Tag Archives: Road to Big Sky

2019 Bozeman Airport to Big Sky Transportation Updates

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:

Alamo: 406-388-6694

Avis: 406-388-4091

Budget: 406-388-4091

Enterprise: 406-388-7420

Dollar: 406-388-6939

Hertz: 406-388-6939

Thrifty: 406-388-6694

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.

UBER/LYFT/TAXI

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.

 

Tips for Big Sky skiers through the Bozeman Airport

6-winter tips: Bozeman Airport to Big Sky

 Bridger Bowl Trail MapIt is always an exciting time in Bozeman when the snow arrives, and this year the snow is arriving in spades. Bridger Bowl and BIg Sky are already (as of mid-December 2013) posting base depth of four feet. This bodes well so far.

The Bozeman Airport does an excellent job dealing with oversized luggage, AKA skis and boards (hint: big bags come off last). We do have a couple of hints for winter visitors that will hopefully make your life a little easier when you are passing through.

1) Transportation to Big Sky. Options are limited. It is typically less expensive to rent a car than to take a shuttle/ taxi to Big Sky. Plus, a rental car gives you flexibility to check out different areas of town, Bozeman, and Yellowstone. It is highly, highly recommended to rent a car versus a shuttle. Here is an article about BZN Ground transportation. 

2) If you are on a late flight, eat before you get to Bozeman. There are few restaurant options, other than McDonalds, on your way to Big Sky open late. The grocery store, Albertsons, is open to 1AM and on the way. If you can muster, it is worth stopping here to stock up.

3) If you have rented a car through one of the franchise companies on airport, send the primary member of the party to get pick up the car IMMEDIATELY. Lines can and will be long, and the cars are far away. Drive the car up to arrivals to pick up the rest of your party and their luggage.

4) Ski racks. On airport companies do offer ski racks on some of their rental cars. However, these are the clamp style racks. So if you are traveling with board/ ski bags plan on removing the contents to strap in. The independent car rental agency, Phasmid,  offers rental roof-top ski boxes on their cars, as well as if you just want to rent a roof box. They are located about a mile from BZN and pick people up at the airport privately, right outside of arrivals, if you are renting a car from them.

5) Gear. Soft sided bags are a lot easier to pack and if you did book too small of a rental car (or got shafted with getting something you did not book) are a lot more comfortable on your lap then a suitcase! If you are tight for packing space, carry your ski boots on the plane.

6) Rental cars and the drive to Big Sky. Four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive cars are required in the winter. You may get lucky if you rent a 2WD car and the road to Big Sky is dry and safe, or you may end up with a snowy/ icey road and in the Gallatin River.  They do an excellent job maintaining the road to Big Sky in winter, however, sometimes it is impossible to keep it perfect.  Supposedly they stopped putting up white crosses marking where people died because there are so many already it started to freak people out.

Pony up and get a 4WD or AWD rental car.

If you book a SUV through a Bozeman airport rental car company, call and make sure 100% that the car you will be getting is 4WD or AWD.  If they will not guarantee this, book a rental car through a different company.  A couple of the companies have been renting 2WD Ford Escapes and Ford Explorers- veritable deathtraps in adverse driving conditions.

When you do book your rental car, book in advance as possible. Winter rental car prices in Bozeman can be insane. Don’t hesitate to think out of the box and go through an independent company off-airport. Here is a recent screen grab of Bozeman airport car rental agencies over Christmas, 2013:

Bozeman Suburban Rental

6) Drive safe. If you are arriving one of the late flights and are not comfortable driving in winter conditions and/ or at night- get a hotel for the night! It is not worth the stress, or worse and accident, to race to Big Sky. Stay at a hotel in Belgrade or Bozeman and go in the morning- you won’t miss anything at all!