Readers of the AutoSlash blog know that we're great fans of using the loyalty programs of various rental car companies. Top-tier programs aimed toward business travelers such as Avis Preferred, Gold Plus Rewards (Hertz), and Emerald Club (National) allow renters to skip rental car counters, select their own vehicles (often upgrades), and earn credits toward free rental days. Mid-range loyalty programs tend to offer a subset of those benefits, such as earning credits toward free rental days with a quicker counter experience. Bottom-tier loyalty programs (looking your way, Payless) don't really add much -- if any -- value at all. We take advantage of every benefit available and know that even when booking with Priceline, members of most frequent renter programs are still eligible for benefits directly from the rental car companies!
Despite some claims to the contrary -- mainly from those who associate Priceline with "Name Your Own Price" bookings where renters can't choose their preferred rental car company -- most rental car companies do allow Priceline users to maintain their loyalty program benefits. The renter has to simply find a "Free Cancellation" / "Pay Later" rate that matches the discounted rates we send. And whether a renter chooses to book a discounted rate found by AutoSlash or a non-discounted rate, the process remains exactly the same. It just takes a bit of attention, as loyalty programs are entered on the same screen as all other reservation details, right before the rental confirms the reservation.
The timing of entering the loyalty program details is critical. If a renter doesn't enter the loyalty number before confirming a reservation, there are only two options:
- Rebook and hope the low rate is still available: If a renter forgets to add the frequent renter number in advance, making the revision to the reservation is just like any other change to a reservation (dates, times, locations, etc.). The only way to add or edit any information after booking is to *make a new reservation* (editing a reservation creates a new one).
- Add the number at the rental car counter: One can ask to add a frequent renter number at the time of pickup but that harms all of our sensibilities -- after all, we intentionally focus on programs where we get to skip the rental car counter and lines!
The process is entering the loyalty number during booking is simple. Priceline provides an option to enter add-ons on the same screen where a renter has to enter renter details, read/accept the rules, and submit the reservation. The terminology might vary slightly but if a reservation is eligible to accrue frequent renter benefits from one's selected rental car company, there will be the option to enter the frequent renter number!
The Limited Companies Blocking Loyalty Programs
There's a small subset of rental car companies where renters are ineligible to earn frequent renter benefits when booking at external websites. These companies -- predominantly discounters -- have adopted the stance that a renter's not entitled to any benefit from their loyalty program unless the renter decides to book directly through the company. This tactic serves many purposes for those firms, namely that it drives their most dedicated renters to book directly through the company's own website; put up enough barriers and it takes time/effort for renters to compare prices!
We've written about many of these programs that block renters from using frequent renter programs unless a rental is booked directly. The offenders include ACE's Rental Genius, Advantage's Awards, Europcar's Privilege, and E-Z's EZ Money among other discounters. When a renter booking at Priceline selects a discounter that doesn't extend benefits for external bookings, Priceline's logic is smart enough to block a user from entering a frequent renter program. In fact, there won't even be an option to enter a loyalty number, as in the ACE example below:
About the Other Add-Ons
Some readers might see that renters can request services such as child safety seats when entering their frequent renter numbers. One option for parents is to pay rental car companies $13-15 per day (plus tax) for a child safety seat and potentially mess up tracking of their reservation (our price tracking looks for the lowest rates without any add-on services).
However, we're fans of bringing child safety seats from home and/or using one of the fee waiver programs. Our strong preference is to bring a child safety seat from home -- most airlines allow child seats to be checked for free, we're able to ensure we have a seat when needed for every step of the trip (buses, planes, trains, shuttles), and we are familiar with the seat and the quality thereof. Rental car companies tend to purchase the cheapest seats rather than the most advanced, and being familiar with a child safety seat helps with the install process given rental car companies routinely forbid their staff from helping with child seat installation due to potential liability.
If one's using AutoSlash to find the lowest possible rate on a reservation, that individual is looking for great deals. Frequent renter programs that save us time, allow us choices, and give us credit toward free days (saving money) are benefits renters should use! And even when booking through a third-party site, loyal renters in most major rental car companies can still take advantage of those program benefits! We use AutoSlash for our own paid rentals but we're much happier when our rental is free! Well, at least our award days are free before those pesky taxes and fees.