven’t noticed, Alamo and Thrifty are the same. Avis and Budget same. Hertz, Dollar are same.
OFF AIRPORT RENTAL CARS AT THE BOZEMAN AIRPORT
The Off-Airport rental car segment continues to grow at BZN. Journey Rentacar (AKA Ace Rent a Car) and Explore Rentals continue to be the main players. Toyota Rent-A-Car (AKA Ressler Toyota) does a great job with the full line of Toyotas. Yellowstone Car Rentals is part of one of the Vacation Home Rental companies and offers rental Suburbans to its home renters. Rocky Mountain Expeditions rents Jeeps, and I guess does a pretty good job. The new kids on the block are Bozeman Rental Cars, they seem to rent more of the ‘cheaper’ alternatives. Hatch Adventures has followed the Explore Rentals model of offering rental outdoor gear.
Bozeman Car Rentals. 10.3 miles. Brand new, no history. 406-587-0933.
Explore Rentals: Locally owned. 1.2 miles from BZN. Uber/Lyft/Taxi about $13. They are all about guaranteed AWD and Four Wheel Drive cars, and snow tires. Subaru Outbacks, Toyota Tacomas, Chevrolet Suburbans, and Mercedes 12-passenger vans. They have been around the longest for the locally owned companies and have the best reviews. 406-922-0179
Hatch Adventures. No address listed. Brand new, no history. 406-223-4224.
Journey/ Ace Rent A Car: Locally owned with a Franchise associated. 10-miles from BZN. Uber/ Taxi ride about $40 if you want to avoid BZN concession fee. Hyundai, Jeep, Dodge for SUVs. Ford Expeditions or Suburbans for large SUVs. 406-551-2277
Toyota Rent-A-Car/ Ressler. Locally owned TRAC franchise. 14-miles from airport. All new Toyotas, solid service. $50 or so Uber Ride. 406-585-2010
Rocky Mountain Expeditions. Jeep Rentals only, no physical address listed. 406-530-5337.
Conclusion: We like local businesses! Plus, all of the Bozeman off-airport rental car companies have overall more positive reviews than on-airport rental car agencies.
For getting around locally, and sometimes you can even squeeze a driver into going to Big Sky; Uber and Lyft are working well. We generally prefer Lyft as they are not quite as evil as Uber corporate. Gallatin Valley Taxi is also a decent bet for the non-tech saavy out there. Vexi Ride, sadly, seems to no longer exist.
Bus and Shuttle Service to Big Sky:
Karst Stage: They have been around forever. Best option for moving large groups, not cheap. 406-556-3540
Shuttle to Big Sky and Taxi: Moves A LOT of people to Big Sky. 406-995-4895
Big Sky Shuttle Inc.: “Five Star Luxury” whatever that means. Maybe a fancier bottle of water than your Uber driver? 866-661-6836
North of Yellowstone: NKOTB. They are listed on the BZN Official Website. It looks like they specialize in more the long-haul trips to Yellowstone or Big Sky. 406-580-2286
So what is the best way to get to Big Sky from the Bozeman Airport?
Easy, private helicopter! Rental cars cost more, but give maximum flexibility. Just please, please make sure you get a Four Wheel Drive or All Wheel Drive vehicle. If you can get one with snow tires, even better. There are two many white crosses along side the road to Big Sky already.