Renters come to AutoSlash because they are searching for the cheapest rental car possible from their preferred rental car companies. We search over 1,000 publicly available coupons and even allow renters to specify some membership organizations (like AARP, Costco, and USAA) for us to seek out the lowest possible rates. From time-to-time, we do get asked if we can apply a coupon code for a vehicle upgrade to a rental. The answer is complicated.
We could do so but why?
There's a subtle truth to the "free upgrade" coupons offered by the rental car companies. As an economist, it's clear that "there ain't no such thing as a free upgrade coupon" (TANSTAAFUC which just sounds wrong). In order to qualify for the "free" upgrade coupon, one always has to forgo a money-saving coupon. The rental car companies only allow us to pass a single coupon code on a rental, so a user who asks whether we can enter a free upgrade code is no longer asking AutoSlash to find the lowest rates. I recently had to explain to an AutoSlash user that she was asking me to remove a $75 discount in order to add a coupon code for a potential free upgrade code.
The rental car companies place rules and restrictions on their upgrade coupons, effectively neutralizing their value to users.
- A free upgrade coupon code requires removing a money-saving coupon (the one coupon rule).
- Free upgrade coupons are only valid on limited vehicle types, usually just generic compact to full-size cars (standard inventory).
- A free upgrade coupon is subject to availability at the time a vehicle's picked up (a renter is rolling the dice).
- The rental car company can elect to decline the free upgrade during certain timeframes, such as peak demand, even when upgraded cars are available (blackouts)!
The basic ruse of the rental car company is to get customers to pay more for a smaller car -- by removing a money-saving coupon -- in the hope of getting a larger car. Entering a free upgrade code means that there's no longer the possibility of using a "dollars-off" or "free day" coupon; those are the codes that really save users money! The coupon code below from Costco illustrates all of these downfalls in a few short sentences. The "free upgrade" means giving up other money-saving coupons and there's no guarantee the upgrade will even happen.
Costco members often get great rates but may not get the "free" upgrade.
There's a saying among the frequent flyer community of "if you want first class, buy first class"; it's possible for frequent flyers to get an upgrade for free but it's not guaranteed. There's a parallel structure for rental car consumers; "if you need a full-size car, reserve a full-size car". That gives a service like AutoSlash more time to look for lower rates on a renter's behalf and the user doesn't have to hope for an upgrade.
We can't stress enough how much of a disadvantage it is for renters to insist upon a non-guaranteed "free" upgrade rather than originally booking the desired car class for a little more money and eligibility for all possible discount codes! But we're AutoSlash; we ensure the readers of our blogs have the full story when reserving rentals cars.
Although free upgrade coupons are almost never worthwhile, there's an entirely different tactic when a renter is an elite member of a rental car company's loyalty program. Elite members of a rental car loyalty program often see upgrades when paying for cars as small as a midsize (intermediate), and there's no additional cost to do so! All a renter needs to do is book in a program where the upgrades come automatically, still benefitting from AutoSlash finding the lowest rates!
When Rental Car Status Comes Into Play
We talk about the rental car loyalty programs often, for good reason. These programs provide phenomenal benefits for frequent users of certain rental car companies. In some cases, even infrequent users of a rental car company have access to the upper tiers of these loyalty programs, such as those who possess premium credit cards. The loyalty programs of Avis, Hertz, National, and Sixt have status tiers that provide easy access to upgrades, and the AutoSlash team takes advantage of these programs every week (literally).
Among the AutoSlash team, Chris has Hertz President's Circle status (earned) and National Executive status (from a credit card). I have Hertz Five Star status (earned), National Executive Elite status (earned), and Platinum Sixt (my National status was instantly matched). What do those status levels mean? For holders of Hertz President's Circle, National Executive, or National Executive Elite status, upgrades are guaranteed on every rental and National's Executive status is available to holders of many of the more prestigious credit cards as an included benefit.
Chris reserves midsize vehicles at Hertz and often drives Infinitis due to his President's Circle status. He makes out a little better than the rest of our team. I most frequently reserve midsize vehicles at National and drive Chevrolet Impalas but once reserved a midsize convertible with Sixt and was assigned a Chevrolet SS Camaro convertible; the status at National guarantees upgrades while Hertz Five Star and Platinum Sixt members receive upgrades when available. Sixt was even willing to upgrade convertibles, which is exceedingly rare among rental car companies.
The moral of this story? If you have status with a rental car company, use it! When the AutoSlash team travels, the vast majority of our reservations are booked as inexpensive intermediate vehicles and we drive nice upgrades. We only book special vehicles (like 12-passenger vans) when we truly need that special vehicle.
The rental car companies provide coupons to request "free" upgrades but those coupons come at a very real financial cost; the upgrade request displaces a coupon that really saves money on a rental. An AutoSlash user planning far in advance should simply ignore any coupon for free upgrades, booking the guaranteed category that's desired instead. AutoSlash is designed to always seek out the lowest price available for a rental and our database of publicly available discounts is updated frequently. Any insistence on using a free coupon code takes away the best rates, defeating the reason for using AutoSlash!
But hope is not lost. Those free loyalty programs we write about allow their most frequent renters the opportunity to upgrade for free; in fact, many of the programs guarantee upgrades for renters at the highest program tiers. Even better, those loyalty programs provide those upgrade opportunities while renters can still book the lowest eligible rate at AutoSlash, accruing additional benefits such as loyalty program points or free rental days! While free upgrade coupons are counterproductive to an AutoSlash user, the frequent renter programs are a perfect complement to help leverage the low rates we find!
Ready to book your next rental car? Click below to request the best possible rates for a cheap rental car, then use your frequent renter accounts for expanded benefits in the company of your choice!