Cheap Car Rentals: Part 10 – Why Everyone Should Sign-Up For Frequent Car Rental Programs

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Enrolling in car rental frequent renter programs (such as Avis Preferred or Budget FastBreak) is quick, free, and easy.

The biggest benefit of these free programs is skipping the long line at the rental counter at the airport and going straight to your car.

You can also earn free rental credits and/or miles.  Award Wallet is a great tool which will store your rental car program information!

Frequent Rental Programs-003

Skip The Lines For Free At Airports When You Enroll In Frequent Car Rental Programs

Cheap Car Rentals Series:

Rental Car Frequent Renter Programs

There is no cost to enroll in the different frequent car rental programs so it makes sense to sign-up even if you rarely rent cars.  Award Wallet is a great tool to store your frequent rental car program numbers.

1.   Saves Time.   Signing up will save you time because you bypass the line at the rental counter and either go to a shorter line for members of the frequent rental program or straight to your rental car!

You usually get to skip the lines if your car rental program number is attached to your reservation.  This usually happens when you book directly at the rental car companies website or if you include the number while making the reservation in *some* but not all third-party sites such as Costco Travel.

However, you can skip the crowded lines at the rental counter even if you haven’t booked your rental car directly through them.


You Can Go Straight To The Cars in The Garage If You Are a Frequent Car Rental Program Member!

I’ve had luck just going to the special booth or line for frequent renter program members and getting them to process my rental even if I haven’t booked directly through the rental car company, but through the Ultimate Rewards portal or Hotwire.  I just show them my car rental program card and a copy of my reservation.

Most major airports in the US have separate lines for members of frequent rental car programs, but the smaller airports may not have these separate lines.

Most rental car programs require you to add your driver’s license and credit card information in your profile when you sign-up so you don’t waste time at the counter.

2.  No Salespersons Selling You Things You Don’t Need.   Rental car staff at the counter earn a commission for selling you insurance and other products.  And sometimes it is annoying when it is late at night, you’re tired, and the staff tries to sell you products you’re not interested in.

No Hardsell

No Hard Selling If You Enroll In a Frequent Rental Program

But when you sign-up for rental car programs, you can indicate that you don’t want to purchase the optional insurance and that you will bring the car back filled with gas etc.  So you save time at the counter even if someone has to manually process your reservation.

Of course, you can always buy these extras at the rental car counter if you need them

3.   Earn Extra Miles/Points.   You can  also earn miles or points or credits towards free rentals once you enroll in a frequent rental program.  However, some rental car companies do charge a small fee if you choose to earn airline miles for your rental.

Sign-Up For Rental Car Programs

1.    Alamo 

Link:   Alamo Insiders Sign-Up

Alamo Insider Benefits:


Click Image For Free Sign-Up To Alamo Insiders

2.    avis

Link:   Avis Preferred Sign-Up


Look For Your Name on the Monitor & Go Straight to Your Car!

Avis Preferred Benefits:

  • Skip lines and go straight to your car

Click Image For Free Sign-Up For Avis Preferred

3.    Budget 

Link:   Budget Fast Break Sign-Up

Budget Fast Break Benefits:

  • Skip lines and go straight to your car

Click Image For Free Sign-Up With Budget FastBreak

4.    Dollar

Link:   Dollar Express Sign-Up

Dollar Express Benefits:

  • Save time because your information is stored in your profile
  • Separate line for Dollar Express members

Click Image For Free Sign-Up With Dollar Express

5.    Enterprise 

Link:   Enterprise Plus Sign-Up

Enterprise Plus Benefits:

  • Save time because your information is stored in your profile

Free Sign-Up With Enterprise Plus

6.    Hertz 

Link:   Hertz Gold Plus Rewards Sign-Up

Benefits of Hertz Gold Plus Rewards:

  • Skip the counter and go directly to your car
  • Save time because your information is stored in your profile

Click Image For Free Sign-Up With Hertz Gold Plus Rewards

7.    National 

Link:   National Emerald Club Sign-Up

National Emerald Club Benefits:

  • Choose any available car from the lot when you book a midsize car
  • Bypass the counter
  • Save time because your information is stored in your profile

Click Image For Free Sign-Up With National Emerald Club

8.    Thrifty 

Link:   Thrifty Blue Chip Sign-Up

Thrifty Blue Chip Benefits:

  • Separate line for Thrifty Blue Chip members
  • Save time because your information is stored in your profile

Click Image For Free Sign-Up With Thrifty Blue Chip

Bottom Line

Sign-up for frequent car rental programs.  It is free and will save you lots of time at the airport and also let you earn extra miles and points!

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34 responses to “Cheap Car Rentals: Part 10 – Why Everyone Should Sign-Up For Frequent Car Rental Programs

  1. If you have the Amex Platinum Card, you also get some additional benefits for signing up for the Avis, Hertz, and National membership programs. Some of these programs give you discounts or free upgrades, but I think the most helpful is the 4 hour return grace period for Hertz.

  2. What are the expirations for each program?

  3. Rental car membership is not a good thing and skipping lines when renting & dropping your car is the worst thing you can do for your wallet. Never ever rent or drive out the rental car before checking everything= in and outside for any damages or cracks or dents WITH an employee present with you or call one to come there let him see and write down any damages. When dropping, have someone checked the car and write down ” EVERYTHING IS OK”.

    If you don’t do the above, you may received unexpected bills from the rental company weeks and months after you are gone and once they lie, you will have difficulty proving your case.

    • @Roger – That’s very true!

      @MrWho – The point expiration policy varies by program, but the main reason to sign-up is for the quicker access to rental cars.

      @rob – You can check the car and note damages even if you pick up the car straight from the lot.

  4. I rent a lot through Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price” bidding process and have memberships in most of the rental companies they deal with but the T&C’s of the “Name Your Own Price” service will not allow one to enter loyalty program numbers. Your article states that some other booking sites also will not accept loyalty program numbers but that you just use your loyalty card and rental reservation at the loyalty program desk to obtain a quicker rental. I was wondering if or any of your readers have had any experience using this technique while renting with a Priceline “Name Your Own Price” reservation. Will this work at Avis, Hertz or National?

  5. @D, what car rental company would you recommend for those of use under 25 years old and who get hit with the underage driver surcharge? I used Hertz before because they have a promo code to waive that fee. Any other companies you recommend?

  6. I read somewhere (can’t remember now where it was) that if you rent a car through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal, it will make you pay for at least a small portion of the rental with “points”, thus negating the wonderful insurance coverage that is afforded for car rentals when using the Chase Sapphire Plus, the main reason I always use that card for car rentals. To me, it’s not worth getting the lower price for the car rental if I lose the insurance coverage, but I don’t know if this is accurate. Does anyone know if this is true?

    • @gnarls – I’ve had luck by going straight to the Preferred booth and showing my card and reservation print-out with Avis reservations which didn’t have my Avis number on them.

      @Grant – This is a future post in the series, but see USAA for cheaper rates for folks under-25.

      @P – You can pay the full amount with cash when you book through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

  7. @P What is the “wonderful insurance coverage that is afforded for car rentals when using the Chase Sapphire Plus”? The MMS “detailed” report on Sapphire doesn’t list anything about rental coverage. I have been keeping my Chase United card for rentals, since it gives primary coverage for them, whereas most cards only give supplemental coverage. Sup meaning you have to go thru your personal car insurance first, and the cc only covers what your personal insurance does not. {Sapphire even gave me primary coverage on a U-Haul truck}. Does Sapphire provide primary coverage too?

  8. Yeah Daraius, what’s the skinny on cards that offer rental car coverage? Which cards offer what when it comes to coverage and under what circumstances? I know I’m not the only one who would GREATLY appreciate the once and for all on this.

  9. There is a downside to these memberships. They do not provide the most favorable rates for those car rental companies. I find that using codes (such as partnership codes with various airlines or Costco codes) provide much cheaper rates when booked at the car rental sites themselves as a nonmember of the elite car rental program. I have even queried some of them about this. Get a higher cost as part of the convenience. And I used to check but never the cheapest rates at the member rates. An upside is that you do get the better cars, condition and lower mileage. But due to higher costs, I take the penalty of going through the line to get the car. Definitely need to comparison shop and not just book as part of their frequent driver programs

  10. I use to rent through Thrifty, and have stopped, the service is horrible, they tried to get me to pay for gas even though I filled it up 6 miles from the airport location, and last but not least, the cars are in bad shape, stains on seats and carpeting, and some have been smoked in. I switched to National and love it. Never an issue, and the care usually have less than 5K miles and have Sat Radio still working.

    • @Robert Hanson – The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers secondary insurance, not primary insurance coverage.

      @matthewD – I’ll have a separate post on that!

      @Mike S – You don’t have to pay a higher rate to include your frequent rental number in the reservation. For example, Costco Travel lets you enter your rental car membership number on reservations. Even if you don’t have your membership number on the reservation, you can still go to the rental car booth and skip the lines.

      @Tony – Dollar and Thrifty seem to have a bad reputation for nickle and dimming.

  11. Re: Primary vs. secondary insurance coverage for the Chase Sapphire Preferred (or most other credit cards):

    What if you don’t have your own personal car insurance – I live in NYC and therefore do not have a car. Wouldn’t the secondary insurance on the Chase Sapphire, or any other credit card, kick in and become my primary insurance?

    • @Roger – That is correct! If you don’t have insurance, it becomes primary insurance. But only for damage to the car. You’re not covered for damage to other cars or property, so it makes sense to buy the liability insurance from the rental car company.

  12. Oh man, thanks for clarifying! It seems like I’ve been living on the edge for my past couple of rentals thinking my credit card had all the insurance I needed. I guess the saying is true, you learn something new every day!

  13. volleyball mom

    I’m in Orlando, Florida this week for a national volleyball tournament. The parents of all 9 girls on my daughter’s team rented cars. One by one they were boasting about their great deal, then I told them what I paid, $82 for 6 days, Budget, not a tiny car, and over half what they paid! I got a loyalty card before I rented, so didn’t have to wait on the long line in the airport and went right to my car. Thanks Daraius for millionmilesecrets!!

  14. I made my Alamo reservation through Costco, and ‘beat’ the line of 65 folks by using their (too-cool!) kiosks to check in. Took a few minutes to verify my info (the machine scans license and credit card), then off to the row and pick out my car! And, yes of course, I inspected it minutely, and wrote down scratches and whatever on the rental documents (Alamo doesn’t have a separate damage report form, apparently) and have the check-out person sign that! I also take photos all around the car when I return it; and one showing it in the return line. That shows it was returned in good condition.

    Ink Bold gives primary insurance coverage. (Also, Avis First status; but you have to request it.)

  15. Hi Big D,

    Ok, a while back you posted that a friend told you that he handed the hotel check-in guy $50 in Vegasand would ask if they had any upgrades, and he would mention the Presidential or similar, and it always worked. I took that to heart, and during my last car rental I gave the clerk a $20 and said something similar, in Albuquerque. The college student offered me any auto on the lot. I am posting this here, because I figured it would help the clerk have justification if I was at least in their FF program, so he would have an excuse for the upgrade. Hope this helps.

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  18. @Roger – assuming you do own a vehicle (maybe not), you should have personal liability insurance which should cover property damage/liability, correct? Then your credit card covers damage to your rental vehicle?

    I can attest to the coolness of National Emerald Club (separate bus stop at DEN and friendly agents), Hertz (car is waiting for you), Thrifty (separate desk at PHX), and Avis (great service at IAD)… Emerald Club was one of the best initially as you pay for an intermediate and pick any car up to a full size.. Hertz came out with something similar though their canopy system where you go right to your pre-selected vehicle is neat too.

  19. The last 2 times I booked a rental with Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. the computer did not allow a rental on strictly Cash. I had to use at least one point. Does my Chase Sapphire Preferred card cover me for insurance under these circumstances?

  20. Back on June 19, (above) Rob made a critically important point, one that also recently bit me with National at CHO. (Charlottesville) Yes, I got the National “emerald” club status, (which essentially made no difference at a small rental location) and returned the car late at night. I had carefully looked the car over at a well lit gas station before returning the car. All was well at return.

    But 16 hours later, I get a call informing me there was a nasty dent underneath passenger side door, and they insist it happened on my watch. For all I know, somebody could have been driving it around the following morning and ran over a curb. (When I first picked up the car, I noted that two other vehicles in the National parking spots had significant “dents.”)

    Alas, the way the rental agencies (and insurance companies seem to work) I have no way to prove the damage didn’t happen on my watch. Yes, I have insurance, but what hassle.

    I complained there locally, and wondered what I could do in the future to make SURE this never happens again. I was lamely told that because they’re a small operation, they won’t have anyone to go out with me to inspect the car upon my return.

    If you get THAT kind of LAZY response, as I told National Emerald customer care, I will never, ever rent from National again.

    (oh, and by the way, National and Southwest never did honor the triple point promotion for that rental….. adding insult to injury)

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  22. I am renting car for 2 months for upcoming trip. I see a Dollar and Thrifty offer of earning 200 AA miles per day. Is this really true? What’s the catch to get this offer?

    Also, Hertz is 4x per dollar

    Which one makes sense to earn most miles for the entire rental period?

    • @Frugal-sara – 200 a day for a 2 month rental could be a great deal. But I’d check to make sure it is valid for 2 months. I’d estimate your total cost over 2 months and then see if you earn more miles with Hertz or Dollar or Thrifty.

  23. Thanks for the quick reply!!

    The question at this point would be which FF (UA or AA) miles should I earn to book tickets from central Asia to Chicago in June or December? I know that AA miles worth more now, but UA site also have rental offers for 300 miles per day. What do you think?

  24. Thanks D. It can either be from Singapore or India. With all the other short travels in that region, I think it is probably gonna be from India (BOM or HYD) to ORD – Chicago. I see how the miles are devalued for UA but surcharges are low. But with AA, no devaluation with miles, but fuel surcharges are high (BA flights). I can potentially earn 10k miles either from UA or AA. So should I earn UA miles when renting car? Thanks!

    • @Frugal-sara – I’d prefer United miles for those routes, but American Air miles are pretty good as well. You can fly on Etihad and Qatar to India and Malaysia, JAL, and Cathay Pacific to Singapore with American Air miles (just avoid having a BA segment). If you’re going to travel in coach, I’d pick United miles based on those destinations since they have more partners which fly to those countries. Note that United no longer shows Singapore Air flights on the United website.

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