It’s a no-brainer — rent a car, get miles. Almost from the very beginning of frequent flyer programs there has been a mileage earning component for car rentals. American AAdvantage first partnered with Hertz in 1981 and Delta’s first car rental partnership with Alamo began in 1982.
Today, almost every frequent flyer program has at least one car rental partner and some hotels partner with car rental companies. The car rental companies have their own frequent renter programs with varying benefits from free rentals to upgrades and discounts for members. All programs focus on making the process for pickup and drop-off of rental cars quicker and easier. As one frequent traveler told us, “When I am renting a car, my absolute top factor is how quickly I can get from the plane to the road. Everything else is secondary.”
How can earning miles with car rentals add to your mileage balance? Which car rental partnerships are the most beneficial? We take a look at these questions and more. You might be surprised to find that sometimes the best frequent flyer program in which to get miles for car rentals is not your primary program. But then again, are miles really the way to go?
The Car Rental Companies
Of interest to frequent flyers in North America, there are fewer than 10 well-known car rental companies that have combined in various ways over the years. There is Alamo, Enterprise and National — all currently owned by Enterprise, as of August 2007. With the combining of these three brands, the Enterpise-Alamo-National operation is the largest among U.S. car rental companies and is a family-owned business. Dollar and Thrifty are owned by Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Inc. and Budget is now a subsidiary of Avis Budget Group. Hertz is still standing on its own. Another car rental company, Advantage Rent A Car based in Texas, has its own frequent renter program and Continental OnePass is its sole airline partner. Car rental companies based outside the U.S. such as Sixt and Europcar also have partnerships with U.S. airlines. Worldwide, just as in the U.S., almost every frequent flyer program has at least one car rental partner.
Below, we list some of the major car rental companies along with the number of frequent flyer, hotel and rail partnerships they have formed where members can get miles or points. Many programs offer similar mileage amounts for rentals, but there are many variations. We also list the number of rental locations and their rough geographical areas and an “interesting tidbit” of information we found as we researched this story.
Alamo Rent a Car
Alamo partners with 12 different frequent flyer programs with most offering the industry standard of 50 miles per qualifying rental day. Notable exceptions being US Airways, which offers 250 miles per rental; ANA, which offers 300 miles per rental and British Airways, which offers between 500-750 miles depending on the renter’s Executive Club status level.
Alamo also partners with Hilton HHonors where members earn 250 points per rental in conjunction with a Hilton hotel stay and AIR MILES in Canada where members earn five AIR MILES per day with a maximum 50 per transaction.
Alamo has more than 1,200 locations throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Interesting tidbit: As of this writing, the last press release listed on the company’s Web site is from Feb. 22, 2005.
Enterprise has no partnerships with frequent flyer programs and Choice Hotels Privileges is the sole hotel partner where Privileges members can earn 1,000 points per car rental. This means that members of frequent flyer programs can indirectly get miles when exchanging Choice Privileges points for airline miles; 5,000 points will get you 1,000 miles. Enterprise operates more than 7,000 rental offices in five countries. More than 900 of those offices are in Canada, the U.K., Germany and Ireland.
Interesting tidbit: Enterprise operates branches within 15 miles of 90 percent of the entire U.S. population.
National partners with 18 different frequent flyer programs with most offering 50 miles per rental day. Notable exceptions are British Airways and Etihad Airways where members get between 500-750 miles per rental depending on elite status; Northwest Airlines where members of WorldPerks earn 50 miles per rental day, or if Silver elite, 100 miles per rental day for rentals of five days or more with a Saturday night included. Gold members earn 150 per day for rentals of five days or more with a Saturday night included.
Hilton HHonors members earn 250 points per rental in conjunction with a stay at a Hilton hotel. AIR MILES members can earn 10 AIR MILES per rental day with a maximum of 40 AIR MILES per transaction.
National has 2,000 locations in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia-Pacific, Africa and Australia.
Interesting tidbit: Customers can easily copy a National.com reservation itinerary into their calendar application (such as Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes amd Palm Desktop) following the Infuzer link on the Reservation Confirmation page. Infuzer is a system whereby Internet users can track events on the Internet using their existing calendar software.
Dollar Rent a Car
Dollar partners with 13 different frequent flyer programs with most offering 50 miles per rental day with a 30-day limit (1,500 miles). Exceptions include United Airlines, ANA and Japan Airlines, which offer 300 miles per rental; US Airways, which offers 250 miles per rental and Southwest Airlines, which offers 0.5 credit per rental. Virgin Atlantic stands out with its offer of 1,000 miles per leisure rental and 500 miles per corporate rental.
Best Western is the sole hotel loyalty program where members earn 1,000 points per rental.
Looking at the numbers:
Members of United Mileage Plus could earn a roundtrip domestic award ticket after more than 83 rentals (keep in mind we are counting rentals only, with no miles for flights or using credit cards or earning miles in any other way), US Airways Dividend Miles members could earn an award ticket after 100 rentals and members of American AAdvantage would earn an award ticket after 500 rental days. Southwest Rapid Rewards members could earn a free roundtrip ticket after 32 rentals. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members could earn an award flight between New York and London after 45 rentals. If you earn Dollar Rent a Car points toward a free car rental, you could get a free rental day after 16 qualifying rentals.
Dollar has more than 640 worldwide locations in 53 countries, including 350 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Service areas include destinations in the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Philippines, Saipan and South America.
Interesting tidbit: In April 2007, Dollar launched its StyleSeries at six U.S. airport locations, including Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Available cars include: Mercedes, Hummer H2, Chevrolet Corvette, Cadillac Escalade, BMW and Jaguar.
Thrifty partners with 12 different frequent flyer programs with most offering 50 miles per rental day with a 30-day limit (1,500 miles). Exceptions include Kuwait Airways, which offers 500 miles per rental; United Airlines, which offers 300 miles per rental; US Airways, which offers 250 miles per rental; Southwest Airlines, which offers 0.5 credit per rental and Qantas Airways, which offers three points per AUS$1 spent in Australia and 700 points per rental outside Australia.
Two hotel groups, Best Western and Hilton, partner with Thrifty with members of Best Western Gold Crown Club International getting 1,000 points per rental and Hilton HHonors members getting 250 points per rental. Hilton requires a stay in a participating Hilton family hotel in conjunction with the car rental to earn the points.
Thrifty has more than 1,000 locations in 68 countries including within the U.S., Africa, Asia Pacific, Canada, Central America, Caribbean, Europe, Middle East and South America.
Interesting tidbit: The company’s first rental cars were Volkswagen Beetles that were available at a rate of $6 a day. Thrifty was founded in 1958 in Tulsa, Okla.
Avis partners with 45 frequent flyer programs throughout the world with varying rates of miles/points accrual. The typical 50 miles per day is given to members of the programs of American Airlines and GlobalPass whereas more North American programs follow the 50 miles per day, 500 miles for rentals of five days or more accrual rates: Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Midwest Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines. Most of the airline partner programs offer 500 miles per rental. Notable exceptions are British Airways where members get between 500-750 miles per rental depending on elite status; CSA — Czech Airlines where members get 750 miles for standard rates or 375 miles for corporate rates; Malaysia Airlines with 1,000 points per rental; Qantas Airways, which offers three points per AUS$1 spent in Australia and 700 points per rental outside Australia and US Airways, where members get two miles per $1 spent on leisure rentals and one mile per $1 spent for corporate or government rentals. Once again, Virgin Atlantic stands out with its offer of 1,000 miles per leisure rental and 500 miles per corporate rental.
Avis has the longest hotel partner list of any car rental company: Wyndham, Best Western, Choice, Fiesta Americana, Golden Tulip, Hilton, InterContinental (in Australia) and Starwood with various points earnings.
Avis has more than 2,100 locations in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Latin American and the Caribbean.
Interesting tidbit: In 1962, just before the first ‘We try harder’ ads launched, Avis was an unprofitable company with 11 percent of the car rental business in the United States. Within a year of launching the campaign Avis was making a profit, and by 1966 Avis had tripled its market share to 35 percent.
Budget partners with 15 frequent flyer programs with most U.S.-based airlines offering 50 miles per rental day. Exceptions include Southwest at 0.5 credit per rental; United Airlines where rentals of five days or more earn 500 miles and US Airways where Dividend Miles members earn two miles per $1 spent on leisure rentals and one mile per $1 spent on corporate or government rentals. Southwest Airlines and EL AL require a flight in conjunction to earn miles for car rentals. Hilton HHonors members earn 250 points per rental and Wyndham Rewards members earn 50 points per day.
Budget has more than 1,900 car rental locations in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and parts of the Pacific region.
Interesting tidbit: Early Budget co-owner, Jules Lederer, was married to Ann Landers, the advice columnist.
Hertz partners with more than 70 frequent flyer programs for mileage earning. Most North America-based programs follow the earnings model of 50 miles per day for 1-4 day rentals and 500 miles for rentals of five or more days. An interesting exception being American Airlines, where AAdvantage members earn one mile per dollar spent. Hertz is the sole partner in Sun Country Airlines’ Ufly Rewards. Ufly members earn one point for 1-2 day rentals, two points for 3-4 day rentals and three points for rentals of five or more days. Aeroplan members can earn 50 miles for rentals of 1-4 days, 250 miles per weekend day rental (including a Saturday night), 1,250 miles for five or more day rental that is less than 28 days in length and 5,000 miles for rentals of 28 days or more.
Looking at the numbers:
Ufly members receive a domestic roundtrip award flight when redeeming 100 points, so a member would need to complete 34 rentals of five days or more to get a free flight (if earning miles only through car rentals). Compare this with Southwest Airlines, where members get 0.5 credit per rental. Southwest Rapid Rewards members would need to rent a car 32 times to get a domestic award ticket. AirTran Airways offers 0.5 credit per rental with one full credit per five day or more rental, so in this scenario, A+ Rewards members could get an award ticket after only 16 car rentals. Other airlines, such as Alaska, Continental, Delta, Midwest, Northwest, United and US Airways would require 50 Hertz car rentals of five or more days to get the roundtrip domestic ticket. Members of bmi diamond club earn 1,500 miles for worldwide non-corporate contracted rates per Hertz rental plus an additional 200 miles when booking via flybmi.com. So, with a coach roundtrip award between the U.S. and U.K. going for 45,000 miles, you could get an award ticket after 27 rentals.
Hertz has approximately 8,100 locations in 147 countries worldwide. Hertz has locations at 69 major airports in Europe, operating both corporate and licensee locations in cities and airports in North America, Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, the company has licensee locations in cities and airports in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Hertz is the largest single-brand car rental company in the world and has the most airport car rental locations of any company in the U.S.
Interesting tidbit: Recently, Hertz counter representatives in the U.S. and U.K. posted on FlyerTalk stating their desire to answer any questions customers might have. Visit www.insideflyer.com/link/?1121.
Sixt Rent a Car
Sixt partners with 23 airlines and seven hotel groups where members of the loyalty programs can earn miles/points when renting through Sixt. The company is an exclusive partner with Hilton Hotels in Europe and a preferred partner of Hilton HHonors worldwide. Sixt has 3,500 points of service in more than 85 countries worldwide including Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Interesting tidbit: Sixt has the world’s largest BMW and Mercedes Benz fleet.
Europcar partners with two frequent flyer programs (American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles) and has a close relationship with Accor hotels. The car rental company has locations in 170 countries including Europe, Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific. It is the largest (by volume) car rental company in Europe.
Interesting tidbit: In December 2007, Europcar received “The World’s Leading Leisure Car Rental Company” award voted on by 167,000 travel professionals from 160 countries at www.worldtravelawards.com.
The Frequent Renter Programs
Unlike frequent flyer programs that tend to offer similar basic benefits, the loyalty programs of car rental companies tend to vary quite a lot and the programs have come and gone over the years. However, they are popular with frequent travelers with over 76 percent of those responding to a recent online poll affirming they are a member of one of these programs. The possibility of renting to get a free car upgrade or rental is available in only about half of the frequent renter programs.
|Frequent Renter Program||Earning||Free Rentals||Elite Level||Membership Fee|
|Advantage Easy ID||50 pts per day||600 pts||No||$0|
|Avis Preferred||None||Elite only; 2-day weekend rental with every 3rd rental||Yes; 12 rentals or 35 rental days||$0|
|Dollar Express Renter Rewards||1 credit per rental||16 credits||None||$0|
|Europcar Privilege Ready Card||None||None||None||$0|
|Hertz #1 Club||None||None||None||$0|
|Hertz #1 Club Gold||None||None||None||$60|
|Hertz #1 Club Awards||1 pt per $1||600 points non-peak day rental||None||$0|
|National Car Rental Emerald Club||1 credit per rental or for every 4 consecutive days||7 credits; 6 or 5 pts for elite||Yes; 12 rentals or 40 rental days||$50|
|Thrifty Blue Chip Rewards||1 credit per rental||16 credits||None||$0|
|Sixt Express Card||None||None||Yes; 5 rentals or elite-level FFP member||$0|
Members of Dollar Express Renter Rewards and Thrifty Blue Chip Rewards will earn a free rental day after 16 qualifying rentals. Members of the Advantage Easy ID program can get a free rental after 12 qualifying rentals and members of National Emerald Club can get a free rental day after only seven rentals and with as few as six and five if an elite-level member. Avis Preferred elite-level members get a two-day weekend rental after every third qualifying rental. A quick glance at the number of rentals needed to get a free rental shows that members of National Emerald Club are the clear winners here — but keep in mind that they also must pay a $50 yearly fee to be members of the program. (See our “Frequent Renter Programs” chart.)
The Sixt Express Card offers a two-level elite program. You can reach Sixt Gold after five rentals or be a member (usually must be an elite-level member) in one of 23 airline or five hotel programs. Sixt is the only program that offers a “Ladies Card” that offers a 20 percent discount or your partner’s corporate rate when renting with Sixt and a 10 percent discount on Holiday Cars.
Most of the frequent renter programs focus on aspects of membership such as ease of reservations, pickup and drop off of the vehicle. “The only value I find in auto frequent renter programs is not having to go through the counter to retrieve the car,” one frequent flyer we spoke to said. “The car is ready to go when I arrive. The counter lines can be long, slow, and are rarely sufficiently staffed.”
We suspect that the reason the frequent renter programs have not focused on free rentals is because historically the majority of frequent flyer program members prefer to earn miles toward free flights than points toward free car rentals. In our recent online poll, we found 64 percent prefer to earn airline miles over hotel points or car rental points toward free car rentals.
But this might be changing. As one frequent traveler stated, “I would prefer airline miles, but National now charges you a daily fee if you get miles. As a result, I use their program where rentals go toward a free rental day.” Another mirrored this point of view, “Sometimes I opt for hotel points to avoid the ‘frequent flyer’ tax.” Yet another said that he sees free car rentals as a better deal, especially for off-peak and weekend rentals, and that you don’t have to deal with as many capacity controls for car rentals compared to trying to use your miles for an award flight.
As with other loyalty programs, some frequent renter programs offer elite-level status to their best customers. And with most elite programs, the extra benefits and recognition is appreciated, “The reason I love Hertz? Seeing my name in lights as a #1 Gold member” exclaimed one traveler we spoke to.
Most business travelers who rent cars are primarily interested in the miles they can get for those rentals. Spend some time on your program’s Web site and read through the partner pages to make sure you’re getting the most miles you possibly can when renting a car. Many frequent flyer programs follow the 50 miles per day accrual model, but there are exceptions. Here are a few factors to keep in mind when looking where your car rental dollars should go:
Some of the better mileage deals
Renting from Advantage nets Continental OnePass members 100 miles per day on all rentals booked through continental.com or www.advantagerentacar.com/continental, up to a maximum 1,000 miles per rental (rentals booked through other channels will earn the usual 50 miles per day with a maximum of 500 miles) and Delta SkyMiles members can earn 200 miles per rental day with Advantage.
When renting from Sixt, Continental OnePass, Delta SkyMiles, United Mileage Plus and US Airways Dividend Miles members get 500 miles per rental, even if the rental is for fewer than five days. For Delta members, this is their best ongoing value for renting cars, and SkyMiles members receive up to a 35 percent car rental discount, according to their membership level.
United Mileage Plus members would also do well to seek out Dollar and Thrifty rentals where they receive 300 miles per rental, especially for one- or two-day rentals.
US Airways Dividend Miles members can reap a few more miles when renting from Alamo, Dollar and Thrifty where they get 250 miles per rental.
American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles members can earn 60 miles per day with Europcar rentals (maximum of 30 days with AAdvantage). And don’t let the name fool you, Europcar has more than 3,000 locations in 160 different countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, North and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and Asia Pacific.
If you asked us to single out one particular program that is the most generous with handing out car rental miles, the program that comes to mind is Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. Flying Club members earn 1,000 miles per rental (retail or special Flying Club rates) or 500 miles per corporate rate rentals with Avis, Dollar and Hertz. And because the carrier is not U.S.-based, members do not have to pay the frequent flyer service charge (see below for more on this charge). Members can also spend their miles for free car rentals: 12,500 miles can be exchanged for a #50 voucher (or equivalent in U.S. dollars) to be spent on Avis or Hertz car rentals and when you spend the vouchers on qualifying rentals, you will earn miles. Flying Club members who choose to rent from Dollar have an added incentive of an extra two Flying Club miles for every #1 spent through the Virgin Atlantic Travel Plus Web site.
Another U.K. airline to consider is bmi, with its partnership with Hertz, offering as many as 1,700 miles per rental.
Fine Print Pitfalls
It pays to spend some time looking at the fine print of the car rental companies and your frequent travel programs. Not all rates that you can rent cars with will get you miles. Most do not give miles for rentals on travel industry rates/discounts and tour packages, promotional rates, group travel, insurance/dealer replacement rentals or various other rates that are defined in the terms and conditions of rental on the frequent flyer or guest program’s Web site.
If your company has contracted rates with a car rental company, you may not get as many miles for the rental as someone renting on leisure rates and car rental reservations via third-party Web sites are not guaranteed to earn you miles.
Not all car rental locations will net you miles. Some programs confine mileage to airport locations only while others might confine earning to certain geographical areas. When getting miles with Hertz rentals, for example, if you choose to earn United Mileage Plus miles, you can rent from any participating Hertz location worldwide, but if you prefer US Airways miles, you can only rent from participating airport locations for the miles. Always ask when making reservations if you’re not sure about the fine print.
Be aware that most car rental companies in the U.S. collect a “frequent flyer service charge” of $0.50 per day. According to Alamo’s fine print: “This service charge is being collected by Alamo in order to offset the administrative and program costs associated with participation in frequent flyer programs.” There’s really no way around paying the extra $0.50 per day. But it’s not all bad news, because most programs confine the extra fee to $2 per rental regardless of the number of consecutive days you rent the car.
American Airlines’ take is slightly different: “For rentals in the U.S., Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Croix and Canada, when the renter chooses to receive miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program, the frequent flyer surcharge will be calculated based on federal excise tax expense incurred by [the car rental company] when it purchases miles from American Airlines. Under the tax relief act of 1997, all companies that purchase frequent flyer miles from airlines must pay a 7.5 percent excise tax on the cost of those miles (approximately $.06 USD/rental day). The 7.5 percent tax recovery surcharge applies to all U.S. states except Arizona, California, Missouri, Oregon and Wyoming.” _
While the car rental companies pay the airlines for the miles, frankly so does every other partner of the airlines, and we just can’t give the car rental companies a pass on this issue. Essentially, they created their own marketing programs based on the concept of using frequent flyer miles as the incentive and then want the recipient of that business to then pay their own way for responding to the allure of that marketing message.
We see this as simply a cost of doing business and as such should not be singled out. But, and this is a very weighted “but” — we think that airlines are partially to blame by allowing any partner to pass along any fee directly associated with the rewards of frequent flyer miles. InsideFlyer’s long-held position against this is not based on the fact that the excise tax is unreasonable in cost, in fact, it is barely noticeable for most renters. But it’s the principle of the matter. The last being so important to some car renters that they will choose not to earn miles rather than pay the tax.
In the early days of partnerships between airline/hotel programs and car rental companies, there was almost always the stipulation that the miles for the rental would only post to your account if you also took a recent flight or stayed at a hotel. Today, there are only a few airlines and hotels that still require a flight in conjunction. Most are overseas, but some U.S.-based airlines still require a flight with certain car rental partners. Southwest requires a flight on any airline in conjunction with Budget rentals and Hilton requires a stay in conjunction for rental credit with Alamo, National and Thrifty but not HHonors’ other car rental partners.
Why was the flight in conjunction rule introduced? In the beginning of frequent flyer programs the programs were built around the truly frequent flyers — business travelers — and the programs were introduced to award and gain loyalty from the airlines’ best customers. Renting a car and getting miles was seen as just an extension of a flight.
And why have most programs dropped it? Because somewhere along the line, the airlines figured out that they could make money by selling their miles to the car rental companies, so from their point of view, they no longer needed to know that their customer was also flying when he rented a car — they had already made their money up front from the car rental company.
A few frequent flyer programs regularly offer their elite members more miles when renting cars such as British Airways and Etihad Airways. Others offer limited-time promotions for elite members only.
Car rental companies can sometimes run exceptional bonus offers when renting cars (take for example the current Virgin Atlantic triple mile bonus offer with Hertz through Sept. 30, 2008). You can find a listing of all the car rental bonuses in InsideFlyer’s Bonus Bulletin under the headings of the various programs. And, as is usually the case, check FlyerTalk.com for buzz about the best bonuses available. (See www.insideflyer.com/link/?1160 for an example.)
For an inside look at a recent Budget bonus with car rental tips, read the sidebar story, “Chasing a Budget Bonus” in this issue and read our other sidebar story, “100,000 Miles in 45 Days Renting Cars” written by FlyerTalk member and car rental expert, Mrp Alert, for even more tips.
Along with bonus offers, most frequent flyer programs have negotiated discount contracts with the car rental companies. And sometimes, these discounts can get better as you move up the elite ladder. For example, regular members of United Mileage Plus can get a 15 percent discount with Sixt car rentals, but if you are a Premier member your discount increases to 25 percent, and if you are Premier Executive or 1K, the discount is 35 percent along with a free upgrade, if available.
The thing to keep in mind with discounts is that you might get a better discount from a source other than your frequent flyer program — such as through a hotel program or a membership in AAA or other organizations. FlyerTalk and FatWallet are a good source of information for car rental discount codes. But be aware that some of the discount codes you might find online are not available to all members. Use them at your own risk and don’t get too upset if a discount doesn’t go through if it was targeted to someone else.
And finally, keep in mind that there are some frequent travel programs that offer more miles or points on a regular basis when renting cars, such as Virgin Atlantic and bmi.
In general, when you see a good promotional bonus involving car rentals, move fast to make those reservations. It can really pay off.
Car Rental Tips
We asked a group of seasoned frequent flyers for tips regarding renting cars and the following is a roundup of their advice:
You rarely see promotions for extra frequent rental points but frequently see them for miles. It pays to change your earning preference accordingly to get the best deals.
Always ask for what you want as there is no charge for asking, especially if you are a frequent renter, your requests will often be granted at no additional charge.
If it’s convenient, consider a “rental hop,” renting a different car each day from a different car rental company to maximize airline mileage earning. At 500 miles per rental it is worth it if there is no significant price difference to “rental hop.”
Sometimes getting a lower price for the rental is the better choice than getting bonus frequent flyer miles because sometimes the rentals that qualify for miles require a specific rate code, which tends to be higher.
Car rentals are a good way to keep your frequent flyer memberships active because most do not require a flight to be in conjunction to earn the miles.
After you have reserved a car, when walking up to the rental car desk, as them what their daily special walk up rate is. If it’s lower than your advance reservation, take the daily rate and cancel your original reservation once you’re in your car.
Avis lets you do a “double dip” with the hotel points and music downloads.
Points for a free car rental (especially off-peak and weekend) are the best deal — and with fewer blackouts and capacity controls than using miles for free flights.
When booking, check the rack rate online, then plug in your frequent renter membership number to see the discount. Also check the AAA and AARP rates or an Entertainment Book “free day coupon” or “$ off” coupon to get the best rates. Call the car rental telephone number, especially with problems with coupons. As of yet, there’s no extra charge to book via the phone.
In some locations, SUVs are going for less than compact cars. You should not assume a larger car is cheaper, and if it uses more gas, you might still come out ahead if the rental cost is less.
A free upgrade may be for a gas guzzler — only rent as much car as you need.