When you’re traveling, one of the most aggravating costs to deal with is renting a car. There are no shortage of horror stories online—from long lines at the rental counter to hidden fees and charges and even the rental car company running out of cars to rent. But there are also plenty of good experiences to share as well, including getting to walk right to the aisle, picking a car of your choice and driving off the lot with no wait.
Regardless of your past experiences with rental cars, getting to rent a car for free certainly adds a bright spot to your travel plans. Here are some tips on how to earn a free rental car for your next trip.
Types of Rental Car Programs
In the U.S., most major rental car company rewards programs offer points based on how much money you spend. You earn a certain number of points for every dollar you spend and you can redeem those points for free car rentals. Here is a list of rental company programs with this type of point-earning structure:
- Avis Preferred
- Dollar Express Rewards
- Enterprise Plus
- Hertz Gold Plus
- Thrifty Blue Chip Rewards
Keep in mind that you do not earn points on taxes and fees associated with your rental and you typically still have to pay taxes and fees when you redeem a free rental day.
National does thing differently. With National’s Emerald Club, you earn 1 rental credit for each qualified rental day. A free rental day starts at seven rental credits.
Best Program for High-Spenders
If you typically spend a lot of money on your rental cars, whether its a larger, more expensive car or just a longer rental, your best bet is to go with Enterprise Plus. That’s because you earn 1X point per dollar spent and a free weekend day starts at only 400 points. Many folks can easily earn this in a single rental.
Here is a list of rental car programs and the minimum number of points for a free rental day:
It’s important to note that these numbers are based on being a basic member of each program. If you have achieved higher status with a program, then the points earning rate and redemption amounts will be different. Also, the numbers in the table above indicate the minimum amount of points needed for a free rental. Your actual rental cost may be higher depending on the date/time, type of vehicle, location and any extras that you add.
Best Program for Frequent Renters
If you frequently rent cars, perhaps for just a few hours or a day each time, you may be better off going with National’s Emerald Club. That’s because National’s rewards programs is based on the number of rentals, not the amount of money spent. If you make frequent, inexpensive car rentals, it could take quite some time to build up to the 400+ points required by other programs (many companies offer single day rentals for less than $30 per day). But with the National Emerald Club, you can earn a free rental day after completing seven rentals — and if you achieve Emerald Club Executive Elite, the highest status that National offers, you can earn a free rental day after just five rentals.
Most major rental car companies have their own rewards programs that allow you to earn free rental days. The best program for you will depend on your rental habits. For most folks, this will be Enterprise, where you can earn a free rental day after spending as little as $400.
But if you make frequent, inexpensive car rentals, National may be your best bet, since you earn free rentals based on the number of rentals, not the amount of money spent. As always, do the math to determine which is best for your situation.
When renting a car, be sure to pay with a credit card that offers good car rental benefits.
This story was originally written on Million Mile Secrets. For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.