Comparing Car Rental Elite Status

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Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen compares the various status tiers at major rental car companies, while providing tips on how to earn these levels.

We talk a lot about elite status here at The Points Guy, from identifying which airline is best for low-tier status and earning elite-qualifying miles through a credit card to valuing hotel elite status for a variety of chains. However, we haven’t devoted much time to car rental elite status.

In this post, I’ll compare the various tiers offered at major rental car companies and give you some tips to earn these different statuses, with the goal of making your next travel experience more rewarding.

Avis Preferred has three tiers of elite status, but only one has published qualification criteria.
Avis Preferred has three tiers of elite status, but only one has published qualification criteria.

Avis

The baseline membership with Avis is called Avis Preferred. Anyone can join and it’s completely free. Membership allows you to go straight to your car, which has saved me countless hours of waiting. You can also earn Avis Preferred Points for rentals (1 dollar=1 point), though you’ll forgo earning airline miles or hotel points if you select this option.

In addition, if you regularly rent with Avis, there are three tiers of elite status in the program:

  • Avis Preferred Plus (formerly Avis First)
  • Avis President’s Club
  • Avis Chairman’s Club

The first is a published tier that you can read about on Avis’ website. It’s earned after completing 12 rentals or spending $5,000 in a calendar year. You’ll enjoy the same fast track check-out offered to regular members, but will also receive complimentary upgrades (based on availability) and a special reservation number. You’ll also enjoy bonus Avis Preferred Points:

Avis Preferred Plus points

These amounts represent a 25%-50% bonus more than the standard earning rates. FoundersCard members receive free Preferred Plus status.

Avis President’s Club, on the other hand, doesn’t have a published qualification threshold. Instead, it’s provided to members on an invitation-only basis (or by virtue of holding the American Express Centurion card, which also requires an invitation to open). It used to be an automatic benefit of the United MileagePlus Club Card, but this was discontinued back in 2013. It was also a benefit on the old United MileagePlus Presidential Plus Card (a holdover from the United-Continental merger), but will expire at the end of this year.

If you do hold President’s Club status, you’ll have access to two-class complimentary upgrades (when available), along with guaranteed availability even when you don’t have a reservation.

The final status level with Avis is Chairman’s Club, and it, too, is invitation only (or available to principal NetJets Owners or Marquis Jet Card Owners). However, it also appeared in the American Express Daily Getaways program in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, for a cost of $1,115. Benefits include an automatic upgrade to the best available car when you rent an intermediate or higher-level car and delivery service within 25 miles of an Avis location.

Enterprise Plus has three tiers of elite status, and you can also earn points for qualifying rentals at National as well.
Enterprise Plus has three tiers of elite status, and you can earn points for qualifying rentals at National as well.

Enterprise

The Enterprise Plus program works similarly to Avis Preferred. Anyone can join the base level of the program and begin earning points for all qualifying rentals (1 dollar=1 point), including those at National through the Drive Alliance program. These points can then be redeemed for free rental days.

However, the program also has three elite status levels that include a few additional benefits. Here are the details:

Details

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Qualifying rentals or rental days

Six rentals

12 rentals or 40 days

24 rentals or 85 days

Bonus points on eligible spending

10%

15%

20%

Free car-class upgrade certificates per year

One

Two

Four

As you can see, there isn’t anything earth-shattering here. However, if you regularly rent from Enterprise (or National), this can be a good way to earn points toward free rentals.

Hertz has two elite status levels and several ways to get one without meeting the rental requirements.
Hertz has two elite status levels and several ways to get one without meeting the rental requirements. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Hertz

The Hertz loyalty program is called Gold Plus Rewards, and like Enterprise and Avis, it’s free to join. You’ll enjoy designated parking stalls and can earn Gold Plus Rewards points on all qualifying rentals and optional charges like satellite radio or car seats (1 dollar=1 point). These points can then be redeemed for free rentals, and members can also transfer points to their spouses or domestic partners.

There are also two tiers of elite status within the program. Here’s a detailed breakdown of how to qualify and the benefits you’ll receive:

Details

Hertz Five Star

Hertz President’s Circle

Membership criteria

7-19 rentals or $1,500 – $3,999 spent

20 or more car rentals or $4,000+ spent

Guaranteed availability

n/a

Confirmed availability in the US and Canada with at least 48 hours notice

Upgrades

One-car class upgrade (subject to availability)

Confirmed one-car class upgrade

Threshold bonuses

675 bonus points after every 15 rentals

675 bonus points after every 15 rentals

Regular bonuses

10%

25%

One of the really nice things about Hertz is that it partners with a couple of popular airlines to offer automatic status to elite travelers and certain credit card holders:

  • United — Last fall, Hertz and United announced a new partnership that provides higher mileage-earning rates for MileagePlus Premier members, a great example of how to earn United miles without flying. In addition, MileagePlus Global Services, Premier 1K and Premier Platinum members, along with primary cardholders of a United Club or Presidential Plus credit card, can sign up for automatic President’s Circle status, whereas Premier Gold and Premier Silver members can sign up for Five Star status.
  • Delta — Not to be outdone, Delta announced a new partnership with Hertz just a couple of months later, a rare enhancement to the SkyMiles program, which has seen its fair share of devaluations during the past few years. Diamond and Platinum Medallion members can now enjoy complimentary President’s Circle status, while Gold Medallion members receive complimentary Five Star status.
All Emerald Club members can pick from a variety of cars, though elite members have a couple additional benefits.
All Emerald Club members can pick from a variety of cars, though elite members have a couple additional benefits.

National

In addition to partnering with Enterprise through the Drive Alliance program, National has its own loyalty program: the Emerald Club. Like with the other programs, the base level is free to join and allows you to skip the counter. It also allows you to choose any car from the Emerald Club row, so you can get on your way faster. You can choose to earn either free rental days (7 qualified rentals=1 free day) or points/miles in your favorite frequent traveler program.

The program also has two different tiers of elite status. Here’s an overview of each one and the benefits they confer:

Details

Emerald Club Executive

Emerald Club Executive Elite

Qualification criteria

12 paid rentals or 40 paid rental days

25 paid rentals or 85 paid rental days

Executive area access

Choose any car in the area and pay the mid-size rate

Choose any car in the area and pay the mid-size rate

Earning rate for free rental days

six qualified rentals=one free rental day

five qualified rentals=one free rental day

Upgrades

Guaranteed free upgrade when you reserve at the mid-size rate

Guaranteed free upgrade when you reserve at the mid-size rate

Guaranteed availability

n/a

Guaranteed car with 24 hours notice when booked at the mid-size rate

Delivery

n/a

Delivery to most private airports within 50 miles

As you can see, these represent a pretty solid jump from the base level.

Sixt is a small but growing presence in the US, and its elite status levels have the lowest qualification requirements.
Sixt has a small but growing presence in the US, and its elite status levels have the lowest qualification requirements.

Sixt

This upstart company from Europe has made significant inroads in the US since it entered the market in 2011. The agency’s Sixt Cards program offers many of the same benefits listed above, including the ability to skip the lines and collect points or miles for your rental.

There are also two elite status tiers in Sixt’s program. Here are the details:

  • Gold Sixt Card (earned after three rentals): 10% off Sixt rentals and 20% off Sixt limo service in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France, plus priority rentals with at least 48 hours notice
  • Platinum Sixt card (earned after 10 rentals): 15% off Sixt rentals, free upgrades to the next car group (double upgrades in US locations) and priority rentals with at least 24 hours notice
Any World Elite MasterCard comes with three different elite status memberships with car rental agencies.
Any World Elite MasterCard comes with three different elite status memberships with car rental agencies.

Earning Elite Status with Credit Cards

In addition to the partnerships and methods for earning elite status listed above, many credit cards provide automatic status in one (or more) of these programs. Here’s a quick rundown:

American Express Platinum

Amex issues several different platinum cards, but all of them (including the Platinum Card from American Express and the Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN) give you complimentary National Emerald Club Executive status. You can use this link to enroll in the program or to upgrade your current status. There’s also a special link to sign up for the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program, however, I don’t see any benefits that are different from signing up through the regular channels.

World Elite MasterCard

The following cards give you complimentary Avis Preferred (formerly Avis First) status, National Emerald Club Executive status (for one year) and Sixt Platinum status:

Remember that there are many credit cards that offer primary car rental coverage, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the United MileagePlus Explorer Card. There are also many credit cards that offer bonus points for car rental purchases. For more information, check out Richard Kerr’s post on maximizing car rentals as a bonus category.

Using a Status Match

Another way to snag car rental elite status is by matching your status from another program. My previous status match posts have focused mainly on airline and hotel status matches, but many car rental companies will allow you to jump past the qualification requirements if you hold status with a competitor. National makes this the easiest, with a page dedicated to this purpose.

National will match both Hertz and Avis status.
National will match both Hertz and Avis status.

You simply indicate whether you have status with either Hertz or Avis and National will match you to either Emerald Club Executive or Emerald Club Executive Elite.

Hertz also has a status-match page, though it takes a bit more legwork to make the match happen.

Bottom Line

Renting a car isn’t nearly as glamorous as flying around the world or staying in a luxury hotel, but it can nevertheless be rewarding by holding elite status. I was an Avis First (now Preferred Plus) member for years when I was a traveling consultant by virtue of my 25+ car rentals, but despite my limited travel in 2015, I’ll be able to keep this status because of the multitude of World Elite MasterCards I currently have in my wallet.

If your credit card (or airline loyalty program) includes automatic elite status with one or more car rental agencies, go ahead and sign up! It may save you the next time you need to rent a car and don’t want to rot in line at the counter.

What are your experiences with car rental elite status?

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