That one thing alone will save you hours at the car rental line and help make sure you have a car – Forbes Advisor


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For the frequent flyer, the most valuable tips and tools are often not the ones that can help secure the occasional cheap plane tickets, but rather the ones that save time on every trip. If you are renting a car, the process of picking up and selecting your rental can add a considerable amount of time, sometimes hours, to your journey after you arrive at your destination.

In 2020, many car rental companies reduced their staff and fleets, resulting in sometimes excruciatingly long queues and car shortages at rental car companies across the United States.

But there’s one trick that can cut down on 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 reward programs that save members a lot of time at most major airports. They do this by storing your driver’s license and payment information, and making you agree to their rental terms in advance, so you can skip the line and use a self-service kiosk or go straight to to your car.

Almost all of the major car rental companies in the United States have a rewards program that can be joined online. Membership involves uploading your driver’s license information, credit card details, selecting a few preferences, and making sure your loyalty program number is added to all existing bookings.

At all of the major car rental companies, membership in these rewards programs is completely free.

Advantages and advantages

The biggest benefit of a rental car loyalty program that is immediately available is some form of time savings when you collect your rental car. The Hertz family of rental companies (Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty) all allow you to skip the counter and go straight to your car when you get to your destination. Avis Preferred members can skip the line too, but their value-driven brand, Budget, gives their Fastbreak members priority access through self-serve kiosks. Either way, just signing up for the rewards program will save you time or even skip the line altogether.

The time saving doesn’t stop after you pick up your car. Many car rental companies allow you to return the car, drop off your keys, and go. At some airports you can leave, but many airport operations outside the airport and after hours have a drop box where you can safely drop off the keys after parking your car. Once the car rental company staff have registered your car, they will bill 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 car rental companies have sold a large portion of their fleets and frequently run out of cars in some places. 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 designate a specific rental car for you a few hours before the time of your reservation, which increases the likelihood that there will be a car for you on arrival.

Most car rental companies also have a mobile app that you can access if you are a member of the loyalty program. The biggest advantage of rental companies’ mobile apps is the ability to update your booking on the fly in the event of a flight delay. Updating your reservation is important to ensure you have a car on arrival, 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 renters, these car rental loyalty programs usually offer the option of earning reward points valid for future car rentals or obtaining frequent renter status which grants perks such as upgrades. free level of the car, access to priority customer service or access to favorite cars. .

How to register

Signing up for a car rental loyalty program is as easy 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 biggest and most popular programs. Since 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 car rental company’s website for more information on their loyalty program.

Bonus: avoid upselling

Another underrated time-saver of car rental rewards programs is that they help you avoid upselling 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 yet, some try to trick you into paying more for something you could get anyway, like a higher class 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 your loyalty program information

If you book directly through your car rental agency’s website, your loyalty program information will usually be added to your booking 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 prices can vary widely from one online travel agency to another, and you can often get good results by checking multiple booking sites. Fortunately, you can use sites like AutoSlash, Orbitz, Expedia or use member-only offers like Costco’s car rental deals and still enjoy the benefits of your loyalty program if you add your loyalty program number to the reservation when booking.

A note of caution about using opaque booking sites like Hotwire or Priceline: these sites offer deals that are often lower than the published prices on some car rentals, but to score the deal you need to prepay the rental before the car is presented to you. rental company. With many of these “opaque” types of reservations, there is no ability to add your loyalty program information once the reservation and loyalty program benefits are generally not honored. Counter agents may even be tricked into trying to sell you more aggressively, as car rental companies typically make very low margins on these rates.

While a Hotwire Hot Deal or Priceline Name Your Price car rental can save you a few bucks, it might be worth paying a little extra to know who you’re renting from and have the benefit of skipping the car rental line. .

Increase your status with credit cards

Many rental car loyalty programs offer some form of high status to their members who frequently rent cars. While this status is most often achieved by repeatedly renting through a single company, sometimes it is also granted in the form of a credit card benefit. Numerous premium credit cards such as the Platinum Card® from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Citi Prestige® Card* come with enhanced status in a number of rental car loyalty programs when you sign up.

The high status in car rental programs comes with benefits like 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 from their loyalty program members who hold the status.

If you have a premium credit card, it might be worth checking if this is a perk you already have access to. If you travel frequently and plan to apply for a premium credit card, high rental car status should be part of your value calculation.

To learn more about the benefits of rental cars offered by many credit cards, see the Forbes Advisor article on The Benefits of Credit Card Rental Cars.

Final result

If you plan on renting cars while on the go, join your car rental company’s loyalty program.

For a five to ten minute investment, you’ll have a much smoother car rental experience almost anywhere you go, and you’ll almost certainly save at least that 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 standing in line while waiting to hire a car.

To view American Express Platinum Card® rates and fees, please visit this page.

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