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

Aug 12, 2020

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With travel impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve heard from many readers who are opting for road trips over flights to far-off destinations. While buying an RV is a viable option for some, others will be renting cars to get around. If you’re in the latter group, you’ll want to take advantage of current car rental promotions. And if you’d rather not spend anything at all, there are several ways you can redeem points. We’ll cover your best options and things to consider before redeeming points for car rentals.

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Redeem rental car points

Most of the major rental car companies have reward programs that let you earn and redeem points for car rentals.

Seattle /Washington/USA_ 21 January 2016 _ Travel with lougage at car rental and car rental offices (Photo by Francis Joseph Dean/DeanPictures) (Photo by Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images)
Seattle /Washington/USA_ 21 January 2016 _ Travel with lougage at car rental and car rental offices (Photo by Francis Joseph Dean/DeanPictures) (Photo by Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images)

Avis PreferredAvis Preferred members need at least 700 points for a free car rental, which isn’t too tough considering members earn 1 point per dollar spent and at least 100 points per booking.

Budget Fastbreak – Budget doesn’t have a point system. Instead, members earn $25 in Budget Bucks (up to $1,300 per year) for every two rentals.

Dollar Express RewardsYou need 500 points per day on weekends and 625 points on weekdays. Since members earn 1 point per dollar spent, it takes at least $500 worth of paid rentals to earn a free day.

Enterprise Plus Rewards – Enterprise doesn’t have an award chart, but you can redeem points at a rate of roughly five cents each toward a free rental day. Meanwhile, members earn one point per dollar spent on paid rentals.

Hertz Gold Rewards – Free Hertz rentals start at 750 points per day at the standard level, where blackout dates apply. A free rental day without restrictions will set you back 1,500 points. Members earn points at a rate of 1 – 1.5 cents each, depending on whether they have elite status or not.

National Emerald Club – Similar to Budget, National doesn’t have a point program. Instead, members earn credits that can be used toward free rental days. Non-elites earn one credit for 1-7 day rentals. On rentals of eight days or longer, credits are calculated by dividing the rental period by two.

Thrifty rental car Free Thrifty car rentals start at 500 points for weekends and members earn these points at a rate of one point per dollar spent. 

Related: Credit cards that offer car rental coverage

Redeem credit card rewards for car rentals

(Photo by Mikbiz/Shutterstock)
(Photo by Mikbiz/Shutterstock)

If you have a card that earns cash back or transferable rewards, you can redeem them for car rentals. The process varies slightly by program. Cash-back rewards are easy: With a card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can request your cash back in the form of a statement credit or bank deposit. So you can essentially charge a car rental to any card and pay it off once the cash back hits your bank account.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is another great way to redeem points for rental cars or virtually any travel purchase. Charge your rental car booking to your card and you’ll have 90 days to redeem Venture miles toward the purchase, at a rate of one cent each. So a $100 rental will set you back 10,000 miles. The card is currently offering 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening, or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. 

The Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is a great place to redeem points for rental cars. If you have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each, while Sapphire Preferred cardholders can redeem them at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. You’ll be eligible for primary car rental coverage if you use points tied to your Sapphire Preferred or Reserve account.

If you have a stash of American Express Membership Rewards points, you can also redeem them for rental cars through Pay with Points. This isn’t the best value, considering you’ll get 0.7-0.85 cents of value out of each point, while TPG values Membership Rewards at 2 cents each. On a positive note, you do have the option to include your rental car rewards number so you can earn points and elite status.

Related: How to never pay full price for a rental car

Redeem airline miles for car rentals

One of my best airline mile redemptions wasn’t on some fancy first-class seat to an exotic destination (though I’ll gladly take one of those flights any day)– it was for a rental car in Maui. I redeemed 12,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles for a one-week car rental that would have cost $1,200 cash. For those counting, that’s a value of 10 cent per mile – well above TPG’s valuation of American miles at 1.4 cents. 

Unlike a first-class ticket, which I would never pay tens of thousands of dollars for, I had no other choice but to book that rental car for $1,200. I not only got great value out of my redemption, but I also saved money on a necessary expense rather than splurging on a luxury travel experience.

If you want to redeem airline miles for rental cars, you can do so with several airlines, although it may or may not offer you the best value.

To give you an idea of what you can expect, I searched for four-day economy car rentals at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) for Aug. 24-28, 2020. The difference in point redemption rates was pretty substantial between the five programs.

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

American Airlines

American Airlines partners with most of the big rental car companies. You’ll need at least 1,000 AAdvantage miles in your account to redeem them for a rental car. The cheapest option for the aforementioned SFO rental priced out at 19,300 AAdvantage miles.

AA miles for rental cars
Screenshot courtesy of AA.com

Meanwhile, the prepaid rate for the same car came to $198.36. In this case, you’d get less than 0.8 cents per mile, which is way lower than TPG’s 1.4 cent valuation of AAdvantage miles.

Dollar rental car rates SFO
Screenshot courtesy of dollar.com

If you don’t quite have enough miles for the car you want, American does allow partial miles and cash redemptions. During a test booking, every 100 AAdvantage miles deducted added $1 out of pocket.

AAdvantage rental car points cash
Screenshot courtesy of aa.com

Related: How to earn American AAdvantage miles

Delta Air Lines

Delta lets you redeem SkyMiles for car rentals, though the option is somewhat buried on the site. You have to head over to the SkyMiles Marketplace, click on the “Travel” box and navigate to the “Car Rentals” tab. A direct link to that page will time out and generate an error. 

Anyway, the SkyMiles Marketplace generally has one of the worst redemption rates I’ve ever seen on rental cars. For example, a four-day compact car rental that cost less than $200 through Thrifty was going for over 68,000 Delta SkyMiles. 

Delta miles for car rentals
Screenshot courtesy of Delta.com

Earlier, I emphasized that you should use your miles how you see fit, especially if they save you money. A booking like this would be an absolute exception.

Related: 10 easy ways to earn more Delta SkyMiles

Hawaiian Airlines

While Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t let you redeem miles for direct rental car bookings, you can redeem them for Avis and Budget gift cards. Redemptions range from 10,000-40,000 HawaiianMiles and you’ll get about 0.5 cents worth of value per mile. This is way below TPG’s valuation of HawaiianMiles at 0.9 cents each, so I don’t recommend redeeming Hawaiian Miles for rental car bookings.

That being said, I always tell people to use their miles in whatever way saves them money. If you’ve got lots of Hawaiian miles, no intention to fly anytime soon and a long road trip coming up, then, by all means, use them to cover the cost of a rental car. 

You can apply up to five gift certificates per booking, for a maximum of $500 per booking.

Miles needed for Avis and Budget Rent A Car gift certificates

  • $50 = 10,000 HawaiianMiles
  • $100 = 20,000 HawaiianMiles
  • $200 = 40,000 HawaiianMiles

Related: How to rent an RV for only $1 a day

Southwest Airlines

If you have a Southwest credit card, you can redeem points for car rentals through the More Rewards portal. Usually, you’ll get about 0.5 cents per point in value, which isn’t great compared to TPG’s valuation of Southwest points at 1.5.

TPG reporter Katie Genter has both the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card. She conducted a search for a rental car at SFO for Aug. 8 – 28, 2020. The cheapest vehicle option was from Thrifty, which priced out at 25,582 Rapid Rewards points.

Southwest points rental cars
Screenshot courtesy of Southwest.com

Considering the same car was available for $193 through the Avis website, this redemption would get her about 0.75 cents per point. That’s about half of TPG’s Rapid Rewards valuation, so you can definitely do better.

Thrifty rental car economy rental
Screenshot courtesy of Thrifty.com

Related: 9 ways to earn points with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program

United Airlines

United’s booking portal is powered by rentalcars.com and allows you to redeem miles for rental cars through Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty. Searching for the same dates at SFO, I found the cheapest rental at Hertz for 31,800 United miles.

United miles for rental cars
Screenshot courtesy of United.com

That’s much better than Delta’s redemption rates but still higher than American Airlines. It’s worth noting that TPG values 31,800 United miles at $413.40. Considering the cash rate for this booking is under $200, I would be much more inclined to redeem around 20,000 Venture miles or 13,333 Ultimate Rewards points if you’re a Sapphire Reserve cardholders

Related: 17+ ways to earn miles with the United MileagePlus program

Bottom line

Overall, your best bet when it comes to redeeming points for rental cars is to use a bank rewards currency like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Capital One Venture miles. These programs offer reasonable redemption rates and their points are easy to earn thanks to high earning rates and welcome bonuses. 

On the airline mile front, American Airlines consistently offers the lowest redemption rate on rental cars. Despite this, you should keep in mind that saving those miles for a future airline ticket can get you substantially more value than a rental car redemption will. By booking with airline miles, you will also give up valuable rental car coverage. 

In these uncertain times, we all want peace of mind. So do your research and go with the option that gets you the most value on your rental car booking.

Featured by Russ Rhode / Getty Images

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