Maximize Monday: Earning the Most Miles and Points on Car Rentals
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
TPG contributor Jason Steele looks at credit cards with category spending bonuses, travel shopping portals and at various airline and hotel partnerships as he plots out strategies to maximize points earning on car rentals.
For many travelers, rental cars can be an unexpected huge expense, so it makes sense for road warriors to use a credit card that earns as many points and miles as possible for their car rental charges, as well as to book through travel and shopping portals where they can earn multiple point bonuses and to take advantage of airline and hotel partnerships to double dip as well.
CREDIT CARD CATEGORY SPENDING BONUSES
Several credit cards earn travelers multiple points or miles per dollar spent on rental car. Here are the top earners:
1. Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Cardholders earn double Ultimate Rewards points on all travel purchases including car rentals, and often triple points when they make their reservations from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards website. But unfortunately, you cannot do a one-way rental using Chase’s site.
2. Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card: This card offers 2 Marriott Rewards points per dollar spent on car rentals. But since Marriott is an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, this card offers no additional points over the Sapphire Preferred when renting a car.
3. Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card: Like Chase’s Marriott card, this product also offers 2 points per dollar on car rentals. But Ritz-Carlton Rewards is also an Ultimate Rewards transfer partner, so when renting a car, this card offers no additional rewards over the Sapphire Preferred.
4. Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card: This card offers 5 points per dollar spent on car rentals. Hilton HHonors points are less valuable than Ultimate Rewards points, but spending on this card gives Diamond status at $40,000 annually and a free weekend night at $10,000, which might be a reason to use this card.
5. Chase J.P. Morgan Palladium: This premium card offers the same deal as the Sapphire Preferred - 2 points per dollar - but without the 7% annual point’s bonus. Therefore, cardholders will earn two or three Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent, depending on if they use the Ultimate Rewards portal.
6. Amex Blue Sky Preferred - Update: This offer is no longer available: This card awards 2 points per dollar spent on car rentals. Unfortunately, these are not Membership Rewards points. These points are worth 1.33 cents each towards a statement credit, so car rentals return 2.66 cents per dollar spent.
7. Any American Express Business Card: Amex business cards feature the OPEN savings program, which offers rebates on Hertz rentals. "Automatically save up to 10% on Hertz car rentals. Get 5% savings when you spend $500-$2500 per calendar year. Boost your savings up to 10% by spending more than $2500 per calendar year. Enjoy complimentary enrollment in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards®"
8. Travelocity Rewards American Express: This card returns 3 points per dollar spent on all travel booked through Travelocity, including car rentals. Points are normally worth 1 cent each, but you can redeem 20,000 points for a $400 statement credit towards an airline ticket, which can actually cost more than $400.
9. US Bank Cash+: This card allows customers to choose two categories to receive 5% cash back, including car rentals. There is also a 25% bonus when cash back is redeemed in $100 increments, making the effective cash back rate 6.25%
SHOPPING PORTAL BONUSES
The Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal offers bonuses for purchases from several car rental companies and travel agencies [pictured]. For example, one could receive 5.35 points per dollar (including the 7% annual dividend) by renting from Avis using their Sapphire Preferred card with the current offer.
In fact, the terms and conditions of this program do not require the use of a Chase card, and many people report receiving Ultimate Rewards points even when using other credit cards to book a rental through this portal. This presents the opportunity to stack offers. Note: I recommend using a Chase card through the Chase portal, because if your points don't post properly, they are much more inclined to help post the points if you used a Chase card.
For instance, using a US Bank Cash+ card with 5% cash back on rentals, one could earn 5% cash back as well as another 3.21 Ultimate Rewards when they book through their Sapphire Preferred’s Ultimate Rewards shopping link, or just three points with another card that earns Ultimate Rewards points. Depending on how you value Ultimate Rewards points, this could exceed a 10% return.
If you wanted to just earn cash back from your car rentals, there are some great options. If you spend at least $2,500 a year on car rentals, you could earn 10% cash back on any American Express OPEBN card so long as you stick with Hertz.
Perhaps the highest earning strategy I can come up with would be to use a Travelocity American Express card to make purchases through the Ultimate Rewards portal of a Sapphire Preferred card. You could receive 1.07-3.21 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent while earning 5 Travelocity Rewards points per dollar. Once you spend $4,000 at Travelocity, you can redeem 20,000 points for a $400 statement credit towards any flight. So you can receive cash back rewards worth 10% of your spending. You would also earn 4,280-12,840 Ultimate Rewards points. Even with a conservative valuation of Ultimate Rewards points, you would earn rewards worth at least 6% of your rental car spending. If you work for a company that reimburses you for your travel expenses, this might be the best way to earn the most rewards from not just your car rentals, but from other airline and hotel expenses that you can charge through Travelocity.
Another opportunity to earn bonus miles is through the airline/hotel shopping portals. Not all the shopping portals give bonuses for car rentals all the time, but it's a good idea to check their first and see if your favorite car rental company is offered. For reference, here is a list of shopping portals:
Amtrak: Amtrak Guest Rewards
British Airways: BA Miles Estore
Chase: Ultimate Rewards Shopping (3 bonus points for Avis)
Choice Rewards: Choice Privileges Mall
Citi: Thank You Shopping
Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines eMarket
Hilton HHonors: Hilton Honors Earnings Mall
Mastercard: Mastercard Marketplace
Priority Club: Priority Club Shopping
Southwest: Rapid Rewards Shopping
US Airways: Dividend Miles Shopping Mall (2 bonus miles for Avis, 1 bonus mile for Budget, 1 bonus mile for Enterprise)
Almost every major airline and many hotel chains have partnerships with the large car rental agencies such as Avis, Budget, Hertz and National, and they often team up to offer bonus frequent flyer miles and hotel points on rentals as well as discounts of between 20-40%. These discounts, bonuses and promotions change all the time, so before you rent a car, be sure to check your preferred frequent flyer program or hotel program's partner page to view the current car rental offers. Here is a brief cross-section of current offers out there to give you some idea of the bonuses that are being offered.
7,500 Club Carlson Points for Avis Rentals: Now through December 31, 2013, Avis is offering a total bonus of 7,500 Club Carlson Gold points and a 25% discount to members on qualifying car rentals of 3 or more days at participating locations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Make your reservation here and use coupon # MUHA018 and present your Club Carlson number at the time of reservation or at the rental counter to earn your bonus points. This offer is in addition to your everyday savings of up to 25% when you use AWD # G639300. Check out this post for more info.
1,000 Hyatt Points for Avis Rentals: Earn 1,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points using coupon code MUHA067 on qualifying rentals of at least 2 days now through December 31, 2013. Reservations must be made at participating Avis locations in the U.S, Canada, Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. You must also provide your Hyatt Gold Passport number at the time of reservation or rental. This offer may not be used with any other coupon, promotion or offer except your AWD discount. Use AWD # K817700 or try other codes like corporate, AAA, and Costco to try to find better rates.
Bonus Delta SkyMiles with Hertz: Book now through February 28, 2013 for rentals picked up by May 31, 2013 and SkyMiles members may earn 3,400 miles or more with this Hertz offer. Earn 500 additional miles for rentals of 1 to 2 days; earn 900 additional miles for rentals of 3 to 4 days or; earn 2,000 additional miles for rentals of 5 or more days.
Earn Triple Elevate Points and Discounts With Avis and Budget: Virgin America has several car rental program partners including Avis and Budget, both of which are offering special discounts and earning bonuses right now. Now through February 28, 2013, Elevate members can earn triple points (3 points per $1 spent) on qualifying rentals of 2 days or more at participating Avis airport locations in the U.S. Use coupon # MUAA034 and provide your Elevate number when making your reservation. This offer is in addition to savings of up to 35% when you use AWD # G600004. Virgin America Elevate members can also now save up to 30% off every Budget rental with BCD # U106004. Earn 3 Elevate points for every $1 spent at participating airport locations in the U.S. Coupon # MUAZ008. Offer also valid now through February 28, 2013.Bonus TrueBlue Points and Discounts with Avis and Budget: Avis and Budget are also offering JetBlue frequent fliers special discounts and bonus points opportunities this winter. Until April 30, 2013, TrueBlue members can earn double points (2 points per $1 spent) on qualifying rentals of 1 day or more at participating Avis airport locations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Use Coupon # MUAA072 and provide your TrueBlue number when making your reservation. This offer is in addition to a savings of up to 35% when you use AWD # H798506. JetBlue TrueBlue members can save up to 30% off every Budget rental with BCD # R344904. Earn triple points (3 points per $1 spent) on qualifying rentals at participating Budget airport locations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Use Coupon # MUAZ057. Offer valid through April 30, 2013.
General Bonus Miles and Discounts with Car Rentals: When preparing to rent a car, always check the partner pages of your frequent flyer program to see what bonuses and discounts are being offered. That way, you can score a discount, earn bonus miles, and still double dip by booking with a credit card that earns you bonus points or miles on car rentals. For quick reference, here are the car rental partner pages of the major US airlines:
There are several other factors to take into account when renting a car, like insurance, which we will cover in a future post.