In a previous blog post, we discussed the EZ Money program of EZ Rent a Car. Our determination was that program is not EZ for many reasons ... in fact, a funny thing happened when we registered for the EZ Money program. We didn't receive a "Welcome to EZ Money" e-mail; we did receive a "Welcome to Advantage Awards" e-mail due to suspect information technology at the corporate parent! The Advantage Awards program does offer one enticement when joining the program -- a free rental day -- but the value of the program rapidly decreases from there!
A Brief History of Advantage
Advantage and EZ are sister companies owned by Canadian private equity firm Catalyst Capital and probably could benefit from a bit of IT investment. And the path to Catalyst Capital was long; Advantage was an independent firm that declared bankruptcy, was purchased by Hertz, then sold by Hertz (after another bankruptcy) as a government stipulation when acquiring Dollar and Thrifty, all in the span of five years. And the company is much improved since the first bankruptcy, a decade ago, local stations were still photocopying drivers licenses and the company refused to comply with promotions listed on their website ... And we're glad Advantage and EZ are in the marketplace and focused on positive rental experiences, as the three major companies that effectively control the U.S. rental market -- AvisBudget Group (Avis, Budget, and Payless), Enterprise Holdings (Alamo, Enterprise, and National), and Hertz Global Holdings (Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty) need competition.
A Loyalty Program without Points or Credits
Advantage does take some liberties with the Advantage Awards program, creating an offering that has no points and no credits. It takes a while for that concept to sink in -- no points and no credits. Instead, Advantage offers an award of their discretion with each rental and has loyalty program tiers. The loyalty program tiers are the easiest to understand and elite status starts with three rentals in a calendar year.
- Silver elites (3 rentals per year) get the ability to "Skip the pump" once and Advantage will refill the vehicle at local rates.
- Gold elites (5 rentals per year) also get one choice of a GPS device, toll pass, or car seat. AutoSlash frequently reminds users how to avoid GPS and child safety seat fees.
- Platinum elites (7 rentals per year) get the "Skip the pump" award with every rental and (eventually) their own line at the rental car counter. We're not certain why putting up a separate sign requires an "implementation date" -- Advantage seems a bit overly cautious on this project.
So what are the catches? For one, participation in Advantage Awards requires booking directly through the Advantage website. Like other discounters, the companies don't offer incentives if rentals are booked elsewhere -- they don't want price comparisons and don't want to pay commissions to companies like Expedia and Priceline. While Advantage has the easiest to reach elite tiers imaginable, what the AutoSlash team cares about are free days. And after the enrollment award of a free day, it's possible for a customer to never again receive a free day!
How do the Awards Work?
Advantage promises to provide some form of award for each completed rental. Those awards take seven to ten business days to credit to an account and the awards aren't exactly predictable. Why? Advantage (the car company) decides on which award to offer after each rental!
And like other discounters such as ACE, the awards cannot be redeemed at affiliate locations. In order to make redeeming random awards even harder, Advantage doesn't list which locations are corporate-owned and which are affiliates. And when Advantage inevitably offers a "free" upgrade (remember, no upgrade is free) as an award, that redeemed upgrade isn't confirmed unless there's availability when arriving at the lot.
Unlike the major rental car companies, Advantage requires booking directly through their website and offers unpredictable awards that may (or more probably may not) be available when desired. For the renter who searches for the lowest rates and meaningful status that allows skipping lines, selecting their own car, and earning points/credits that can be redeemed for free days at the renter's discretion, consider Advantage if their rates are the cheapest but look away from Advantage Awards when desiring predictable awards.