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 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.
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.
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.[table “1nbsp” not found /]