From credit card discounts to negotiated rates for groups and companies, it’s no secret there are many ways to avoid paying full price for a rental car.
But regardless of how frequently you rent, you should be up to speed on using points and miles for rental cars. After all, it was through rental car credits that one TPG staffer rented a $100,000 BMW 7 Series for $3 a day.
In this guide, we’ll highlight how you can redeem rewards for your next rental.
Using rental car rewards
Most major rental car companies have reward programs that let you earn and redeem points for car rentals. Here’s a quick overview of what you should know about earning and redeeming points with the most popular rental car loyalty programs.
Avis Preferred: Avis Preferred members need at least 700 points for a free car rental with a base rate of up to $50. Members earn 1 point per dollar and at least 100 points per booking. Plus, you can rent various accessories for 250 points per day.
Budget Fastbreak: Budget doesn’t have a points system. Instead, members currently earn $25 in Budget Bucks for every two qualifying paid rentals. You can earn up to 52 coupons per year.
Dollar Express: Redemptions start at 500 points per day on the weekends and 625 points per day on weekdays. Since members earn 1 point per dollar, earning a free day takes at least $500 worth of paid rentals.
Enterprise Plus: Enterprise doesn’t have an award chart, so the number of points you’ll need for a free day will vary based on the details of your rental. Members earn 1 point per dollar on paid rentals, although elite members earn 10% to 20% bonus points on rentals.
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Hertz Gold Plus Rewards: Free Hertz rentals start at 950 points per day at the standard level, although blackout dates apply. Meanwhile, a free Hertz rental without restrictions starts at 1,900 points per day. Base-tier Gold members earn 1 point per dollar, while Five Star members earn 25% bonus points (for a total of 1.25 points per dollar) and President’s Circle members earn 50% bonus points (for a total of 1.5 points per dollar).
National Emerald Club: Like Budget, National doesn’t have a points program but instead allows members to earn credits for free rental days. You earn one credit for every qualified car rental. And depending on your status tier, you’ll earn one free day after five to seven rental credits.
Related: Rental car rewards programs you need to know about
Redeem credit card rewards for car rentals
If you have a card that earns cash back or transferable rewards, you can redeem your rewards for car rentals.
Although the process varies slightly from one card to the next, cash-back rewards are typically the easiest. For example, if you have a cash-back rewards card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited, you can request cash back as a statement credit or bank deposit. You can then use the cash-back rewards from your card to effectively pay for your rental car (or any other expense).
You can also redeem Capital One miles to reimburse yourself for virtually any travel-related purchase charged to your card within the last 90 days. To redeem Capital One miles at a fixed rate for a $100 rental car charge, you’d need to redeem 10,000 miles.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal is another place to redeem points for car rentals. If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each when booking rental cars through the portal. If you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you can redeem points for rental cars at a rate of 1.25 cents per point through the portal.
You can also use American Express Membership Rewards points for rental cars through Amex’s Pay with Points feature. However, doing so won’t give you a high value for your points.
Related: How (and why) you should earn transferable points
Redeem airline miles for car rentals
Don’t expect to maximize your rewards if you redeem airline miles for car rentals. Airlines often provide much better redemption rates for flights.
But, to give you an idea of what to expect, here’s how many miles you’d need for a given one-day weekday car rental at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Here’s what I found with three major airlines that typically allow members to redeem miles for rental cars.
Related: 10 mistakes to avoid when redeeming frequent flyer miles
American Airlines partners with most of the major rental car companies. And if you hold American Airlines status or a cobranded American Airlines credit card, you can use up to 30% fewer miles. To check rates, start your search here.
You can also pay for your rental car using a combination of American Airlines miles and cash.
Redeeming American Airlines miles for rental cars usually won’t provide a high redemption rate. But you can also earn AAdvantage miles on car rentals when you start here. For the same rental dates, I could reserve an upgraded car with damage insurance for $159.78. Plus, I’d earn 201 Loyalty Points and miles (worth $3.55 at TPG’s valuations).
Meanwhile, if I redeemed American Airlines miles for my rental, I’d get a redemption rate of around 1 cent per mile for an inferior car without protection.
Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage
Delta Air Lines
If you book a bundled package, Delta lets you redeem SkyMiles for car rentals. So, you could redeem Delta miles for a flight-and-hotel vacation package that includes a rental car. To do so, search for a vacation package here. You’ll need to choose your hotel and flights before adding a rental car as an extra.
To use your miles, apply them in the right column to offset the cost. Delta doesn’t show the price of your package in miles, but you can manually add the number of SkyMiles you want to use. If you do so, you’ll see that Delta will give you 1 cent per mile, which is lower than TPG’s valuation of Delta SkyMiles at 1.41 cents per mile.
Related: Easy ways to earn more Delta SkyMiles
You can redeem MileagePlus miles for rental cars here. As expected, this isn’t the best use of United miles.
For the same weekday rental I discussed above, you could pay $108.56. So by using 18,400 miles, you’d get just 0.58 cents per mile, significantly lower than our valuation of United miles at 1.21 cents apiece.
Related: How to earn miles with the United MileagePlus program
Redeeming points and miles for rental cars often won’t provide the best redemption value. As such, I’d typically recommend using cash-back rewards to offset the cost of your rental or redeeming rewards from a rental car loyalty program.
You can get a decent redemption value when you redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a rental car through the Chase travel portal, but finding better ways to maximize Chase points is often possible.
Additional reporting by Ariana Arghandewal and Kyle Olsen.