Hertz #1 Club Logo The oldest of the major worldwide rental brands, Hertz today focuses primarily on the business traveler. Hertz's #1 Club Gold program is designed for maximum efficiency for the customer in a hurry, and to that end, it succeeds.

Hertz's loyalty program actually consists of two separate products: the free Hertz #1 Club and the fee-based membership program Hertz #1 Club Gold. The former allows you to save your information for faster check-out at the rental counter and collect Hertz #1 Awards points, while the latter provides a much more complete express rental experience. It's relatively easy to find ways to join the full Hertz #1 Club Gold product for free, so we'll focus on the full program in this review.

The Yellow Awning

The main benefit of Hertz #1 Club Gold is Hertz's "Gold Canopy" service at most major airports. In theory, the process is simple and quick: walk up to a board displaying your name and pre-assigned parking stall number, walk to the stall, get in the car, and drive to the exit gate. A quick check of your driver's license to verify your identity and the gate opens. No signatures, credit card swipes, or sales spiels. You can be on your way in barely a minute if everything goes smoothly.

At smaller locations, the process involves stopping at a rental counter to show your license and retrieve your keys, although you can still skip the signature. Some locations have dedicated Gold counters, while others have priority Gold lines, so waits shouldn't be too long.

Superlative Benefits

As if being #1 and made of gold isn't enough, Hertz rewards its higher-volume customers with a special elite tier, Hertz #1 Club Gold Five Star. To qualify, you must 10 times or spend at least $5,000 in a year. The main benefit is a space-available one-class upgrade (up to a Premium car). Upgrades aren't available to luxury cars, vans, and SUVs and are at the discretion of the rental office—and you can guess how that bodes for your upgrade chances. Still, if there's something a little nicer on the lot, there's a possibility you'll get it.

For the most demanding, five golden stars isn't enough. For them, Hertz offers a bonus tier: Hertz #1 Club Gold President's Circle. After 40 rentals, 120 rental days, or spending $7,000 in a year, you'll get a couple of extra benefits. The most useful for the road warrior business traveler is likely being guaranteed a car, even if the office is sold out, with two hours' notice. Other benefits include special President's Circle parking stalls (saving a bit of walking) and a guaranteed one-class upgrade (up to a Premium car).

#1 in Rewards?

Like most other rental programs, Hertz lets you choose between earning frequent flyer miles (not always a great deal, as we've shown you before) or credits towards free rental days, called Hertz #1 Awards. If you rent a lot of cars, the latter is usually a better deal with most other companies, but Hertz seems less generous.

Hertz uses a dollar-based awards system tied to the amount you spend: one point per dollar spent. It doesn't matter if you rent for a week or a month; more money earns you more points. While this is simple and good for Hertz (it rewards Hertz's high spenders), it also requires you to spend a lot of money to earn free days.

Hertz has a very comprehensive, very flexible list of awards you can redeem, starting at 500 #1 Awards points for a free off-peak weekend day or a double upgrade all the way up to 15,000 #1 Awards points for a week's rental of a Prestige Collection vehicle. Yes, that means you need to spend $500 with Hertz before you can redeem for something worth maybe $25.

Compared to some other programs, that's far from a stellar deal: with Thrifty's Blue Chip Rewards program, 16 rental days at $25 per day is $400, but then you get a certificate good for a free day up to a minivan without any day-of-week restrictions. National's Emerald Club will earn you a free day with no day-of-week restrictions after seven rental credits—which can be earned with as few as seven one-day rentals.

For a comparable award from Hertz, you'd need to spend 1,200 Hertz #1 Awards points. Even at $60 per day, that's still 20 days of renting before you earn a free day.

Still, since it's free, it's a better deal than buying miles from Hertz (they charge frequent flyer surcharges if you put your airline frequent flyer mileage number [link to other blog post]), so it doesn't hurt to collect them. Who knows—you might find enough points in your account for something someday!

Hertz #1 Club Gold Five Star members earn a 10% bonus on award points (i.e. earning 1.1 points per dollar spent), and #1 Club Gold President's Circle earn a 25% bonus on awards points (i.e. 1.25 points per dollar spent), which can help those constantly on the go earn rewards a little faster.

The Downside

If everything goes smoothly, Hertz is fast—probably the fastest of any rental car agency out there. But renting from Hertz isn't always perfect. For one, your rental contract does have to be pre-done by a human before you arrive. If you get in earlier than planned—or if you encounter a poorly-run location—you might find your name not on the board and a car not waiting for you. Off to the counter you go.

Also, Hertz is starting to keep cars in their fleet longer. Whereas it's still rare to find a car with more than 30,000 miles at most other agencies, it's increasingly more common at Hertz. And if you get a car you don't like (or get a spur-of-the-moment urge to upgrade), it's not like National where you can just hop in the car next to it; it takes a few minutes to go to the counter and switch cars. Hertz's computer system can also be fickle; certain updates to your profile, such as updating your credit card expiration date or changing to a new card, will prevent you from receiving Gold Canopy service, in which case you'll need to go to the rental counter first.

Our Conclusion

Hertz continues to innovate and provide lots of options in their rental operation. With specialty vehicle collections to choose from (Prestige, Fun, and Green), reservable options like satellite radio and (the aging but convenient) NeverLost GPS systems, Hertz offers a good balance of choice and speed for the convenience-seeking business traveler. However, that innovation doesn't seem to extend to the #1 Club Gold program. One of Hertz's main competitors, National, blows Hertz out of the water when it comes to flexibility and choice on the rental lot as well as earning and redeeming awards. Still, if convenience and speed are your main goals, Hertz tends to be slightly quicker than National, since everything is taken care of in advance.

The Wrap-Up

Company: Hertz
Program: #1 Club Gold
Website: http://www.hertz.com
Time Savings: Counter bypass at most major airport locations
Fastest service out of all agencies (if set up properly)
Cost:  $60 per year, but easily waived
Upgrades Available: One-class space-available upgrade for #1 Club Gold Five Star members
One-class confirmed upgrade for #1 Club Gold President's Circle members
Loyalty Reward: Choice between #1 Awards or airline frequent flyer miles
Earn 1 point per dollar spent
500 points = 1 free off-peak weekend day