Credit cards that offer elite status for car rentals

May 25, 2021

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.


Long lines at the rental car counter can be agonizingly slow, especially at busy tourist destinations or at night when fewer staff is present at the rental counter.

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The recent rental car shortage shows that companies are unable to meet the travel demand coming back in full swing — as a result, your experience at the counter may be less than pleasant.

Related: Can’t find a car rental? Here are some secrets that may help

While regular customers have to wait their turn, those with elite status can go to the front of the line or skip the counter altogether and go straight to their vehicles. Fortunately, you may already hold a credit card that offers you elite status with a rental car company to get you to the front of the line. In this post, I’ll discuss which credit cards give you elite status with the rental car agencies, how to claim that status and the benefits they provide.

In This Post

Amex Platinum rental car benefits

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

All versions of The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express offer complimentary car rental elite status with Avis, Hertz and National. Each elite status isn’t created equal — let’s dive into each of the benefits. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Avis Preferred membership perks

(Photo by Roman Tiraspolsky/Getty Images)

Amex Platinum cardholders are eligible to receive special benefits when renting with Avis:

  • Complimentary one-class upgrade (when available)
  • 15% off published car rental rates

Although these benefits are useful, you’ll only receive an upgrade when available, so the value of this benefit for Amex Platinum cardholders is questionable in practice. You’ll need to enroll in the Avis Preferred program first to take advantage of these perks.

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards membership perks

Hertz in NYC
(Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

With the Amex Platinum, you’ll get complimentary elite status in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards and receive the following benefits:

  • Complimentary one-class upgrade (when available)
  • Guaranteed vehicle availability at eligible locations
  • Return flexibility: Grace period of up to four hours when returning your vehicle at eligible locations
  • Courtesy pick-up and drop-off of vehicle at eligible locations
  • Four-hour grace period before an extra day is charged
  • Rental discount: Up to 15% off standard rates and up to 25% off Prestige Collection vehicles (including Saturday night)

As with Avis Preferred membership, you need to enroll in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards first. Keep in mind that these benefits are all subject to availability.

National Emerald Club Executive status perks

national-emerald-club-counter-airport-2019
(Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Amex Platinum cardholders will get automatically upgraded to Executive status upon signing up for National’s free loyalty program, Emerald Club. As an Executive member, you’ll have access to these perks:

  • Guaranteed choice of full-size or better cars from the Executive area at the reserved mid-size rate
  • Bypass the counter
  • E-receipts
  • No additional fee for a second driver
  • Reward choices and one free rental day with seven rental credits
  • Rental discount: Up to 25% on rentals when you book and request the Contract ID 5030795 and $15 off on all three-day rentals (including Saturday night) when you use the coupon code ND2454ZDN

Booking through National gets you some of the best perks (compared to Avis or Hertz), so we recommend checking these rental options first.

Related: The Platinum Card from American Express review

Chase Sapphire Reserve rental car benefits

(Photo by The Points Guy)

The Chase Sapphire Reserve offers special privileges with National, Avis and Silvercar. You’ll enjoy complimentary National Emerald Club Executive membership as the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a Visa Infinite card, which gets you the perks listed above. Enjoy complimentary upgrades, the ability to skip the counter and more when booking with National.

Activating all of these benefits is one of the first things you should do when you get your card. You’ll need to log into your Ultimate Rewards account and select Card Benefits under “Use Points” to register for these benefits. From there, you’ll be able to see the offers that are available to you in real-time.

Related: Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card review

United Club Card rental car benefits

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
 

The United Club Infinite Card features Hertz’s top-of-the-line Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle status. To join, cardmembers (and those with MileagePlus Premier Platinum status or higher) can use this link.

hertz-presidents-circle-cars-washington-dulles-iad-airport-2019
Hertz President’s Circle at Washington-Dulles airport (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Hertz President’s Circle status includes:

  • Confirmed one car class upgrade available at all participating locations
  • Widest availability of car selection than Gold or Five Star members
  • Earn 50% bonus points on all Hertz rentals
  • Free additional driver
  • Dedicated Hertz customer service phone line

Related: United Club Infinite Card review

Recommendations

(Photo by Becker Bredel/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(Photo by Becker Bredel/ullstein bild via Getty Images.)

I find National Emerald Club to be my favorite car rental program because I love choosing my own car from the Emerald Aisle Executive selection. This is ideal when renting a car for families because the Emerald Aisle is where they tend to park the minivans. This status is easy to get if you have an Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve.

The next best is Hertz Gold Plus Rewards (included with the Amex Platinum) because of the four-hour grace period. This amounts to a free day on rentals between 24 and 28 hours long and whenever your departure time is more than a couple of hours beyond your arrival time. The President’s Circle status available from the United Club Infinite card is even better.

Of course, it’s worth enrolling in all of these programs, if only to avoid lines should you ever rent from one of these companies. When Silvercar is available, I really enjoy using the discount provided to Chase Sapphire Reserve members.

Unfortunately, I find the Avis Preferred program to be very weak and the status offered by credit card issuers to be of little value beyond what’s available to the general public.

Note that you must have a qualifying card to enroll in these elite status programs. Once you do, you can use any card to pay for the rental car. Choose the right card to maximize points and miles earning and obtain primary rental car insurance.

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

Status matching

Another way to earn value from these programs is to let them match your status. For example, Hertz offers a status match that should grant Hertz Five Star status to those with National Executive status. Similarly, National’s status match program provides Executive status to those with Avis President’s Club status. If you hold elite status with one program and are thinking of switching, it can’t hurt to ask for a status match even if it isn’t explicitly offered.

Related: The complete guide to car rental elite status matches

Bottom line

It’s far easier to enjoy rental car elite status solely through your credit card than it is to earn hotel or airline status. And while you might not find rental car status to be that exciting, it can definitely save you money and speed up your travel experience — especially in a time when rental cars may be hard to find. By learning which credit cards offer rental car status, you can enjoy all of these perks sooner than you might have thought.

Application link: Amex Platinum with 100,000 bonus points after spending $6,000 on purchases in the first six months of account opening.
Application link: Chase Sapphire Reserve with 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
Application link: United Club Infinite for 75,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.

Additional reporting by Stella Shon

Featured photo by EMS FORSTER PRODUCTIONS for Getty Images

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.