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Which car rental company is right for you?

May 04, 2020
11 min read
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When we need to rent a set of wheels, we all want a good-looking car that won't break the bank. Today, car rental satisfaction has hit an all-time high, according to J.D. Power's 2019 North American Rental Car Satisfaction Study. With the simplicity of downloaded apps, renting a vehicle has never been easier.

There are many factors to take into consideration in choosing a car rental company. Are you looking for the lowest possible price? Do you need car seats for kids? Are you a business traveler who needs to speed through pickup and drop-off? Does the company charge extra for one-way rentals?

Whether you're planning a road trip, attending work meetings or just visiting a new city, here's a deep dive into how to select the rental car company that's right for you.

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Best for frequent renters

National Car Rental

(Photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
(Photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

When it comes to business travelers, who are the most frequent car renters, National was the most expensed car rental service and the top-rated rental company in 2019, according to data from Certify. Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of National (in addition to Alamo and Enterprise) and the largest rental-car company in the world, offers some reciprocal benefits between the Enterprise and National brands. It also has the newest vehicle fleet in the rental car industry.

Related: The best credit cards for car rentals

Members of National Car Rental's Emerald Club loyalty program can earn a free rental car after seven rental credits (one credit for each rental) with either brand, skip the counter lines and get rental clearance for an additional driver for free.

Travelers in a hurry can use National's Drop & Go feature that allows them to drop the car and keys off and National takes care of the rest.

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If you have The Platinum Card® from American Express (any version) or any World Elite Mastercard, you are granted automatic National Emerald Club Executive status that guarantees upgrades (when you reserve a midsize or above), 20% discount on rentals and access to the executive area where you can select a full-size vehicle and only pay the midsize rate -- an amazing feature for traveling families.

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


(Photo by tupungato/Getty Images)
(Photo by tupungato/Getty Images)

With a wide range of perks and benefits, including expedited drop-offs and free vehicle upgrades, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards is one of the best car rental rewards programs for frequent renters. Hertz Gold status is its basic free membership and includes benefits such as skip-the-counter pickup, e-Return for expedited drop-off, no additional driver fees and a generous four-hour grace period before an extra day is charged.

Related: Best credit cards for car rental coverage

Hertz has two elite status levels: Five Star and President's Circle (the top-tier level), which offer benefits such as car upgrades, bonus points and a free CLEAR trial membership. The latter status allows you to select from the widest vehicle fleet options available, guarantees confirmed one-class upgrades, maintains a dedicated customer service line and gives you the freedom to choose any vehicle in the President’s Circle section of the Hertz Ultimate Choice lot.

If you hold elite status with Delta or United Airlines, you can earn Hertz Five Star or President's Circle status thanks to a reciprocal partnership. To take advantage of these reciprocal status levels, eligible Delta flyers should visit this site, while United Premier members should head to this page.

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

Best for budget travelers

Budget Rent A Car

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

True to its name, Budget Rent A Car has some of the lowest car rental rates in the industry, with an average rental cost of about $35 per day -- 23% less than the average price. If rock-bottom pricing is the priority but you still want a recognizable car-rental company, Budget can save you up to 35% off when you prepay at the time of booking instead of at pickup.

Budget has vehicles ranging from the Ford Fiesta to a sporty Chevy Camaro. They also have hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius and Lexus GS 450h F Sport. Budget's Fastbreak loyalty program is free and it allows members to proceed directly to the lot and choose their own vehicle. A few times a year, Budget will offer enticing promotions to its Fastbreak members such as rent twice now through Dec. 31, 2020, and the company will email you $25 in Budget Bucks to use toward a future rental.

Budget has a large footprint of airport and city locations all over the world. For the frugal traveler, Budget is worth considering.

Discounted rental car companies

Price-conscious renters should also look at discount brands, such as Advantage, Fox and Payless. Although you won't find these low-budget rental providers in every city nor should you expect the newest fleet of cars, you will sometimes discover rock-bottom prices. However, be wary and read through the rate details to avoid any surprise fees. And don't forget to use AutoSlash to look for a quote. Or, if you book directly with a car rental agency, have AutoSlash monitor your reservation for a price drop.

Related: How to save money on car rentals with AutoSlash

Best for families


Audi Q7. (Image courtesy of Silvercar/Audi)

You could argue that Silvercar belongs under the "best for luxury" category, given its Audi-only fleet, but families should take notice. Silvercar offers the A4 sedan, Q5 crossover SUV, A5 Cabriolet convertible and Q7 three-row SUV. Its mobile app, friendly concierge service and Peg Perego child car seats help take the hassle out of renting a car for families.

Its prices are a bit higher than the competition but include extras like GPS, XM Sirius Radio, Wi-Fi and a child car seat along with an uncomplicated rental process. In addition, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can save up to 30% off their Silvercar rental thanks to its Visa Infinite discount.

You can find Silvercar at the following locations:

  • Austin-Bergstrom (AUS)
  • Boston Logan (BOS)
  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
  • Charlotte Douglas (CLT)
  • Dallas Love Field (DAL)
  • Denver International (DEN)
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (FLL)
  • McCarran International in Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Los Angeles International (LAX)
  • Miami International (MIA)
  • Miami South Beach
  • Newark Liberty (EWR)
  • New York City — Brooklyn: Williamsburg and Downtown; NYC: Manhattan Columbus Circle and Manhattan West 42nd Street
  • John Wayne Airport in Orange County (SNA)
  • Orlando International (MCO)
  • Sky Harbor International in Phoenix (PHX)
  • San Diego International (SAN)
  • Seattle-Tacoma (SEA)
  • Salt Lake City (SLC)
  • San Francisco International (SFO) and San Francisco Downtown — Union Square
  • Tampa International (TPA)
  • Dulles International (IAD) in Washington, D.C.

Related: What you need to know when renting from Silvercar

Best for luxury rentals


Sixt rental car office at Miami Airport. (Photo by Marina113/Getty Images)

When you rent from Sixt, you can expect German brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche or American brands like Buick, Cadillac and Tesla. Best of all, luxury comes at a reasonable price -- sometimes comparable to the cost of a compact rental car from the popular competitors. If you can get a luxury car for the same price as a basic four-door sedan, why not choose the former?

The German company has grown significantly in the U.S. since it entered the market in 2011. Sixt offers luxury-car rentals in more than 2,200 locations worldwide, making it convenient to drive in style no matter where you might be. Renting with Sixt means you get 24/7 customer service and roadside assistance.

Sixt also offers a loyalty program, Sixt Advantage Circle. After only three rentals you can earn Gold Card status, which is good for 10% discount on future rentals, a free additional driver and exclusive offers.


(Photo by Lou Armor/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lou Armor/Getty Images)

From exotic sports cars to luxury sedans and SUVs, the Exotic Car Collection by Enterprise features one of the largest selections of premium, high-end rental vehicles. The fleet offers Ferraris, Maseratis, Porsches, Bentleys, Range Rovers and more.

Available in the U.K., Canada and more than 50 locations in the U.S., the Exotic Car Collection customizes its Exotic Car Collection fleet in each local market based on customer demand.

Contact Enterprise's Exotic Car Collection by submitting a request form or calling 1-866-4-LUX-CAR.

Related: Best credit cards for rental car coverage

Best for one-way rentals

Your journey doesn’t have to start and end in the same place but with some rental car companies impose drop-off fees when you rent a car in one location and drop it off in another -- and rates are sometimes much higher for one-way car rentals versus round-trip at the same location.

Hertz consistently offers some of the best deals for one-way rentals and there are no drop-off fees on most rentals. Budget doesn't charge a drop-off fee, but returning the car at a different location without notifying the agent can result in a $45 minimum charge. From time to time during the slower months of travel, you'll find deals as low as $7 per day for one-way rentals to and from Florida.

Avis offers a fantastic one-way deal for customers looking to rent a vehicle for 12 hours one-way from an airport to downtown (valid Thursdays and Fridays) or downtown to the airport (valid Sundays and Mondays), with no drop-off fee. Rates start at $9.99 for full-size rental cars (or below) and $14.99 for premium vehicles and SUVs.

Before renting a car, familiarize yourself with the company's one-way policy. If there's an ounce of doubt, call the branch directly to check if there's a drop-off fee for one-way rentals.

Related: Credit cards that offer elite status for car rentals

Bottom line

Today, travelers can choose a rental car, bypass the counter at pickup (and drop-off) and drive away in a matter of minutes. Whatever reason you have for renting a car, there is a company that can meet your needs.

Featured image by Getty Images/500px Prime
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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