A United Deal
So we’ll get the deal out of the way first. “Up to 40% off” a rental with Hertz, 500 United miles per rental and 1,500 bonus miles when you book a mid-size or larger. Ho-hum. It’s not a bad one if you want United miles; otherwise, there’s not much to get excited about. My go-to for cash back from rental cars is Mr. Rebates*, but deals are a dime a dozen.
So why bother? First, any deal is better than nothing. You might as well save a few bucks on a car rental. Also, they don’t give away a lot of points, but I’m not picky; getting any points is good.
But the biggest issue with rental cars is that we just don’t spend enough time booking them. Unlike airlines, where most of the majors have very similar products and about the same level of service, rental car companies are a different beast. It is usually worth paying a premium to get a car at an upscale company, such as National, versus the run-of-the-mill Stinky Car Rental, or whichever one I used on my last trip. In fact, National is really the one company that I will use, since I’ve grown so tired of dealing with lousy service (And yes, I’m looking at you Hertz.).
The better car rentals do actually offer better service. The cars are nicer, they’re less likely to beat you over the head with extras and the lines are a lot shorter**. Having something go wrong with a rental car, or even being stuck in an hour-long line, is a quick way to ruin a vacation. True, price is a factor, but how much of one should it be? If you’re paying thousands of dollars for your vacation (or even if you aren’t), you don’t want to skimp on the rental car, given how little the difference is between the best and the worst of the lot.
Two Other Suggestions
Many credit cards, particularly those that have an annual fee, offer some sort of rental car program status. The bank probably has an agreement with a partner company to give you elite status in the program for free. Take it. Please. It’s free and, instead of waiting in line, you’ll just glance at the electronic board that tells you where to go to get your car.
Know what insurance your credit card (or personal car insurance) offers and what it doesn’t. You don’t want to double-pay. I’m not a huge fan of the Chase Sapphire, but rental insurance is one area where it is the best card on the market.
*That is a referral link. I really appreciate it if you use it. Mr. Rebates is good for all cash-back shopping, not just travel.
**The first thing I always do when I get a rental car is take a walk around the car and look for bumps, bruises, scratches, etc. If there is even a small scratch, I have them note it. The last thing I want to deal with is getting blamed for the last renter’s accident.
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