Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Car Rental

3 Reasons Why Hertz Is My Favorite Car Rental Company

I have a love/hate relationship with renting vehicles. On the one hand, I love driving various new models that I otherwise would never get to try. They are always a significant step up from our old van, and some have made for quite the comfortable ride to-and-from San Francisco. On the flip side, dealing with rental car agencies has been a pain at times, and I have yet to find a reliable way to consistently score free vehicle rentals like I can hotels and flights.

There is both freedom and risk when renting a car. Back in 2016, my wife and I too a trip to Colorado. We had no idea that a snowstorm was going to hit Denver and Colorado Springs at the end of April. None. Zero. Didn’t cross my mind. Our Coloradan friends chuckled at us (I guess Colorado can throw snow at you pretty much any month of the year, depending on where you are in the state).

Here I was with a rental car booked for our trip, and some serious apprehension welling up inside me. I have very little experience driving in the snow, and the thought of driving an unfamiliar vehicle at night down a snowy freeway was a little unnerving. Luckily everything turned out great that time. Experiences like this sometimes prompt me to make a plan that relies completely on mass transit and/or Taxi/Uber rather than a rental car. However, I’ve gotten more and more savvy with car rental over the past couple years (SEE: 4 tips from my experience renting 4 cars in 4 days). These days I rent a lot.

When I do need to book a rental car, I nearly always look at Hertz first. They have become my favorite rental car company. Here are my top three reasons:

Yet to have a bad experience

Nearly every rental I’ve had with Hertz has been stellar. They are in the top rental car companies by several sources, and one pegs them as only second to Enterprise. I have had one shady incident with Enterprise, so they have a blemish. Honestly, the local Enterprise offers great service. But I still prefer Hertz if I have a choice.

The best feature of being a member of Hertz’s loyalty program is the expedited service at some airports. I love flying into San Francisco or Sacramento, taking the train/shuttle to the rental car center, and simply walking to my car. The stall or section will be right on the board, sometimes even on a sign right over the car. Talk about seamless. No waiting in line for ages or having an agent try to up-sell you. All they do is print your contract and check your license at the gate.

I’m hooked. If rates are comparable to other agencies, I always pick Hertz. With at least two dozen rentals under my belt with them, they have yet to let me down.

Partnership with United

Each rental can score you some serious United miles. I often take advantage of this for work rentals. You can actually earn United miles with several different companies, but the Hertz has been killer. Until recently, each rental of an intermediate car or larger would earn you 2,000 miles (now it must be over 2 days to qualify). It was supposed to be a limited-time promo, but it keeps getting extended.

You will earn even more if you have either the Chase United Explorer Visa or elite status with United. As a silver elite, I currently earn 2,250 miles per rental. The rates for the rentals are sometimes a few dollars higher, but most of the time it is worth the slight premium for the miles. And sometimes you luck out and the rates are cheaper than booking directly via Hertz.

Over the past couple years, I’ve probably earned over 25,000 United miles with this partnership from both work and personal rentals. There’s one guy who earned over a million miles this way. However, I’m less likely to use it as often in the future, as one-way rentals no longer earn the 2,000 miles. I’d now rather earn Hertz points.

As an example, when I initially checked Hertz through United for a trip this past spring, a three day rental cost $180, far more than the $99 rentals I was finding on Expedia with companies I had never heard of. By the day before the trip, however, I checked a final time, and intermediate size cars were pricing at $116. Much better. A total of $18 more for a more trusted company and extra miles. Easy choice. And work was paying, so it was a win no matter what.

The rewards program is very good

My main point of comparison is Enterprise, so maybe this colors my view. Enterprise’s rewards program is mediocre at best. I can see where National’s One-Two-Free promotion might be worth jumping on. But overall, I prefer Hertz.

An award redemption with Hertz often requires fewer points. You can find the chart here. I find that you also earn points on the entire charge, not just the base rental rate. I’ve had one-way Enterprise rentals earn me next to nothing since the base rate is low and most of the charge is a “drop fee”.

I’ve had two fantastic redemptions with Hertz. The first was for a one-way rental back home from Santa Rosa where I got 13 cents per point and paid a grand total of $2 in cash (SEE: Getting 13 cents per point on a car rental!). The second was a one-way rental to the Bay for a short getaway with one of my boys. The value there was even greater, at 21 cents per point!

Conclusion

All things considered, Hertz is my favorite car rental company. I will freely admit, they are often priced above the competition. But when they’re competitive, they’re my go-to.

2 Tips for Planning a Last-Minute Trip

After deciding to abort my planned trip to Europe, my wife and I had a long discussion about how to approach my two weeks off. It would have been fairly easy to go back to work (I have been putting in a little time this week), but we decided to see if there were other options on the table. We ultimately settled on the idea of me taking the older two kids on a road trip for a week.

At only six days out, there wasn’t much time to plan. And awards can be expensive. But luckily I have a couple tricks up my sleeve….

Tip #1 – Understand how award space works

Last-minute awards can be a either a big ouch, or they can be a gold mine. It all depends on the loyalty program. Any revenue-based program (i.e. Southwest, JetBlue) will be a big ouch if you need to book a ticket a week out. Delta is usually awful as well. American is meh. United, on the other hand, is a stellar choice. In my experience, United tends to release a lot of award seats close-in. They are my go-to if we are looking for a last-minute award deal.

Not looking too bad for 4 people just a few days out

There is just one big hurdle: the utterly ridiculous close-in booking fee. It’s basically extortion. I can’t decide if I hate it more or less than hotel resort fees.

Booking tickets for the three of us from Arcata to Tucson would cost 37,500 miles and $241.80. Not fun. And not worth it. The space is there, but booking through United is a less-than-ideal option.

Enter Avianca Lifemiles

Avianca LifeMiles are a fantastic alternative. And we have a small pile of them right now from when I signed up for the Avianca Vuela Visa (SEE: Lucrative Offer! New Avianca Lifemiles credit cards). You can also get Lifemiles by transferring your Citi ThankYou Points to that program.

Avianca rolled out a short-haul award chart for the United State last year that divided the USA into 3 regions. All intra-region travel is only 7,500 miles each way, and this includes connections. We can head nearly anywhere in the west for either 2,500 or 5,000 miles less than what United charges! My only word of warning is that the system chokes on awards with more than one connection. And good luck if you have to call an agent (better brush up on your Spanish).

One critical piece of this puzzle is the fact that Avianca doesn’t charge extortion a close-in fee (but they do still charge an annoying $25 award booking fee). I managed to book our tickets out of our local Arcata airport (SEE: The Upstart Arcata-Eureka Airport), a rare treat for personal travel. It cost us a total of 22,500 miles plus $91.80 for the three of us.

Last minute tickets were going for $866 round-trip, so this yields a return of 5.3 cents per mile. In all honesty, we wouldn’t be taking this trip if it wasn’t for miles, so calculating redemption value is a bit silly. What really matters is that we are saving a lot compared to using United miles for the trip.

Tip #2 – Know when it is one-way rental season

A trip like this has been at the back of my mind for some time. Every spring, rental car companies will give you rock bottom rates to get their cars out of the desert, and every fall they will offer you deals to take them back. Why do they do this? Trust me, it has nothing to do with cutting you a deal on your family trip.

This annual cycle is summed up in two words: inventory management. Car rental companies need more cars in certain locations during different times of the year, so instead of paying top dollar to truck them from state to state, they’ll simply cut you a deal to move one for them.

So…in essence I am helping Alamo move a car from Tucson, where nobody wants to be in July, to Sacramento. Whether that is really a better summer destination is up for debate, but Alamo would rather have the car in California than in Arizona. For this I am paying a whopping $101 for an eight day rental.

Similar deals are available from Florida, where you can take cars at a discount back to summer markets in the Northeast. An even better tip: some systems won’t differentiate between the deals offered. On other words, even though the company says “rent in Florida and return in New York” and “rent in Arizona and return in California”, you can actually drive a car all the way across the country! I priced out a two week rental from Miami to San Francisco for $228!! I’ve paid that much for a four day work rental!!!

Stop. I’m getting all excited again. Let me finish up with our trip details…

Planning our time through the Southwest

The hotels easily fell into place for the trip. I have points with most major chains, and there were plenty to pick from at most destinations. The harder issue for me was maximizing value. Do I use the Hilton points? Or do I book with IHG? Or do I pay $55 cash for a nearby Quality Inn and save the points for a better use? I think I got the cost down to ~$100 cash for our 8 nights.

The plan is to make our way from Tucson to Sacramento day by day, averaging 3-4 hours on the road. Sightseeing stops are planned at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Saguaro National Park, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Death Valley, and the Harrah Collection in Reno. I’ve also thrown in a couple of cheap resort hotels where the kids can spend a day in the warmth and water.

I’ve honestly never put together a trip so quickly. Thirty-six hours is probably a record. But I decided that I could salvage the vacation time, and this seemed like one of the best options. More importantly, I hope to make up for how utterly disappointed I left our two older kids after pulling the plug on our Europe trip.

Featured image courtesy of Kentaro Iemoto under CC 2.0 license.  

Should you purchase roadside assistance protection when renting a car?

A couple weeks ago my wife and I took our kids to the beach in Costa Rica. We have been in the country a few weeks now as we are adopting three beautiful siblings. Given that we’d finished our first round of appointments, we figured it was time to take our first excursion out of San José.

Our first morning was spent at Playa Mantas. We all had a wonderful time laughing and playing in the surf. It was a perfect day.

Then disaster stuck. I realized I’d lost our rental car key. Stupidly, I had completely forgotten to take it out of my pocket and stick it in our bag before jumping into the waves! We concluded that it must have fallen out of the cargo pocket of my swimsuit.

After futilely scouring the sand for a while, I made the dreaded call to the rental car office. Considering that we were almost 2 hours from San José, I knew this mistake was going to cost us a pretty penny.

That is, until I realized that I had purchased roadside assistance protection for our 2-week SUV rental. All said and done, I only had to pay for the cost of the key, which turned out to be $50.

In our case, this extra service turned out to pay off. But in general should you purchase roadside assistance protection when renting a car?

roadside assistance protection worth it

What is Roadside Assistance Protection?

This service is something many rental companies offer as an add-on service to the base rental rate. It typically costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 per day, which may not seem like much. Roadside assistance typically: covers the following:

  • Lockouts
  • Lost keys
  • Jumpstarts
  • Fuel delivery (if you run out)
  • Roadside assistance with other problems, such as a flat tire.

Roadside assistance does not cover any accidents. It typically only offers help for the services above and anything else that might be included in the terms of the coverage.

The coverage also doesn’t cover breakdowns. If the customer does something to the car that causes it to break down, they are still on the hook. If the issue wasn’t the customers fault, the rental company is on the hook even if you don’t purchase the extra coverage.

Should you purchase roadside assistance when renting a car?

In general, I would say no, especially if you are renting domestically. You will likely be paying for coverage you already have. Check with your own car insurance provider to see what is covered. If you have a service such as AAA, you should be covered when you rent as well.

Since many rentals are domestic where people’s own insurance already covers them, roadside assistance protection is pure profit for a car rental company. Therefore agents at the counter will often try to sell you on it.

In some cases, roadside assistance may make sense. If you are going to be driving through rural areas where there are no services and/or you are not covered by your own insurance, consider whether a few extra bucks might offer some extra piece of mind. Just be sure you know what you are buying!

Before purchasing the service, I also made sure that I did not already have complimentary roadside assistance through my Business Platinum Card from American Express. Turns out this is restricted to the U.S. and Canada. Bummer.

Roadside assistance protection paid off in our case

Since this was my first time renting a car internationally (besides in Canada), I was a bit leery of getting into an accident and/or getting stuck somewhere on the side of the road with my wife and 3 kids in a foreign country. I knew I had collision damage waiver coverage when using my Chase Sapphire Preferred card to pay for the rental, but I ended up opting for both the supplemental liability insurance and the roadside assistance protection. My own car insurance unfortunately doesn’t apply outside of the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

In our case, the roadside assistance protection cost us $3.99 per day. Over 14 days, this came to $55.86. While I don’t know how much Budget would have charged us for the key delivery service, I know that it would have been substantially more than this. Sure, I could have prevented the situation entirely with a little more forethought, but it really saved our bacon this time.

It took a couple phone calls and cost us maybe 45 minutes dealing with the situation. And then $50 back at the rental counter. I’m glad I bought the protection, all things said and done.

I’d also like to mention again that the service covers jumpstarts, which we might have needed as well.  Turns out a hill works just fine when your car is a standard. No coverage needed here.

Conclusion

To recap, I don’t generally consider roadside assistance protection to be worth purchasing, especially not domestically. Like many types of protections and insurances, weigh the risk versus the cost before you agree to it. We came out ahead this time. But most people typically don’t. Hence the rental companies’ tendency to heavily sell this protection.

Featured image courtesy of Erico Junior Wouters under CC 2.0 license

Should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Much of renting a car is a headache. I’ve stood in line for hours. Or not gotten the car I reserved. And then they try to up-sell you. And then they ask if you want to prepay the fuel. I’ve often said no, but should you prepay gas for a rental car?

There are a few factors that go into this decision:

  1. Will you be driving enough to empty or mostly empty the tank?
  2. What is the cost per gallon compared to local prices?
  3. Is it a matter of convenience?

Let’s look at each of these and then ask again, should you prepay gas for a rental car.

Figuring out if you will empty the tank

If the answer isn’t an obvious yes or no, this will take a bit of quick math. You might want to do a bit of estimating before your trip. I’d use the average miles per gallon for the class of car you reserved, plus the typical size of the tank to figure out roughly how many miles you can drive on one tank of gas.

Or just look up the general range of the car, if that is something that is easy enough to find with Google.

Figure out the local cost of gas

Also compare the local price of gas when considering whether you should prepay gas for a rental car. Typically, the prepay option for fuel will be at a price per gallon that is cheaper than local gas prices. This is because you are unlikely to return the car with a completely empty tank. It is a game (at least for me) to figure out how little I can leave in the tank when returning the car, it I’ve prepaid the fuel.

If you will very likely empty the tank at least once completely and the price per gallon of the prepay option is reasonable, consider pre-paying the fuel.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Sometimes it is simply convenient to pre-pay

At the end of the day, you’re probably on vacation, so why worry about having to fill the tank? Or maybe you’re traveling for work and don’t want to have to remember to top off before returning your car.

If it is a matter of convenience, such as an early return to the airport, I’d probably go with pre-paying the fuel. I’d definitely balance this with how much you’re driving and figure out roughly how much you’re paying for this convenience.

Case Study #1

Back in May I traveled to Orlando for Family Travel for Real Life 6. During the trip, I rented a car for the day to explore the atrociously flat state of Florida. I opted not to pre-pay the fuel since I would only be depleting half a tank at most.

Fast-forward to the rental return where I returned the car without filling up (SEE: The ONE rental car mistake I often make). Major mishap here. I was charged over $50 for fuel, for a tank that would have cost me around $25 to pre-purchase!! In this case, pre-paying would have saved me a ton of money. Admittedly, I was a total space cadet and forgot to fill it before I drove back to MCO.

Pre-paying the fuel in this case would have given me major peace of mind. Although it *would* have been best to still decline the option and fill the tank myself.

Case Study #2

Fast forward to July where I took a trip to Montana with my brother-in-law to visit friends (SEE: Hiking the Highline Trail Glacier National Park and Of Course I HAD to Visit Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park). When we picked up our car, the prepay option had a fuel price of $1.75 per gallon!!! This is insanely cheap when you’re coming from California.

I knew that we would be driving to Missoula and back, not to mention up to Glacier a few times. My gut told me yes, purchase the fuel. I ended up using about a tank and a half over the trip, so it worked out great. We returned the car at less than 1/8 of a tank.

So…should you prepay gas for a rental car?

Answer: it depends. But if you are doing any serious amount of driving, I certainly would. I used to shy away from this option, but I’ve found it to work out for the best in more and more instances.

Should you prepay gas for a rental car, just remember NOT to fill the tank before you return the car.

Image courtesy of Erico Junior Wouters under CC 2.0 license

Finding the best rental car deals: 3 reasons to use Autoslash

With the abundance of co-branded credit cards for both airline and hotel loyalty programs, “hacking” these parts of travel can be fairly easy. Earn points/miles, then burn (SEE: 3 great Starter Travel Credit Cards). However, rental car companies don’t have the same sort of arrangement with credit cards, making them a bit more difficult to come by cheaply. This is why you need to know where to look for the best rental car deals.

Some rental car deals are seasonal. If a market is seasonal (e.g. Arizona or Florida), you can often score one-way rental deals for as low as $8 per day. No one wants to be in Phoenix in summer, so after spring training is over and everyone has packed up and left, rental cars just sit idle. Thus, companies move them to more lucrative markets, like Los Angeles or the Bay Area. Rather than pay to truck them all, they’ll offer a super cheap rate to induce people to take a one-way road trip.

However, what happens if you are trying to find a deal on a car in a market during peak season? Do you just suck it up and pay $60, $80, or $100 per day? Enter Autoslash.

Where Autoslash fits into the picture

Autoslash is hands down my favorite tool for finding the best rental car deals. I used to shop through Expedia, Priceline, or directly with various rental car companies. But this requires time and effort, and often you can’t really know if you’re getting the best deal or not.

Best rental car deals

Autoslash takes all this pain away. You key in your information, hit submit, and wait for the great quotes to roll in. If your plans are flexible, you may need to submit a few different options. I’ve had such great success with them that I’d venture to say that 95% of the time you’ll be presented with the best rental car deals using their service. Here are 3 great ways Autoslash can really come through for you:

Autoslash aggregates deals from multiple sources

Unlike airfares, which are often the same across booking platform (not always, but regularly so), rental car prices can vary wildly. I’ve seen times where I can book a car through the United portal for $85 one-way, versus $145 one-way directly through Hertz. That’s a huge difference!

What Autoslash does is let you key in your information one time, and then the service searches multiple platforms for you. The results are then aggregated, showing only the best rental car deals. They are returned by email, typically only taking an hour or two at most to hit my inbox.

As an example, Autoslash saved me a ton of time and money on a recent trip to Montana. I was struggling to find a good deal on a rental car, realizing that anything I rented was probably going to cost $300 or more. Most options didn’t even offer unlimited mileage! However, once I keyed my info into Autoslash, I was presented with a deal on an intermediate sized car for $176 that included unlimited mileage! The deal was with National and booked through Priceline. Had I been searching manually, I may have never found it!

Price drop? You’re automatically re-booked

One of the best features of Autoslash is that the service searches your itinerary multiple times per day in case of a price drop. This doesn’t apply if the booking details are different (e.g. if you book through Hertz, and now there is a better deal through National). But if your exact itinerary changes price, Autoslash will lock in the savings for you!

Autoslash will also continue to send you emails with updated deals for each search. I find that I’ll get a new update roughly once a week until the time of rental. Sometimes the email has offered a better deal, but more often than not, the original deal discovered by Autoslash is still the best one.

Assurance that you’re getting the best deal

I’m not saying Autoslash is 100% foolproof. But it is the closest thing to a silver bullet for rental cars. The service has definitely saved me money over the last few times I’ve rented a car. Rather than wonder if I could be getting a better deal searching elsewhere, I trust Autoslash to come through for me. It has taken all the pain out of trying to find the best rental car deals.

The only site I routinely check any more is the United site. If Autoslash pulls a Hertz deal, I’ll check and see if United is offering the same price. This is because I would typically rather earn United miles than Hertz points for my rentals. Sometimes United even offers killer promotions. So far, however, Autoslash has always won out.

Bottom line: Use Autoslash to find the best rental car deals

For a long time I never really investigated Autoslash. Lots of travelers raved about it, but I figured I could find decent deals myself. Now I’m 100% converted. I’ll never go back to searching manually again.

Ultimately, Autoslash can save you a ton of money on a rental car. From offering the best array of deals, to automatically re-booking your rental should their be a price drop, the service is amazing. And it’s free. You can cut your rental cost even more by using a flexible points currency (such as Barclaycard Arrival miles) to offset the remaining cost of the vehicle. Even without credit cards, there are ways to hack rental cars. You just need to know what tools to use.

Header image courtesy of Erico Junior Wouters under CC 2.0 license