Quick Thoughts on Rental Cars and a Credit Card Bonus

Rental Cars

I write a lot about hotels and airlines but very little about rental cars, since so few of us really think there’s much of a difference. The more I rent, the more I determine that there is. There’s nothing worse than waiting in line for 45 minutes only to get to the front and find out that they don’t have any cars left and you really have no consumer protections to help you. I’ve started using National when I rent a car because I have so few problems with them. If it’s a choice of a good company or Stinky Car Rental for $10 less per day, I’ll take the former every time. I probably paid quite a bit for whatever trip I’m on. The rental car is not the place to save a few bucks. Other things to remember:

Price? Which One do you Mean?

There’s no such thing as the price for a rental car. There are always coupon codes, deals to be had and online coupons. My first stop is usually RetailMeNot, but Autoslash also does a good job of tracking your rentals, finding the best deals and making automatic adjustments for you.

Luxury Rentals

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Want a truly luxury experience? Try Silvercar, a rental car company that does it right, giving you an Audi A4 with free wireless and satellite radio. You do everything through an app on your smart phone, so there’s no waiting in line anywhere. I’ve seen promotional pricing as low as $50 per day, but the typical price is $70-100 per day. Still, during busy periods, this could be the cheapest car available, given the extras that they throw in. They’re only at 11 airports, but they’re growing quickly. I have a promotional code around here somewhere but, if I forget to post it, please feel free to email me for the discount code.


Know your insurance. It will only take you a few minutes to figure it out ahead of time and you don’t want to be standing at the counter trying to do it while they’re pitching you and you have no idea what you’re actually covered for. The credit card you are paying with likely has some kind of insurance, but you will likely have to check to see what it covers and whether it’s primary or secondary. I’m not a big fan of the Chase Sapphire card (one that others seem to love), but the rental car insurance is the best I’ve been able to find. Outside of the sign-up bonus, though, frequent car rentals would be the only reason to get the card.

What Loyalty Program?

It’s heresy around here, but I have yet to find a car rental loyalty program that is so good that it makes up for the lousy service at discounters. Having said that, join anyway if it’s free. Some programs give “skip the line” privileges even to the base members.

Year-End Credit Card Bonuses

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If you were thinking about applying for one of the high-end credit cards that comes with a travel credit, now is probably the time.┬áThe Citi Prestige ($250) and Amex Platinum ($200) both offer travel annual credits (Citi’s is broader than Amex’s, since the former can be used for any travel purchase but the latter is only for fees.), but the end of the year is approaching fast. If you want to get one in for 2015, now is the time. (Hat tip to View From the Wing, where I first saw this tip.).

Bonus bonus: Hilton is offering two Hilton Honors points per point transferred from Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program. The above Citi Prestige and its partner, the Citi Premier card, each offer 50,000 TYPs as sign-up bonuses, and the latter waives its annual fee for the first year. That’s 100,000 Hilton Honors points per card. Not a bad way to end the year, but it’s only good through January 6, 2016.

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And finally, you can apply for credit cards through the Credit Cards for Charity link above. All card proceeds are donated to charity, so please do well by doing good!


    • Mike on November 10, 2015 at 12:50 pm
    • Reply

    There are a couple of things that amaze me about travel. One is the inability of the airlines to devise a boarding system that makes sense. But one of the others is rental cars. I’ve heard more horror stories about these companies than all the airlines combined, but the airline stories are universal.

    I’d really like something along the lines of a Southwest Airlines for rental car companies. You show up, you know you’re getting an adequate car and people are nice to you. How difficult is that?

    BTW, thanks for your comment. You mentioned something that I forgot to mention yesterday. If you are renting from a company, you might as well join the loyalty program. Some rental car companies allow ANY member to skip the counter, regardless of their status.

    • T on November 9, 2015 at 10:13 pm
    • Reply

    I’ve always had luck with Alamo. You can pre-check in or use a kiosk at the airport. No lines and the cars are always in decent shape. I’ve had absolutely horrendous experiences with the “no name” companies, and you’re right.. it’s not worth saving the $10.

    However some majors are awful too. I recently rented with Thrifty (not realizing Dollar / Thrifty are the same company.. had some terrible experiences with Dollar). This was at LAX. Waiting forever for a Thrifty bus (after watching many Dollar ones pass). I get on the Thrifty bus, which brings me to the Dollar location. I guess they closed the Thrifty location ( for renovations? never found out). It was 8pm on friday and there is about 200 people (no joke) waiting in line for a car. I was a club member so I could pass the counter, however my name was not on the board.. not surprising since this was a Dollar location, not Thrifty whom I had the rental with. No on there knew anything. Thankfully a janitor there grabbed someone behind the counter for me and took care of me in front of about 200 very angry folk. The car was absolute crap. I returned it to another thrifty location the next day and went to Alamo. Absolutely hellish. If I had not had booked with my member card I would of been at LAX for 4-5 hours waiting.

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