9 rental car rewards programs you need to know about
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With more travelers getting vaccinated, we’re finally seeing a surge in demand for travel. Airports are certainly busier than ever, but rental car demand has skyrocketed this summer.
If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve probably booked the cheapest rental car option in the past without giving much thought to loyalty programs. But you should — as being a rewards member can get you some sweet perks like car upgrades. Plus, many companies have announced status extensions for their loyal members.
Given that the pandemic has forced frequent fliers to rethink air travel in the coming months, many are now turning to car rentals. Here’s a breakdown of each car rental rewards program and what you need to know about them.
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Unlike many of the programs below, Alamo Insiders doesn’t have elite status tiers and you can’t earn rental car points. However, Alamo Insiders will receive a 5% discount on rates in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America.
Insiders members can choose to earn miles or points on qualifying car rentals from Alamo airline or hotel partners, such as American AAdvantage, Hilton Honors or Lufthansa Miles & More.
Avis Preferred has four elite status tiers. Preferred and Preferred Plus are open to anyone, while President’s Club and Chairman’s Club are invitation-only.
The primary benefit of Avis Preferred is the ability to skip the line at the rental counter at most worldwide locations.
Avis Preferred Plus
You can reach Avis Preferred Plus when you rent at least 12 times or spend $5,000 within a calendar year. Once you reach that level, you’ll earn 1.25 points per dollar spent on the rental cost and 2.5 points per dollar spent on optional products. After $7,000 spent or 25 rentals, that increases to 1.5 points and 3 points, respectively.
You’ll get all the Preferred perks as a Plus member, along with the following:
- Complimentary upgrades (based on availability)
- Access to a dedicated Avis Preferred Plus customer service and reservation line
Avis President’s Club
As I said above, President’s Club is by invitation only. If you’re lucky enough to become a member, you’ll get several perks, including:
- Automatica double upgrade whenever it’s available every time you book an intermediate or higher level car
- A guaranteed car
- Receive 50% more points for every dollar you spend
- Dedicated 24/7 assistance
Avis Chairman’s Club
Chairman’s Club is the highest tier in the Avis Preferred Program and the details about how to become a member aren’t made public. If you do become a member, you’ll get the following benefits:
- Meet-and-greet service at major U.S. or Canadian airport locations
- An Avis representative will escort you to your departure terminal
- Guaranteed vehicle availability even if you don’t have a reservation
- Complimentary upgrade when you reserve an intermediate vehicle or larger
- Complimentary car delivery within 25 miles of a participating Avis location throughout the U.S. and Canada
- A dedicated 24/7 reservations and customer service number
- Benefits extended to spouse/significant other
Cardholders of The Platinum Card® from American Express are eligible to receive exclusive benefits when renting with Avis, such as a complimentary one-car class upgrade based on availability. (Enrollment required)
Budget’s Fastbreak loyalty program is free and allows members to proceed directly to the lot and choose their own vehicle.
Like Alamo Insiders, there are no elite tiers. Instead, a few times a year, Budget will offer enticing promotions to its members like $25 in Budget Bucks to use toward a future rental when you rent twice through Dec. 31, 2021.
Dollar Express Rewards
The Dollar Express Rewards program allows you to earn points toward free rentals. You also get access to perks like priority service, the ability to skip the counter and adding a spouse or domestic partner as an additional driver free of charge.
There’s no elite status with Dollar. You’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent on qualifying rentals within the U.S. and Canada. Although Dollar, Thrifty and Hertz are technically one company, you can’t earn or redeem points with the other brands.
Free rental car redemptions start at 500 points for weekend days and 625 points for weekdays.
Enterprise Plus Rewards
All Enterprise Plus Rewards members start with Plus status, with the ability to earn Silver, Gold and Platinum. Enterprise’s benefits are pretty limited, but there are a few valuable perks if you regularly rent from them. Here’s a breakdown of each tier:
You can get Plus status just by signing up, and you’ll have it through your fifth rental. Membership is free and there are no perks to speak of.
You’ll get Enterprise Plus Silver status after six rentals. Silver members receive 10% bonus points for qualifying rental dollars and one free car upgrade per year.
The tiers get a bit more interesting after Silver. To earn Enterprise Gold status, you’ll need either 12 qualifying rentals or 40 rental days. The two lower tiers required rentals only, not days. You’ll also receive 10% bonus points for qualifying rental dollars and two free car upgrades per year.
Enterprise’s top-tier Platinum status requires 24 qualifying rentals or 85 rental days. You’ll receive 20% bonus points for qualifying rental dollars and four free car upgrades per year.
The Fox Rewards loyalty program is relatively simple. Members earn four points per dollar spent. You have two options for using those points: SuperCertificates or FoxBucks.
Fox partners with GiftCertificates.com to let you spend your SuperCertificates at merchants like Macy’s or Bath & Body Works. SuperCertificates start at 2,500 points for a $25 gift certificate and go up to 12,500 points for a $125 gift certificate.
Another option is earning FoxBucks, which lets you redeem rental car rewards points to pay for your car rental. FoxBucks redemptions start at 1,600 points for $20 in FoxBucks and go up to 8,000 points for $100 in Foxbucks.
Neither option is particularly lucrative, but if you are going to spend time earning Fox Rewards points, which are pretty easy to earn, it doesn’t make much sense to blow them on gift cards. You’re better off using them for actual rentals.
Hertz Gold Plus
Hertz’s loyalty program is called Hertz Gold Plus Rewards and it’s free to join. As a member, you’ll enjoy designated parking stalls and can earn at least one point per dollar spent. You can then redeem your points for free rentals.
Members become Gold just by signing up. There aren’t a ton of perks, but here’s what comes with this tier:
- Earn one point per dollar spent
- Access to Hertz Ultimate Choice, where you choose your own car
- Free additional driver
- Five Star rental benefits for one day after you have completed seven rentals
There are also two elite tiers in the program, Five Star and President’s Circle. Here’s a detailed breakdown of how to qualify and the benefits for each.
Hertz Five Star
You can earn Five Star status after completing 12 Hertz rentals or spend $2,400 on rental cars in a year. The most notable benefits include:
- Earn 1.25 points per dollar spent
- A one-class car upgrade based on availability
- When renting from a Hertz location with an Ultimate Choice lot, Hertz Five Star members have access to a wider range of cars
- Complete 15 Hertz rentals and enjoy top-tier President’s Circle benefits for a day
Hertz President’s Circle
You’ll earn President’s Circle status after completing 20 Hertz rentals or spending $4,000 on rental cars in a single calendar year. President’s Circle members get the same benefits as other elites, plus the following:
- Earn 1.5 points per dollar spent
- Guaranteed one-class car upgrade
- When renting from a Hertz location with an Ultimate Choice lot, you’ll have access to a wider range of cars than a Gold or Five Star member
- Access to a dedicated Hertz phone number for President’s Circle members
Amex Platinum cardholders also will get up to a four-hour grace period on rental returns and a one-car-class upgrade when renting an intermediate or full-size car. Make sure you use the correct code to enroll to receive benefits: Hertz #1 Club Gold: CDP#211762 and by calling 1-800-654-3131.
If you have Delta elite status, you’re eligible for a free status match to Hertz Gold Rewards status. Medallion Gold members can match to Five Star status, while Platinum and Diamond members can match to top-tier President’s Circle status.
United MileagePlus Premier Silver and Premier Gold members can match to Hertz Five Star status. United Premier 1K and Premier Platinum elite members, United Club Card and United℠ Presidential Plus℠ Card primary cardmembers can match to Hertz President’s Circle. Note: Both cards are no longer available to new applicants.
National Emerald Club
National’s loyalty program, Emerald Club, has three levels: Base, Executive and Executive Elite. I’ll break down each tier below:
Emerald Club members can skip the counter and choose any car from the Emerald Aisle when renting a midsize or above. You can choose to earn either free rental days or points/miles in your favorite frequent traveler program. There are other perks, including:
- Expedited services when renting in Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean
- Free rental days after seven rentals
- No second driver fees
- Free one-car class upgrade at participating locations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain and Germany
Emerald Club Executive status requires 12 paid rentals or 40 paid rental days per calendar year. You can also skip those requirements and get National Emerald Club Executive status instantly if you hold The Platinum Card® from American Express through Amex’s Car Rental Privileges program.
In addition to the base member perks, Executive members will also have access to the following:
- Free rental day after six rentals
- Pay the mid-size rate when you pick any car in the U.S (full-size and above) in the Executive Area
- Guaranteed upgrades when you reserve a midsize or above in the U.S. and Canada
- Get exclusive pricing when you upgrade to Premier Selection at the rental lot in the U.S. and Canada
Members can earn Emerald Club Executive Elite status after 25 rentals or 85 rental days per calendar year. Top-tier Executive Elites get the following benefits:
- Free rental days after five rentals
- Guaranteed reservation with 24-hours notice
- Private airport delivery if you are arriving by private aircraft at a small airport in the U.S. or Canada
Thrifty Blue Chip Rewards
Thrifty Blue Chip has no elite status tiers and did away with its point-earning structure. As of Oct. 1, 2020, Thrifty Blue Chip members began receiving a 10% discount on all rentals in lieu of earning points.
Blue Chip members get to skip the counter and go straight to the lot, add a free authorized additional driver and earn free days.
Best credit cards to use for car rentals
When renting a car from any company, the key to earning the most rewards is choosing the right credit card. The following cards offer bonus points for all car rentals purchased directly:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3x points on all travel, including car rentals.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: 2x points on all travel, including car rentals.
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: 2x miles on rental cars
The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum 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.
Some cards also offer primary car rental coverage, which will cover any loss, theft or damage to a rental without you needing to file a claim with your insurance company. All you have to do is decline primary rental insurance when you pick up your vehicle and pay with the card offering this coverage.
Renting a car isn’t nearly as exciting as flying, staying at a hotel or even taking the train. But it can be an alternative way to travel during the pandemic.
If your credit card (or airline loyalty program) includes automatic elite status with one or more car rental agencies, go ahead and sign up. Even if you don’t get elite status through a credit card, it’s still worth signing up for as many programs as you can. It may save you the next time you need to rent a car and don’t want to wait in long lines at the counter.
Featured photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
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