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For the frequent flyer, the most valuable tips and tools are often not those that can help secure the occasional cheap airfare, but rather those that save time on every trip. If you are renting a car, the process of picking up and selecting your rental can add significant time, sometimes hours, to your trip after you arrive at your destination.
Over the past two years, many car rental companies have reduced staff and fleets, sometimes resulting in excruciatingly long lines and car shortages at rental car companies across the United States.
But there is a trick that can reduce the time you spend waiting in line at the rental car counter, sometimes allowing you to go straight to your car at major airports: Join a rental company’s rewards program of cars.
Join the rewards program
Most car rental companies have rewards programs that allow members to save considerable time at most major airports. They do this by storing your driver’s license and payment information, and asking you to agree to their rental terms in advance, so you can skip the lines and use a self-service kiosk or go straight to your car.
Almost every major car rental company in the United States has a rewards program that can be joined online. Membership involves uploading your driver’s license information, credit card details, selecting a few preferences, and ensuring that your loyalty program number is added to all existing reservations.
At all major car rental companies, joining these rewards programs is completely free.
Advantages and Benefits
The biggest benefit of a car rental loyalty program that is available immediately is a form of time saving when you pick up your rental car. Many rental companies allow you to skip the counter and go straight to your car when you arrive at your destination. Even if this service is not available, there will likely be a self-service kiosk that will allow you to speed things up. Either way, just signing up for the rewards program will save you time, or even skip the line altogether.
The time savings don’t stop after your car is picked up. Many car rental companies allow you to return the car, drop off your keys and go. At some airports you can leave, but many off-airport and after-hours airport operations have a drop box where you can safely deposit the keys after parking your car. After the car rental company staff check your car, they will charge you for your rental using your stored payment information.
In addition to saving time, joining a loyalty program increases the chances that your reservation will be honored. This will be particularly important in the short to medium term, as rental car companies have sold large parts of their fleets and are frequently running out of cars in some locations. Even in normal times car rental companies can run out of cars. According to USA Today, 1% of rental car reservations are not honored. If you are a member of a car rental loyalty program, the car rental company will often assign you a specific rental car a few hours before your reservation time, increasing the chance that there will be a car for you when you arrive.
Most car rental companies also have a mobile app that you can access if you are a member of a loyalty program. The biggest advantage of mobile apps from rental companies is the ability to update your reservation on the fly in the event of a flight delay. Updating your reservation is important to ensure you have a car when you arrive, as many car rental companies will release reserved cars within hours if a customer does not show up. For frequent travelers, these apps also give you easy access to your rental history.
Finally, for frequent car renters, these car rental loyalty programs usually offer the opportunity to earn rewards points valid for future car rentals or to obtain frequent renter status which offers benefits such as free car upgrades, access to priority customer service or access to preferred cars. .
How to register
Joining a car rental loyalty program is as simple as creating an account, giving the car rental company your driver’s license information, and providing a credit card for payment. Most rental loyalty programs will allow you to select optional services or set your preferences, such as your preferred car class, when joining the loyalty program.
Here are the names of some of the most important and popular programs. As there are many smaller, limited service, or regional car rental companies, you may find companies at your destination that are not on this list. Check your rental car company’s website for more information on their loyalty program.
Bonus: Avoiding upsells
Another underrated time saver of car rental rewards programs is that they help you avoid upsells at the rental counter. Many car rental companies encourage their agents to sell you additional options and services such as prepaid fuel, GPS navigation systems and loss/damage insurance. Worse still, some try to trick you into paying more for something you could get anyway, like a premium car or satellite radio.
If you are a member of a car rental company’s loyalty program, you can set your preferences to decline (or add) these additional services and not deal with an agent trying to sell you at the rental counter.
Add information about your loyalty program
If you book directly through your car rental agency’s website, your loyalty program information will usually be added to your reservation if you are logged in when booking.
For car rentals, you can often save a lot of money if you shop around. Unlike airline ticket prices, car rental rates can vary widely between online travel agencies, and you can often save a lot by checking multiple booking sites. Luckily, you can use sites like AutoSlash, Orbitz, Expedia, or use member-only offers like Costco’s Car Rental Deals and still enjoy your loyalty program benefits if you add your loyalty program number to the reservation when booking. You can even add your membership number after booking to earn rewards and, in some cases, status benefits.
A word of caution about using opaque booking sites like Hotwire or Priceline: these sites offer deals that are often lower than published prices on some car rentals, but to score the deal, you must prepay the rental before the car is shown to you. rental company. With many of these “opaque” reservation types, it is not possible to add your loyalty program information once the reservation and loyalty program benefits are generally not honored. Counter agents may even have an incentive to try to sell you more aggressively, as rental car companies usually make very low margins on these rates.
While a Hotwire Hot Rate® or Priceline Express Deals® car rental might save you a few bucks, it might be worth paying a little more to know who you’re renting from and get the benefit of skipping the line. car rental.
Increase your status with credit cards
Many rental car loyalty programs offer some form of elevated status to their members who frequently rent cars. Although this status is most often achieved by repeatedly renting through a single company, it is sometimes also granted as a credit card benefit. Many premium credit cards like the Platinum Card® from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Capital One Venture X Rewards credit card enjoy enhanced status in a number of car rental loyalty programs when you register.
High status in car rental programs comes with benefits such as free upgrades, the ability to add an additional driver for free, return grace periods and rental discounts. Additionally, if car rental companies overbook their cars, they are much less likely to cancel reservations for members of their loyalty program who hold status.
If you have a premium credit card, it might be worth checking to see if this is a benefit you already have access to. If you travel frequently and are considering applying for a premium credit card, high rental car status should be part of your value calculation.
To learn more about the car rental benefits offered by many credit cards, see the Forbes Advisor article on Car Rental Credit Card Benefits.
If you plan to rent cars while traveling, join your car rental company’s loyalty program.
For an investment of five to ten minutes, you’ll have a much smoother car rental experience almost anywhere you go, and you’ll almost certainly save at least as much time by skipping the rental counter on your first trip. Do yourself a favor and join the loyalty program so you can spend an extra hour enjoying your vacation rather than waiting in line waiting to rent a car.
To view rates and fees for the Platinum Card® from American Express, please visit this page.