Hertz vs. National Car Rental. Which is more rewarding?

Many car rental companies reward customers with airline miles for each paid rental.  This can be useful both for boosting airline account balances and for keeping existing miles from expiring.  That’s great, but what if you’d rather earn free car rental days?  Let’s take a look at two of the most popular car rental programs: Hertz and National.  Both programs allow customers to choose to earn car rental rewards rather than airline miles.  And, both are setup to allow elite members to earn free rentals faster.  Beyond those two minor similarities, though, the two programs are completely different…

Hertz

CarRentalPrograms_Hertz

Hertz has a very simple rewards program.  Unless they’re running a promotion, renters earn 1 point per dollar.  Points then can be used for rental days or rental weeks.  Hertz elite members earn points a bit faster:

  • Five Star members earn a 10% bonus on all points earned through qualified rentals
  • President’s Circle members earn a 25% bonus on all points earned through qualified rentals
  • Both Five Star and President’s Circle members earn a 675 point bonus after every 15 qualifying rentals.

Hertz has two reward pricing tiers: Standard and AnyDay Rewards.  AnyDay Rewards are charged during peak times and cost twice as much as Standard Awards.  Here are some of the Standard Award prices for the US and Canada (award prices vary in different countries).  Keep in mind that AnyDay prices are double what is shown here:

  • 1 weekend day: 550 points
  • 1 weekday: 675 points
  • 1 weekend day one-way: 1100 points
  • 1 weekday one-way: 1325 points
  • 1 week: 2750 points
  • 1 week one-way: 5500 points

Hertz points expire after 24 months of inactivity.  Using or earning points resets the clock.

National

CarRentalPrograms_National

With National’s program, instead of earning points, customers earn rental credits.  Each rental results in 1 earned credit.  An exception is that with long rentals, customers earn 1 rental credit for every four continuous days  (in other words, an 8 day rental results in 2 rental credits).  Free rental days are earned as follows:

  • Emerald Club Members: 1 free rental day for every 7 credits earned
  • Emerald Club Executive Members: 1 free rental day for every 6 credits earned
  • Emerald Club Executive Elite Members: 1 free rental day for every 5 credits earned

Free rental days cannot be used outside of the US, Canada, and participating locations in the Latin American Caribbean.  Free rental days expire on December 31st of the year following the year in which they were earned.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

It seems to me that Hertz’s reward program has a number of advantages over National’s:

  • With Hertz, longer and more expensive can rentals are more rewarding.  National provides a fixed reward (1 rental credit) almost regardless of the cost and length of the rental.
  • Hertz points remain active as long as you have account activity at least once every two years.  National rental credits expire at the end of the year following the year they were earned.
  • Hertz points can be redeemed internationally.  National rental credits can only be used in the US, Canada, and participating Caribbean locations.
  • Hertz points can be redeemed for many different types of rentals: one-way, specialty cars, etc. I believe that National rental credits can be used only for rentals in which the drop-off and return are at the same location. UPDATE: Several readers have since informed me that National does allow one-way rewards.  For specialty cars, National’s terms say that the free rental day can be used as partial payment for specialty vehicles: “Members entitled to a Free Day for a given class of vehicle may use the Free Day as partial payment for a more expensive vehicle class.” 
  • Hertz points can be used for weekly rentals at a greatly reduced per-day rate.  National does not have weekly rental rewards.

National’s program does have a couple of advantages over Hertz:

  • Free rental days can be used during peak times (I believe)
  • Very short/cheap rentals earn just as many rental credits (e.g. one) as longer and more expensive rentals.
  • UPDATE ADDED: One-way rewards allowed

Ignoring most of the differences listed above between the programs, lets look at which program results in free rentals faster.  We’ve already pointed out that National is better for cheaper rentals and Hertz is better for more expensive ones.  But how do you know what the cutoff is?  Can we calculate the break-even point? 

In order to compare Hertz rewards to National rewards, we need to make a few assumptions about how Hertz points would be used:

  • Assumption 1: 75% of redemptions will be at the Standard rate and 25% will be at the AnyDay rate.
  • Assumption 2: Half of the free rental days will be at the weekly rate
  • Assumption 3: The average length of a weekly rental will be 6 days
  • Assumption 4: Half of the daily rental rewards will be weekend rates

With the above assumptions, we can calculate the average daily rate for Hertz rewards:

  • Weekly rate converted to daily rate: 2750 / 6 = 458 points per day
  • Average daily Standard rate: weekly rate (458) / 2 + weekday rate (675) / 4 + weekend rate (550) / 4 = 535 points per day
  • Average rate (75% Standard; 25% AnyDay) = 535 x .75 + (535 x 2) x .25 = 669 points per day

So, with the above assumptions and calculations, we estimate that a Hertz customer would need to earn, on average, 669 points for a free day comparable to National’s free day.  And, we know that a National Emerald Club member (non-elite) earns a free day after 7 rentals.  With that, we can calculate the break even point:

  • 669 / 7 = $95

What this means

  • National is more rewarding when: The cost of your entire rental (of 7 days or less) is equal to or less than $95.
  • Hertz is more rewarding when: The cost of your rental is more than $95.

Of course, the above calculations required many assumptions that may not be true for you.

Conclusion

Even though I prefer renting from National thanks to their Emerald Aisle (which is especially good when you have Executive status and can choose from the Executive Aisle), I prefer Hertz’s rewards scheme over National’s.  I like the fact that Hertz points can be used years after they’re earned; I like that Hertz points can be used internationally; and I like that Hertz allows for one-way rental rewards. 

Most people would do well to choose one program or the other, but road warriors may prefer to choose based on which program is most rewarding for each rental.  When one company or the other has a lucrative promotion going on (such as National’s frequent One Two Free promotion, or Hetz’s frequent triple points promotion), it would make sense to go with whichever has the better promo.   In other cases, you may want to use the numbers calculated here as a rough guide: for rentals costing more than $95, go with Hertz.  For cheaper rentals, go with National.  

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About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. Does Either Hertz or National provide top status if you are Delta Diamond or hold any major Credit Cards such as Amex Platinum, Reserve, Prestige?

    Thanks

  2. National’s EMC program is WAY better, IMO. Even if you rent a car for $25/ day, you still earn a rental credit. After 6 credits, b/c you’re automatically an Executive member with Amex Plat., you get a free day. Even better, if you’re an Executive Elite, the free day can be used for any rental, like a 1-way luxury SUV, for example. The free day certainly can be used for a 1-way rentals, which are usually $100-200 or more per day for a fullsize car. Plus, National’s customer service, especially if you call their loyalty department, is excellent! On top of that, you can rent with Enterprise, which has lower prices, and still have that rental credit deposited into your National EMC account.

  3. National does appear to block one way rental awards, which is interesting because they allow one ways with the free days earned from the One Two Free promo.

  4. I’ll start my 2 week hiatus after this post…as this article was one I was looking for on other blogs….

    I travel every week for work and National is our preferred agency. The rentals earned via 1-2-free can be used 2 at a time, after that you need to pay or return the car and start a new rental…you can book whatever car w/ those 1-2-free, but as an exec/exec elite, you could grab most any car.

    As for the free rentals earned “the hard way” after 5-7 rentals (of 2 days or more I seem to recall..so a 1-day rental may not get the credit..though I could be confusing that as a rqmnt of the 1-2 free) The best of these credits, which can be used for ‘weekly’, as I think you can use up to 7 (at least on the old site) at once…is for 1-way rentals. There isn’t a sur-charge and you only pay some tax (for either type of free rental). I called to make sure I could get a mini-van w/ that rental day and used as a 1-way. It would have been ~ $500+ I recall…so huge value there.

    Also, if you’re an (exec)elite, and book more than 48hrs, they will guarantee a car is available, and have never had an issue w/ “blocked” or peak holidays either. It sounds with hertz, they don’t do that.

    Finally, it’s been my experience, most corp codes are on average more expensive at hertz than at national. So, if you’re footing the bill, or cost-conscience, while you may not get more rental days, national may well be more worth while.

    All that said…National has semi-consistently (4 times in last 9 rentals) over-estimated how much fuel was used (using 3 different locations). The latest was a rental I used for 39 miles and said I used SEVEN gallons of fuel. I called and they admitted it was only 6/8th full (their term) and charged me 4 gallons for 39 miles in a Ford Fusion. Which rates at 22+/gal city

  5. Regarding National and charging for fuel, had it happen only once, I was charged for a full tank of gas. I had the receipt of my fill up, and national was happy to remove the charge, this has been the only issue I have had with National, and it’s the only company I rent from, my only beef is, the cities I fly into the car’s selection’s are getting poor same cars, Altima S, Sonata, Malibu or Jetta. I might get a Impala or Charger, this city use to have 300’s, LaCrosse’s and Passet’s no longer…

    • Just dropped off a national rental. 4 days…40 miles. How many gallons they charge, you ask? FOUR gallons. I’d say it’s more than coincidence. I’d call it a revenue stream through deceitful practices by national

  6. Candidly, you’d have to be a fool to use Hertz over National’s Emerald Club (especially if you’ve got the Executive status). National gives you WAY better cars, and you get to pick what you like. The service is very good. The awards program is also excellent. The math will produce different results for different people, but if you EVER have use for one-way rentals, National’s is incredibly valuable, because one-way rentals can be very expensive. I do have points in Hertz’s program (from the Daily Getaways promo) but they can be difficult to use: the “you’ll need to pay twice because it’s a peak time” rule is sometimes in effect even when it doesn’t seem like a peak time. And using them overseas can also be difficult. In Europe, where it would be nice to use the points, you generally can only reserve a manual shift car with points (not useful for most Americans). I did once use my points in Australia, but they have very extensive peak blackout periods.

    Bottomline, I would highly recommend any frequent travel join the Emerald Club and use Hertz only as a back-up.

  7. The problem with Hertz is that you can’t use the points half the time when you need to. Many times you can’t use your accrued points at peak times at some locations. And with Hertz you have to worry about some monkey from Charlotte (your example may vary) sticking you with a piece of crap car, which Hertz apparently has too many of. You can choose the car you want. And, you’ll save $$$ with National, they’re usually cheaper. National for the win ~ it’s a no brainer!

  8. Thanks for the very good empirical comparison. I’ve used most car rental companies. I did like National’s emerald aisle but I’ve found Hertz’s program more rewarding as well as their promotions. I’m not really the typical renter. I rent a vehicle at least 40 weeks of the year or more. I usually get one free rental day every 3 rentals with rental cost ranging from 250-$300. Most Hertz airport locations now offer and Emerald Aisle like offering “Hertz Gold Choice” which I’ve used once but if you are renting regularly you should have no problem getting good cars and of course Hertz in my experience has been very good any time I don’t like a vehicle in swapping it out the need for which has happened less and less as I’ve maintained my status. The cars I’ve driven my last 5 rentals have been 2 new Dodge Chargers, an Altima, and a new Volkswagen Beetle all 2015 models. Historically I’ve been given really good upgrades. When I was working in Atlanta they gave me free upgrades to Mercedes every week. When working in Providence I got free upgrades to a Hummer, a Chrysler 300 Hemi, Mustangs, etc. I think for regular renters like me Hertz clearly provides a better loyalty program. It still has its hiccups and I wish it let me specify cars I’d really never like to drive but none of the programs do this. Also as a word of advice if you are polite even if you don’t have status you can get the counter agent to help accommodate your exact car needs.

    • If you want your fate left in the hands of some rental clerk or enjoy begging for a good car by all means go with Hertz. I prefer a company that let’s me the consumer choose my own fate.

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