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.

NationalCarExecutiveEligible

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.

DiscoverPartnerGiftCardAlamo

DiscoverPartnerGiftCardEnterpriseDiscoverPartnerGiftCardNational

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:

TopCashBack_NationalCar_5pct

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

  • One certificate per National rental

and:

  • 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.

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.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

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43 Comments on "Discover rental car discounts and upgrades"

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Newbie
Guest

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?

Nick
Guest

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.

Daniel
Guest

@newbie

Enterprise owns both Alamo and national which is probably why they all allow three certs per reservation.

Mason
Guest

Gary at View from the Wing recently posted links to get free status with Avis and National if you have a World Elite Mastercard:

http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2014/08/10/get-instant-free-status-avis-national-car-rental/

Mark
Guest

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!

R.
Guest

Do you lose CDW provided by your creditcard if you apply those certificates?

Smith
Guest

You can still get $150 back with $750 minimum by calling in to Discover and applying. See Slickdeals thread. It says expired, but I and others have gotten it in the last couple of days so it’s definitely not expired.

http://slickdeals.net/f/7123444-discover-it-credit-card-150-off-750-or-100-off-500-in-3-months-phone-application-and-offer-code?v=1

Ben L
Guest

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?

Jonathan
Guest

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?

HK
Guest

Can these be used with Contract IDs or the free day coupon codes?

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[…] Discover rental car discounts and upgrades […]

Tony
Guest

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.

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[…] Discover rental car discounts and upgrades […]

ShoNuffHarlem
Guest

If I already am a National Emerald member how on the link can I use it to get Executive on my account? I only see new signup links.

comment image&sourceCode=2090&welcomeText=Welcome%20to%20Emerald%20Club%20Executive!

Mike
Guest

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?

Diane
Guest

Did taking the van in the executive aisle cost you extra or did you only have to pay the amount of your original rental?

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[…] I’m a big fan of National Executive status (see why, here), but if you’re going to rent from Hertz, you might as well have status.  Here’s what […]

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[…] Shop Discover has long been one of the best cash back portals.  It often offers the best cash back rates.  And, Discover Cash Back can be redeemed for many partner gift cards at better than one to one value.  See, for example, Discover rental car discounts and upgrades. […]

george
Guest

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”.

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[…] August I published “Discover rental car discounts and upgrades”.  In that post I described my approach to car rentals: maintain Executive status with […]

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[…] the other side is payouts. (HT to FrequentMiler) You can redeem for pure cash back through the portal, but there are more lucrative payouts, such […]

J
Guest

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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[…] It’s actually possible to redeem this cash back for items other than cash back, for example you can purchase gift cards at a 10% discount (e.g $50 gift card will cost $45 in un redeemed cash back). You can also redeem for car rental certificates and get a massive 50% discount. […]

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[…] 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. […]