The Best Rental Car Rewards Programs and How They’ll Save You Cash

Summer is here! As you prepare for your summer vacation, chances are you’ll need a rental car at one time or another. For those who travel often for work, you find yourself constantly needing a vehicle to get around. You have a rewards number for your favorite airline. Why don’t you have one for your favorite (or most convenient) rental car company?

Whether for vacation or work, a good rental car rewards program can be the difference between a stressful and a stress-free travel day. Car rental programs help you get the car you want and the service you deserve.

As you review these programs, remember that many rental companies force you to choose between earning rental points or frequent flyer miles. Decide which ones are worth more to you. Let’s look at some of the best rental car rewards programs currently available:

Best Rental Car Rewards Programs

Hertz Gold Plus rewards

There are three levels to the Hertz no-cost loyalty program: Gold Plus, Five Star, and President’s Circle. Earn one weekend rental day with as little as 550 points in the United States, and points never expire as long as you use Hertz once every 24 months. Earn one point per $1 spent on qualifying rentals as well as optional add-ons such as fuel, SiriusXM radio, GPS, car seats, additional mileage services, and more. By navigating the Hertz rewards program page, you can select your destination to review what point amounts are required to rent a car for your trip.

Bonus perks as a Hertz rental rewards member include Carfirmation™, a fast access system that emails you your exact rental car and its location on the rental lot. When you arrive, you can walk straight to your car and drive off to your destination. If something changes with your rental, you can let Hertz know (and they’ll do the same).

Parents get a 25% discount on car seat rentals and everyone will see one Additional Driver Fee waived per rental — the key is to ask at the counter or over the phone. You’ll earn points for the extras such as SiriusXM, insurance coverage, mileage charges, and fuel. Other rental companies only offer points on base rental costs only. Also, with every 10 rentals, you’ll receive a 900 point bonus.

Hertz is partnered with over 60 airlines. Mileage offered on these frequent flyer programs is similar to other national rental car companies. Check out the chart below for a quick link to their partner list and the top 4 hotel travel partners.

Hertz Gold Plus
TierQualified RentalsPointsUpgrades
Gold PlusN/A1 per dollarN/A
Five Star7 rentals10% bonus per dollarOne car class per rental, when available
President's Circle20 rentals25% bonus per dollarOne car class per rental, guaranteed
Airline PartnersOver 60 Airlines, click for list
Hotel Partners -- Top 4
Best WesternIHG Rewards Program
Park HotelMarriott Rewards Program

Budget Fastbreak

Budget offers a Rent More, Save More rewards program. If you make a reservation online, you’re automatically enrolled in the Rent More program, which promises to save you 10-20% off car rentals. The RapidRez program is a way to speed up your reservation and rental process by saving key account information on the budget.com website. For those who rent often through Budget, join the Fastbreak program to bypass the counter.

Upromise college savings account holders: If you have a credit card linked with your Upromise account, you can devote up to 4% of your spendings with Budget towards college savings. Use the reservation code BCD X989300 and remember that you’ll need to make the reservation on your own, not through a travel agent. You’ll see the contributions to your Upromise account 3-4 months after the rental is returned.

Budget caters to the environmentally-conscious through their SmartWay Certified Green Machines. They boast nearly half of their fleet having an MPG rating of 28 or better. You can opt-in to carbonfund.org’s partnership with Budget by paying $1.25 extra per day on each rental.

Budget’s rewards program is one of the more limited options available. The Budget Specials page offers various deals, as well as information on travel partners, the Upromise campaign (freebies), and last-minute deals with up to 60% off.

Budget Rewards
TierQualified RentalsDiscountUpgrades
Rent More, Save More110-20%Unknown
RapidRez BasicRegistration required10-20%Unknown
RapidRez with FastbreakEnroll or Upgrade from RapidRez Basic10-20%Unknown
Airline Partners (Top 8)18 Airlines, click for list
Hotel Partners -- Top 8 Reward Partners
Best WesternClub CarlsonHilton HHonorsIHG Rewards Club
La Quinta ReturnsPreferred Hotel GroupStarwood Preferred GuestWyndham

Avis Preferred

Avis offers two rewards tiers: Avis Preferred and Avis Preferred Plus.

Avis Preferred is the most basic rewards class. It allows you to bypass the counter and go straight to your Avis rental when you arrive. Trade in points for upgrades in car class or gadgets like GPS and Satellite Radio, and never have to deal with blackout dates. The Preferred Plus tier steps it up a bit with complimentary one car class upgrades and a dedicated reservation line.

Like Budget, Avis offers a Upromise donation and it’s one point higher at 5%. Military members on official and leisure travel receive the Free Collision/LDW insurance coverage, free unlimited mileage, low rates, and no additional driver fees.

My Avis Rewards
TierQualified RentalsPointsUpgrades
Preferred0 required1 per rental dollar
2 per accessory dollar
Preferred Plus12-24 rentals or $5,000 spent1.25 per rental dollar
2.5 per accessory dollar
One car class, when available
Preferred Plus (+)25+ rentals or $7,000 spent1.5 per rental dollar
3 per accessory dollar
2 Free
Airline PartnersOver 50 Airlines, click for list
Hotel PartnersOver 30 available, click list above

Enterprise Plus

Broken down into 4 levels (Plus, Silver, Gold, Platinum), the Enterprise Rewards program offers a narrower range of benefits. Enterprise points don’t expire if you make one qualifying rental every three years, and there are no blackout dates for Enterprise’s worldwide locations.

When you earn an elite tier level (Silver and higher), you’re immediately qualified for that rewards tier through the following year. This means that a user qualifying in September 2015 remains in that awards tier through February 2017. Check out the chart below to see the number of qualifying rentals required, points earned on each dollar, and number of free upgrades per year.

Enterprise Plus Program
TierQualified RentalsPointsUpgrades Per Year
Plus0-5 rentals1 per dollar
Silver6-11 rentals10% bonus per dollar1 Free
Gold12 rentals or 40 days15% bonus per dollar2 Free
Platinum24 rentals or 85 days20% bonus per dollar4 Free
Free Rental DayAs little as 400 points

Enterprise has partnered with National and Alamo to create the Drive Alliance℠. If you rent with National and are an Enterprise Plus Member, you’ll earn points toward the next tier and vice versa. Alamo is the latest member to join the alliance. Details on their participation and awards are not yet finalized, so current Alamo Insiders should be on the lookout for Drive Alliance℠ benefits.

National Emerald Club

National’s Emerald Club® wants to make your rental experience fast and convenient. Benefits include skipping the rental counter, choosing your car instead of being assigned one, and choosing between free rental days or earning points for your frequent traveler program. If you can’t skip the counter, you’ll have a dedicated service line as an Emerald Club member. After each rental, you’ll earn one rental credit — seven credits will get you one free rental day.

National offers a loss damage waiver and no additional driver fees for Department of Defense travelers with official travel orders. If you’re military (active or retired) and traveling on vacation, you’ll be eligible for a discount – and family members with a dependent ID card also qualify. Club members pay no extra driver fees and receive members-only discounts if they opt in on periodic emails.

Here’s a tip to ensure that you get the frequent flyer points you want: Navigate to the partner page on National and select your travel airline. You’ll see a reservation window on the right of the page with the selected partner airline already entered as the program to receive rental credit.

National Emerald Club Benefits
TierQualified RentalsFree RentalsUpgradesPerks
Emerald Club0-12 rentals7 creditsN/A
Executive12 rentals or 40 days6 creditsGuaranteed free upgradesPay midsize rate on full-size cards
Executive Elite25 rentals or 85 days5 creditsGuaranteed free upgradesPrivate airport delivery
Airline Partners (Top 8)18 Airlines, click for list
AirlineMilesAirlineMiles
Delta500American Airlines50
Alaska50Frontier50/500
Hawaiian50 (and save 25%)Southwest600
Virgin America1 point per dollarKorean Air 500
Hotel PartnersHilton HHonors (500 points) and Club Carlson (300 points)

Alamo Insiders

Insiders at Alamo get free membership and a 5% discount on rentals in the US, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Airline and Hotel Partners for Alamo are identical to National’s, so refer to the chart above for the top travel partners at Alamo.  Disney Parks is the corporate partner (Disney Land and World). There are no tiers to the Alamo Insiders programs.

A note about Enterprise, National, and Alamo: They are all subsidiaries of Enterprise Holdings which is why you’ll find many of the same benefits and travel partners for each of these three companies. Ah, now the Drive Alliance℠ makes sense.

Thrifty – Blue Chip Rewards

Thrifty’s Blue Chip program offers points towards free rentals starting at 500 points. You’ll have to join the Blue Chip Express Rental Program® in order to participate and start earning Thrifty rental points. But don’t worry, it’s free.

Thrifty will give military service members a free one-car-class upgrade if the user prints out a coupon and presents a government ID. Veterans Advantage members receive a 5% discount.

Thrifty also specializes in airport parking and offers bonus airline miles for users who park at Thrifty parking lots for 3 days or more (check partner page to see if your airline qualifies).  Alaska and Hawaiian airlines are currently offering a triple miles deal with Thrifty – earn 150 miles per day on rentals 3 days or longer. American offers quadruple miles at 200 miles per day on 3 days or more.  These offers are valid until September 30, 2016 (Hawaiian airlines) and December 31, 2016 (Alaska and American).

Royal Bank of Canada will let you earn two additional RBC Rewards® points for each dollar you spend on a rental at Thrifty. To secure this benefit, pay for your rental using your RBC Visa card.

Thrifty Blue Chip Rewards
Airline Partners (Top 8)
AirlineMilesAirlineMiles
Emirates500 and higherAmerican Airlines50 + Bonus
Alaska50 + BonusUnited50 and higher
Hawaiian50 + BonusSouthwest600 or 1200*
Gulf Air50Kuwait500
Hotel PartnersNone
Free Rental Day16 Days (allows you to rent any size car)

FOX Rewards

FOX Rent-a-Car has more locations outside of the USA than inside, and promises to be the best rental car rewards program in the industry. FOX provides four points for every dollar spent (rental fees only – no taxes or insurance), and you’re given a choice between FOXBucks and SuperCertificates. Be aware that you have to make your reservations online.

The SuperCertificate is redeemable at GiftCertificates.com – which lets you choose among different retailers and “purchase” a gift certificate for that business. A review of their Merchant Partners listing named Avis, American Airlines, Best Western, Budget, and Hyatt as some of the travel partners you can use your FOX Rewards points with. Check out the full listing here and you’ll find big name brand retailers to choose from. SuperCertificates makes FOX Rewards a very flexible program that does not restrict you to merely travel-related rewards.

FOXBucks are redeemable for rental days with Fox Rent-A-Car. Please note that you can only use the FOXBuck on the website. After 1600 points, you’ll get $20 Bucks – add 1600 points and $20 Bucks for each level up to a max of $100 Bucks. The Fox Rewards reservation system tracks your points. When you’re making an online reservation, you’ll be able to see your balance and apply that for instant savings.

Payless Perks Club

Not a lot of information to be found on this one. The following organization members or employees receive 5% off US and Canadian rentals with Payless: AARP, TicketsatWork, Working Advantage, Plum Benefits, Discover Card Holders, Hilton employees, and Hyatt employees. Southwest rewards members get 600 points and 5% off.

And the Winners Are…

I didn’t set out to identify the best rewards program. In the process of researching them all, however, I’ve narrowed down some rental car winners in different categories. I also figured out that my own program (Budget) will get the boot if they increase rental days I need for work and leisure. Here’s a quick list of who I think earned top marks:

My Favorite: Hertz – 60 partner airlines, Carfirmation™, discounts for parents, points for extras.
Flexible Spending: FOX – SuperCertificates allow you to spend points on more than just air and hotels.
Most Miles Awarded: Thrifty – with current bonus offers you’ll get a lot of miles for your rental dollars.
Most Miles Options: Hertz – at over 60 partner airlines, you’re bound to find your favorite.

Every program is different. I hope this review has helped narrow down which one might be right for you. Leave a comment below on how your own rental car rewards program has helped you in your travels.

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3 Responses to “The Best Rental Car Rewards Programs and How They’ll Save You Cash”

  1. Charles Aquino
    Charles Aquino

    My father and grandfather both retired from the U.S. Navy which allowed me to sign up for a USAA account for car insurance and banking.

    One of my favorite benefit of USAA is the travel discounts. As a member you can automatically enroll for higher tier rewards and get limited damage liability for free! https://www.usaa.com/inet/pages/rental_cars_main

    Mark, as an Army Aviator, do you use USAA?

  2. Mark Hull
    Mark Hull

    I do,and for me, the USAA insurance rates have been outstanding. I used their travel service to sign up for Budget’s Fastbreak. After doing the research I’ll probably switch to Hertz.

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