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Ranking the Best Rental Car Rewards Programs

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer.

Best rental car rewards programs

Renting a car is often considered a hassle. By leveraging the value of various reward programs, however, customers can save while enjoying the freedom of a car at their destination. Many travelers ignore rental car reward programs; we get the pitch at the rental desk when all we want are the keys. Here, we'll review and rank the benefits of different programs, so you're equipped to choose before arriving.

1. Enterprise

Reward programs are only useful when the underlying provider has a significant presence in the market. Enterprise has a fleet of 1.1 million vehicles. This scale bests all other vendors. Nearly any destination is likely to have an Enterprise option given their 6,250 locations.

The “Enterprise Plus” rewards program is straightforward; each dollar spent equals one point. These points are used to earn free rental days. You can earn a free rental day for as few as 400 points. The required rental points to earn free rental days depends on the dates of travel and automobile used. The average weekly cost of a standard-size car will run $192.00. Therefore the value of the program will be evident after a few weeks of rentals. Points never expire, and there are no blackout dates.

Benefits compound as a user rents more cars. You'll earn "Silver" status when you rent six times per year. This level offers a 10% increase in your total points earned. Become a "Gold" status member by renting 12 times a year (or 40 days total) and get a 20% boost to your earned points. Finally, the "Platinum" level is for those renting 24 times a year (or 85 days total). This top tier offers a 20% bonus to your points. Dollars spent on taxes and surcharges, vehicle license fees, airport-related fees, insurance costs, fuel purchase option and refueling don't earn points. "Qualifying dollars" are defined as spending on time and mileage (base rate), paid upgrades and additional add-ons.

2. Hertz

The second-largest rental car business in the US has 5,140 locations. Their rewards program is a tiered system with three levels. The “Hertz Gold Plus Rewards” is free to join. Every dollar spent equals one point. Like Enterprise, these points generate for free rental days. One free rental day starts at 550 points. The definition of a “qualifying dollar” is wider. Therefore you can earn points on spending that includes fuel purchases, upgrades and insurance coverage options.

Users renting seven to 19 times per year (or spending $1,500 to $3,999) earn a 10% bonus on total earned points. Additionally, Hertz issues 675 bonus points after every 15 rentals.

The “Hertz President’s Circle” is the highest tier reserved for those renting 20 times per year (or spending $4,000 or more). Members earn a 25% bonus on all points and an additional 675 points for every 15 rentals. The average Hertz standard size rental cost $175 per week, meaning that most will earn their first free rental day after approximately two to three weeks work of rentals.

CompanyFleetLocationsOne-week PriceReward Points

Enterprise

1,166,8286,250$192165
Hertz499,1005,410$175175
Avis365,0003,250$265265
Zipcar12,000580$6360
Source: Auto Rental News (2015), ValuePenguin research (2016)

3. Avis

With 3,250 locations Avis is the third largest major player in the car rental business. Like the others on the list, the program here consists of three tiers. “Avis Preferred” members earn one point for each dollar spent. You can earn two points for each dollar devoted to accessories. With “Avis Preferred Plus,” members earn 1.25 points for each dollar spent and 2.5 points for each dollar spent on an accessory. To qualify for this tier, the member must rent at least 12 times per year (or spend $5,000). The top-tier members enjoy 1.5 points for every dollar spent and three points for every dollar spent on accessories. Qualified members must rent 25 times in a year (or spend $7,000). Points last up to five years for active members.

Avis, on average, is the most expensive of the big names. There is no clear basis for the minimum points needed to earn a free day, so users may be in for a surprise if points don’t translate to value as quickly as Hertz and Enterprise.

4. National

Given the complexity of typical reward programs, National's offer is refreshingly simple. There are no points. Instead, National issues "credits." Seven credits earn a user one free day. “Executive” members -- you must purchase 12 paid rentals or 40 paid rental days in a calendar year -- can earn one free day with just six credits. “Executive Elite Members” -- you must purchase 25 paid rentals or 85 paid rental days in a calendar year -- can earn one free day with five credits. You'll earn one credit for each four continuous days of renting. Therefore a rental period of eight days earns you two credits. National is an attractive option for those who seldom travel.

5. Zipcar

This online “industry disrupter” is the newest competitor to enter the field. The model is different than the more traditional three listed above. To provide an equal comparison to Hertz, consider this analysis from ConsumerReports: “Zipcar did well in our cost comparison, based on our pricing of a sample Toyota Corolla for 1.5 hours. Including tax, the cost came to $19 for Zipcar, compared with $36, the daily rate, at Hertz.” The authors then continue, “For a week, the Zipcar rental climbed to a deal-breaking $636 compared to Hertz’ more reasonable $182.” Zipcar is an easy, flexible and affordable option. Do some research first; Zipcar has far fewer locations nationwide compared to the big three above. The majority of these sites are on college campuses. There is also a one-time $25 application fee and membership fees. A basic plan membership costs $70 per year. An intermediate plan costs $19.95 per month, and the largest plan costs $50 per month.

The rewards program is just as unconventional as the business model. There is no point system. Instead, Zipcar users are offered various savings on different business that are both national chains as well as smaller local spots. Zipcar members can get up to 25% off Avis rentals for longer duration needs. This same offer applies to Budget rental cars. Additionally, members receive discounts of 10 to 20% on local eateries, gyms, retailers and other venues.

Before choosing a rental car consider your frequency of travel. If you know your list of destinations ahead of time, you can make a much more informed decision. For those who don't know where they'll be traveling, consider Enterprise, which includes Alamo, as a good option. At least, until you can afford your own car.

Best credit cards for renting a car

Most of the top travel credit cards offer some form of rental car insurance as part of their benefits package, and some even earn accelerated rewards on rental car expenses. Below, we've broken out a couple of the top options for paying for a rental.

For premium perks

On Chase's Secure Website

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

On Chase's Secure Website
50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named "Best Premium Travel Credit Card" for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
Annual Fee
$450
Regular APR
18.99% - 25.99% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

The Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers primary rental car insurance in the U.S. and abroad. This covers damage, theft, towing charges related to a covered loss, up to the cash value of the rental car. The card also offers Priority Pass lounge access and three points per dollar spent on dining and travel — including rental cars.

For travel spending rewards

On Chase's Secure Website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

On Chase's Secure Website
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
Annual Fee
$95
Regular APR
17.99% - 24.99% Variable
Credit Needed
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"There are various types of credit scores. Each creditor uses a variety of different types of credit scores to make lending decisions."}
Excellent
Editor's Rating
{"onCurrent":true,"message":"Our team rates credit cards objectively based on independent research, the features the credit card offers users, and how it compares with other available cards in its category. The ratings are the opinion of our editors, and are not influenced by any outside factors, including any compensation the site may receive from certain advertisers."}

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card earns two points per dollar on rental cars and has the same rental insurance coverage as the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. However, the annual fee is considerably lower ($95 vs. $450). If you're a frequent traveler and looking to maximize spending rewards on car rental expenses, then this is a great choice.

Comments and Questions

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which ValuePenguin receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). ValuePenguin does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).