Discover rental car discounts and upgrades

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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.

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