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Hitting the road this winter? Here’s everything you need to know about rental car elite status

Jan. 08, 2022
11 min read
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

We talk a lot about elite status here at The Points Guy, such as identifying which airline is best for low-tier status to valuing hotel elite status for a variety of chains. However, we haven’t devoted much time to car rental elite status. There are plenty of options, and you may be a little confused as to which program should earn your loyalty.

Most notably, some of these tiers are available simply by having the right credit card or airline status — so they may be closer than you think.

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 helping you find the perfect car rental. Also, read our post with ways to save on rental cars — especially tips for using AutoSlash. It will help road warriors and intermittent renters alike.

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Coronavirus updates

Before diving into the individual programs, it’s worth pointing out that a few things have happened with rental cars during the pandemic.

Since last spring, many spots in the U.S. have experiences shortages of rental cars along with skyrocketing prices. A number of factors led to this situation. Many rental companies sold a portion of their cars as a way to recoup money during the depths of the pandemic, and the worldwide global chip shortage made it harder to rebuild them quickly enough. And then there was the skyrocketing demand for domestic travel, as many international borders remained closed.

Even though some rental car loyalty programs have extended free rental certificates and extended points expiration, things are not "how they used to be" with the industry. In short, you need to plan ahead when renting a car. If you don't use a program that offers a "skip the line" benefit, expect to wait a while at the airport rental counter.

This makes rental car elite status that much more valuable these days.

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Now, let's dive into the major companies' respective loyalty programs — and the elite status tiers you can earn with each of them.

(Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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 over the years. You can also earn Avis Preferred points for rentals (1 dollar equals 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
  • Avis President’s Club
  • Avis Chairman’s Club

The first is a published tier that you can read about on the 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 you also receive complimentary upgrades (based on availability), a special reservation number and exclusive email offers. You’ll also enjoy bonus Avis Preferred points, which climb higher after completing 25 rentals or spending $7,000.

Screen shot courtesy of Avis

These amounts represent a 25% to 50% bonus more than the standard earning rates.

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). 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 information for the Amex Centurion card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

The final status level with Avis is Chairman’s Club, and it's invitation only as well. 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.

Note that both President’s Club and Chairman’s Club have been a part of past Daily Getaways deals.

Related: TPG’s guide to car rental promotions that will save you money

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 equals 1 point). You can then redeem these points for free rental days. However, the program also has three elite status levels that include a few additional benefits. Here are the details:

Screen shot courtesy of Enterprise

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

Related: The best credit cards for car rental coverage

Hertz

The Hertz loyalty program is called Hertz Gold Plus Rewards. 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 equals 1 point). You can then redeem your points 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 — and in fact, new members can actually enjoy Five Star status through June 30, 2022, just for joining.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of how to qualify and the benefits you’ll receive:

Screen shot courtesy of Hertz

One of the really nice things about Hertz is that it partners with a major airline to offer automatic status to elite travelers. Delta Diamond and Platinum Medallion members can enjoy complimentary President’s Circle status, while Gold Medallion members receive complimentary Five Star status. All SkyMiles Medallion members are also eligible for bonus miles when renting with Hertz — with details provided on this page.

If you're a Medallion member, you can link your accounts and begin enjoying complimentary elite status with Hertz at this link.

Unfortunately, Hertz ended its partnership with United MileagePlus as of Oct. 31, 2021.

Related: 10 best ways to redeem your points and miles for a car rental

National

In addition to partnering with Enterprise through the Drive Alliance program, National has its own loyalty program: Emerald Club. As 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 Aisle when you rent a midsize or above, so you can get on your way faster. You can choose to earn either free rental days (seven qualified rentals equals one free day) or points/miles in your favorite frequent traveler program.

The program also has two different tiers of elite status. Here’s what you’ll get with Emerald Club Executive status:

Screen shot courtesy of National Car Rental

And here’s what you’ll get with Emerald Club Executive Elite status:

Screen shot courtesy of National Car Rental

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

Related: Your points, miles and loyalty guide to National Car Rental

Sixt

This upstart company from Europe has made significant inroads in the U.S. 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 three elite status tiers in Sixt’s program (one by invitation only). Here are the details of each:

Screen shot courtesy of Sixt

Related: Ultimate guide to choosing National Emerald Executive Aisle or Hertz Ultimate Choice President’s Circle

Earning elite status with credit cards

In addition to the partnerships and methods for earning elite status listed above, it’s possible to score rental car elite status just by holding a card. Here are some of the best options for travelers:

In addition, FoundersCard members receive free Avis Preferred Plus status.

Remember too that there are many credit cards that offer primary car rental coverage, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the United Explorer Card. There are also many credit cards that offer bonus points for car rental purchases — and you can also use online shopping portals like Rakuten to earn even more points on your rentals with many of the above companies.

Related: The ultimate guide to the best cards for each bonus category

Using a status match

Another way to snag car rental elite status is by matching your status from another program. 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. Hertz even has a dedicated page for submitting these requests.

The idea is simple. By earning status in one program (or getting it automatically through a credit card), you can then use it to grab a similar tier in other programs via status match.

See our guide to rental car status matching for additional details.

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. By virtue of my 25+ car rentals, I was an Avis First (now Preferred Plus) member for years when I was a traveling consultant. Despite renting fewer cars these days, I’ll be able to keep this status because of the credit cards I have in my wallet.

And with continued shortages and long lines at many rental counters, elite status can not only help ensure your reservation is honored but allow you to head straight to your assigned vehicle at many airports.

With the comparisons above, you’ve hopefully narrowed down your options. But if you subscribe to our newsletter, you’ll stay abreast as we continue to dig into these topics, with head-to-head posts like National Executive Status vs. Hertz President’s Circle.

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.

Ryan Smith and Joseph Hostetler contributed to this post.

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Featured image by (Photo by Dave G Kelly/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023