A few years ago I wrote a strongly worded editorial to the attention of National Car Rental’s Emerald Club. As one of the program’s original members, I witnessed a decline in the value of awards (you can no longer join the awards part of the program, as new membership was discontinued several years back) and, while I found that understandable, I could not understand why they had elected to introduce expiring points at a time when all major frequent flyer programs were no longer expiring miles (without activity). In the letter, I asked them, “What is my incentive to continue being loyal to National?” As a protest, I switched my primary car rental business to Avis and couldn’t be happier with their service, though I do continue to rent with other car rental companies just to keep active with their offers. It’s true, I went from being totally green (National’s colors) to having not rented a car from them since that editorial. They are likely out a few thousand dollars in rentals over the period, but that’s the way loyalty works in the 21st century.
I’m not here today to pick over a decision that the National Car Rental Emerald Club Award program made years ago, but to nominate them for program of the year. Why the change of heart, you ask? Simple, when I reviewed the recent changes to their award chart (and the value of the 16,000 points I had earned with them), I found that it was too good to be true. Initially, I thought someone might have made a mistake. So I called their service center no less than five times, each time speaking with a different rep. I also had another employee call, both of us asking the same question — Was award code 605 only 100 points? Was award code 609 only 700 points? All the answers we got were affirmative.
Why is this important? First a little background. As an Emerald Club Award member, you earn valuable Emerald Club points every time you rent with National in the United States — one point for each rental dollar you spend. These points carry an automatic three-year expiration date. Members can redeem their points for car-rental certificates and other awards — frequent flyer miles being one of the selections. Car rentals and miles aren’t all that good of an award, though the three-day weekend costing 500 points ($500 spent on car rentals to earn the points) is about a 15 percent loyalty return, far above normal for most other programs. Six thousand points can also earn you 6,000 frequent flyer miles with Continental, Northwest, United or US Airways. I personally think that’s a bad conversion option. So far, a typical program, right?
Now comes the deal. According to the new Emerald Club award chart, 100 points can be redeemed for one night at a domestic Radisson Hotel. Two hundred points earns you one night at some 160 Hyatt Hotels and Resorts. And, award 610 is valued at 1,000 points and is good for seven nights at an international Radisson Hotel. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I would guess that a single night in a domestic Radisson Hotel would cost me about $159 and a single night at an international Radisson about $179?
You’re probably beginning to see where I’m headed with this? I can spend $100 renting cars from National and turn that into a free $159 hotel stay. Either it means that all my car rentals are free if I choose to convert to free hotel nights with this program, or I’ve found a way to print money. My 16,000 points in the program are now worth 160 free hotel nights at Radisson! I have just hit the equivalent of Power Ball for frequent flyers. I may splurge at the Hyatt La Jolla (one of my all-time favorite hotels) using Award 613, which is 300 points for a free night. Of course, that means I’ll only be able to stay just over 53 free nights there. Or maybe I’ll head down to the Hyatt in Scottsdale or to Lake Las Vegas when it’s snowing here in Colorado. I’m getting light-headed just thinking about the options.
This award chart must have gone through a few dozen hands, must have already been used for award redemption and apparently has not raised any concerns over at National. Perhaps there was some secret deal where they made a soft trade for these free hotel room nights, similar to when they offered free airline tickets on Continental with just a few thousand Emerald Club award points years ago. I was really mad at myself then for not taking advantage of the opportunity, but now that I’ve discovered this, I’m glad I waited.
P.S. If you try to call me here at the office, I may be out spending some of my new found riches. And I’ll definitely return to renting a car from National on occasion. It’s the least I can do.