Discover rental car discounts and upgrades

Lately I’ve been excited about earning Discover cash back.  What?  Cash back sounds boring, right?  Well, it is kind of boring, usually, but not when I’m excited about car rentals.

Let me explain…

When I travel, I like to save money, but comfort and convenience are equally important to me.  Actually, to be honest, comfort and convenience are more important to me.  Yes, I’ll often pay more to fly nonstop.  And, I’ll pay more to travel in comfort.  Maybe not a lot more, but definitely more.  The same is true with rental cars.  It’s often possible to get the best car rental discount through a prepaid rate or an off-brand rental agency.  But then this usually means giving up the convenience of skipping the lines (which can be very long at times!), and giving up on selecting your own car upgrade.

For the past year or two I’ve enjoyed having National Car Rental Executive status.  My status came from having an Amex Platinum card (which I got thanks to a nice signup bonus), but you can now get Executive status for free (see this post).  The top benefit of Executive Status is that you can book (and pay for) a midsize car, but then pickup your choice of much nicer cars in the Executive Aisle (which contains a better choice of cars than the standard Emerald Aisle, FYI).  When you arrive at National with a car reservation, simply walk past the long lines to the Executive Aisle, and drive out with whichever car appeals to you.


This feature can be used to travel in more comfort and/or to save money.  For example, recently when traveling with a group of 7, we were able to select a minivan from the Executive Aisle.  We then canceled our second car backup reservation.  While a minivan might not sound like luxury, it was way cheaper and more fun for everyone to travel in the same vehicle.  We also saved quite a bit of money on parking during that trip since we only had to pay for one vehicle instead of two.

So, what does this have to do with Discover cash back?  When you accumulate Discover Cashback, you can redeem it for actual cash back or you can redeem it for discounted partner gift cards.  My favorite option is to redeem for half price car rental certificates.  And, of those options (Alamo, Enterprise, and National), my favorite is National.



With each of these rental agencies, it is possible to apply up to three certificates to a single reservation.

UPDATE 10/26/2015: You can now only use 1 certificate per rental.

The advantage of the National car rental certificates over the others, though, is that only National allows you to apply all three certificates online.  Aside from the fact that I hate having to call to book cars (or anything, for that matter), this lets you stack portal savings as well.  Currently several cash back portals (but sadly, not Shop Discover) are offering 5% back for National Car Rental:


You may notice that the Discover car rental certificates have scary language such as:

  • One certificate per National rental


  • Not valid with any other offer, discount or promotional rate

In my experience, these terms are not true.  I have successfully combined multiple certificates and promotional rates on the same reservations several times.

Winning the points & miles & cash back game

The strategy of the points & miles game is to acquire points & miles as cheaply as possible and then to use them for as much benefit as possible (see “The game we play”).  With Discover Cash Back, you can apply these strategies.

Ways to acquire Discover cash back include:

Once you’ve earned cash back, you can effectively double its value by using it towards rental cars.  And, that’s why I’m excited about Discover cash back.

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  1. […] Redemption value: Discover It Miles miles are worth exactly 1 cent each.  Discover It Cash Back, though, can be worth more than face value when redeemed for discounted gift cards.  One of my favorite options, for example, is to get $40 National Car Rental gift certificates for $20 each.  Read more about why I like that option here: Discover rental car discounts and upgrades. […]


  1. Thanks for the great post. The double cashback on Discover redemptions for car rentals always looked great but the ” one per reservation” language always made me choose some other less lucrative redemption. Seems coincidence that all three firms allow up to three per reservation.

    What if you don’t have National Executive status? Are there any other differentiators among the three car rental firms to make you decide between which one to redeem?

  2. The discover card application link doesn’t work. It takes you to a promo page advertising the bonus, but when you click “apply now,” it redirects to a different promo page that doesn’t advertise the bonus, rather than sending you to the application.

  3. A word of warning. These certificates I believe expire six months after you get them and so if your travel plans change, you might be screwed.

    Greg–have you figured our whether the rental has to be completed before the expiration of the certificates or just the reservation booked before the expiration? I have about $200 in centric about to expire but might use some of them for the PHX DO in November they’ll have expired by then if the former of the two possibilities listed above is true. Thanks!

    • Thanks Mark. I haven’t looked the expiration question since I’ve always waited to redeem Discover Cash until I needed to book a car (and have never done so more than 6 months out). I would be that it would work as long as you redeem it before expiry, but I don’t have any proof of that. Anyone else?

      • Well–if no one else knows guess I’ll be the guinea pig and find out. And if it doesn’t work, I’ll attempt to get Discover to cancel the National certificates and refund my cashback…because I don’t recall them clearly stating anywhere that they expire in six months. It was honestly a big surprise to me but hasn’t become an issue until the expiration date has now started to approach fast.

        Might be giving away some free National certificates if all else fails :)

    • Great question! The answer is, it depends…
      If you pay for the entire rental with certificates then of course you wouldn’t be covered by your credit card since it wasn’t used to pay for the rental.
      If you pay for part of the rental with your credit card, I believe (but don’t have proof) that you’ll be covered. The reason I believe that is that the receipts make the certificates look like discount coupons rather than forms of payment. So, it still appears as if you paid the entire charge with your credit card.

  4. The Discover certs are good for up to $40 in value towards the BASE fair of a rental. If you have a 2 day rental of $41/day base fair ($100 total bill), then you can apply 2 $40 Discover certs and your final bill will be $20.

    What happens if you have a 1 day rental of $81/day base fair ($100 total bill)? Can you apply 2 Discover certs and make your final bill $20?

  5. Hey Greg, great ideas here. Too bad I jus booked through priceline name your own price yesterday. How does your strategy here compare to paying through ultimate rewards or priceline? How would it compare if you didn’t get the free category upgrades?

    • Car rental prices and discounts vary tremendously from situation to situation. There are certainly plenty of times where you can do better with priceline or Ultimate Rewards. That’s why I look at this strategy more as a way to get comfortable travel (skip lines, nicer car) than savings… except when getting a minivan or similar :)

      • Just a data point, I tried making a reservation with National while signed in to my Emerald account (Executive status thanks to Amex Platinum card)using a $20 off a weekend reservation along with a Discover $40 cert, and it gave me an error saying the two coupons could not be used together. When I took off the $20 weekend discount and just used the $40 Discover cert, the reservation went right through.

  6. If I cancel and rebook to take advantage of a price drop, do you now how long it takes for them to credit back to the certificate(s)? I’m specifically looking at Alamo, but from the comments above, it seems like all 3 use the same system.

    • Great question. The only thing I can think to do is to create a new account. Or, if you have an Amex Platinum card, you can upgrade to Executive status with that.
      Anyone have a better suggestion?

  7. I currently have an alamo reservation for this weekend. The daily rate is 21/day for 3 days and my total is $100. I don’t see anywhere online through alamo’s website that I can pay for my reservation. Can you use these vouchers at the counter when picking up the car? It says above that these are only good towards the base price of the rental, since my base price is only $63 does that mean if I bought 2 vouchers ($40 for $80) that I would only be able to use $63 of it?

  8. In my opinion, the Discover certificates are a scam.I recently booked Enterprise through Costco. It was a good rate. I tried to apply a Discover certificate and they said it would raise my rate by several hundred dollars. So… I could save 20 and lose 200? That’s crazy. I explained to them that if I bought a restaurant or retail gift card through Discover rewards, that the merchant took it for payment. It doesn’t work that way on the Discover “gift cards”.

  9. Can you apply the discount to existing (e.g. Autoslash) reservations? If not, I don’t know how useful it’d be for me. They can usually knock a good amount off anything I reserve.

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