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Your Points & Miles Guide to Silvercar

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Rental cars are often a necessary travel expense, but they aren’t always as easy to maximize as flights and hotel stays. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele explores how to get the most out of your rentals with Silvercar.

It seems like every successful startup with a mobile app gets labeled with the overused buzzword “disruptive.” But perhaps Silvercar actually deserves this label, as it seeks to totally overhaul every aspect of the rental car experience. In today’s post, I’ll continue my series of guides to rental car companies by examining all the ways to maximize your Silvercar rentals.

Note that if you haven’t used Silvercar yet, you can earn a $25 credit on your first rental by entering referral code: BKELLY1.

About Silvercar

Silvercar primarily offers Audi A4 rentals, and they're often quite reasonably priced.
Silvercar primarily offers Audi A4 rentals, and they’re often quite reasonably priced.

Silvercar began in 2012 and was inspired by its founder’s lousy experiences renting cars from traditional companies, and it differs from its competitors in several ways. First, it primarily rents Audi A4s painted — you guessed it — silver (although it experimented with renting Audi SUVs in Denver last year). Secondly, all customers use its mobile app (for Android and iPhone) to reserve the car, request pickup from the airport, unlock the vehicle upon arrival and get receipts. In fact, Silvercar doesn’t even have counters at the airports.

Finally, Silvercar offers a far more transparent pricing structure without unnecessary fees and price gouging for things like tolls, refueling, navigation, satellite radio and child car seats. This makes for a great way to avoid excess toll charges when renting a car.

Currently, Silvercar is offered at 12 airport locations:

  • Austin
  • Chicago O’Hare
  • Dallas Love Field
  • Dallas/Fort Worth
  • Denver
  • Ft. Lauderdale
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New York City (only in Manhattan)
  • Phoenix
  • San Francisco

Plus, Silvercar plans to add new markets following a $28 million investment from its vehicle partner Audi.

Earning Points and Miles When Renting from Silvercar

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of several cards that offer 2x rewards on car rentals.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of several cards that offer 2x rewards on car rentals.

While most rental car companies offer points and miles with a variety of airline programs, they often impose some sort of surcharge in a non-transparent way. It’s rarely worth paying a fee to earn miles — especially when these companies make it nearly impossible to determine the charge ahead of time.

Silvercar only offers points with the Virgin America Elevate program, but it doesn’t add a surcharge. Currently, you can earn 4 points per dollar spent, plus 500 bonus points on your first rental, 1,000 points on your second rental and 2,000 points on your third rental. This offer extends through May 6, 2016. According to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, Virgin America’s points are worth 1.5-2.3 cents each. For information on using Virgin America’s points, read my post, How To Book Award Flights with Virgin America.

In addition, you can earn double Ultimate Rewards points for rental cars when using your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and double Hyatt Points when using the Hyatt Credit Card from Chase. Other cards that offer bonuses for rental car purchases include:

You can also redeem miles from your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard or Discover it Miles card for Silvercar rentals. Unfortunately, you won’t find Silvercar on the travel portals of most credit card reward sites, such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center.

Tips for Maximizing Silvercar

A Silvercar Audi A4 at SFO.
A Silvercar Audi A4 at SFO.

1. Consider your total costs when choosing — Silvercar prices start at about $59 in many cities, which is much more than you’ll pay for a sub-compact most of the time, and a bit more than a typical mid-size. However, Silvercar’s pricing isn’t as dynamic as most other car rental companies’ rates, and there are times when it can be less expensive than even a sub-compact from Alamo or Hertz.

For example, I was pleasantly surprised to reserve a Silvercar in Fort Lauderdale over the holidays for significantly less than competitors were charging for sub-compacts. Plus, we saved large amounts while traveling on numerous toll roads, since Silvercar doesn’t add a toll surcharge. Silvercar will also refill your gas tank for a $5 fee, and charge you the local market price. Just be aware that the local market price for premium unleaded will likely be a bit higher near the airport than you can find elsewhere. Still, other rental car companies typically charge double or triple the going price to refill your car if you don’t return it full.

2. Scour the internet for discount codes — One of the reasons that I was able to rent a Silvercar for less than any other car in Florida over the holidays was because I used a coupon code. Sure, competitors also have coupon codes, but the others had numerous exclusions that rendered them useless in Florida during the holidays. In contrast, Silvercar’s discount codes have been valid during peak travel periods and tend to be largely free of the fine print that plagues most other rental car discounts.

3. The trunk fits more than you might think — The A4 is one of the smaller cars in the Audi range, but the trunk is much bigger than you might expect. For a weeklong trip to South Florida and Key West, my family was able to easily slide in two 26-inch checked bags and our 22-inch carry-on. We even had room to spare for backpacks, purses and laptop bags. On another stop of our trip, we ended up renting a Jeep Patriot SUV, and it was actually much harder to fit all of our luggage into it.

4. Get a car seat for free — If you’re on the road with your family and prefer to travel light, you can ask Silvercar to supply a child car seat, which it will do at no additional cost. Other car rental companies often charge $10 or more per day for this extra.

5. Enjoy free connectivity — All Silvercar rentals come with free satellite radio and a free wireless hotspot, making it extra easy to stay entertained on road trips while conserving your mobile phone’s data plan. In addition, cars also come with free navigation, which my children happened to find very entertaining.

6. You don’t have to be picked up from the airport — During my recent Florida trip, we stayed at an airport hotel the night we arrived in order to save a day’s rental charges. The next day, I took the hotel shuttle back to the airport to be picked up by Silvercar. Yet my Silvercar driver told me that they’re happy to pick up clients from nearby hotels instead, which I hadn’t considered. This shouldn’t have come as no surprise to me, as Silvercar’s representatives tend to be much more customer-friendly than those I’ve encountered at other car rental companies.

7. Consider American Express Premium rental car coverage, but be careful — Since the Audi is a luxury car, I wasn’t entirely sure if my credit card’s standard rental car policy would cover me. For this reason, I utilized the American Express premium rental car coverage (for $19.95 per rental), which has no deductible. The price on our weeklong rental worked out to just a few dollars a day, and I didn’t have to worry about incurring expensive repairs for minor incidents. This is the same strategy I used when I rented a Porsche in Germany.

To use this coverage, simply enroll your American Express card, and the charge is applied once per rental charge. But since Silvercar later added a small charge for tolls (with no extra surcharge), American Express’ systems recognized it as a second rental and charged me another $19.95. I was able to sort out this double charge after a brief call to Amex, but you should take note of this possibility and watch out for double charging. Alternatively, you might consider using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which offers double points on all travel expenses including car rentals, and features primary rental car insurance. For more information on how important primary coverage is, read TPG’s post, Credit Cards That Offer Primary Car Rental Coverage.

8. Silvercar’s prices aren’t totally transparent —The rental car industry is notorious for initially quoting a low price and then adding in all sorts of dubious fees and charges at the end of the reservation process. As great as Silvercar is when it comes to price transparency for things like gas charges and tolls, it’s got quite a ways to go when it comes to other charges. On several occasions I was quoted a reasonable price for a reservation, only to see that price jump dramatically when other strange fees were added, such as one merely labeled “concessions.” Until Silvercar chooses to include all taxes and fees in the first price its customers see — as airlines are required to do — its quest to offer a truly different kind of car rental experience will not be complete.

What are your favorite tips for maximizing Silvercar rentals?

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