Avis's long-running corporate motto has been "We Try Harder." Initially, that meant "harder than Hertz," their long-time larger competitor. Nowadays, they're the third largest of the three major rental car companies, but with a large global presence, Avis offers a full suite of services aimed at the frequent business traveler.
Avis's loyalty program, Avis Preferred, is free to sign up for. Like its larger competitors ( Hertz Gold Plus Rewards and National Emerald Club), it has two parts: an express rental program to speed you on your way and a rewards program to earn free days. Let's take a look at what it offers.
Trying Harder To Get You On Your Way?
With an active Preferred profile, you walk up to a board, see your name and assigned parking stall, and proceed directly to your car. Load your bags in and drive to the exit gate; a few moments later, you're on the road. The concept is very similar to Avis's closest competitor, Hertz, and functions more or less the same way. No signatures, credit card swipes, or sales spiels. Some locations will even have the bus drop you off right in front of your car.
Unlike Hertz, Avis hasn't yet truly embraced the "choose your own car" concept pioneered three decades ago by industry leader (and AutoSlash staff favorite) National. Hertz's rollout of their Ultimate Choice concept has been quick and largely successful ; in contrast, Avis's meager Preferred Select and Go offering allows you to exchange your assigned midsize (or larger) car for a limited selection of other midsize cars . If they're thinking about competing with National and Hertz in this space, they aren't showing any signs of it yet.
At smaller locations, the process involves stopping at a rental counter to show your license and retrieve your keys. Depending on the size, these locations will either have dedicated Preferred counters or priority Preferred lines, so waits shouldn't be too long.
Trying Harder To Reward You?
Avis recently revamped their rewards program, and it's at least worth looking at now. (Until recently, base members didn't qualify for any rewards, and elite members could only earn certificates towards weekend rentals.)
The premise is relatively simple and not too different from some of the other rental car rewards systems out there:
- You'll earn 1 point per dollar spent
- You'll earn a minimum of 100 points, regardless of how much your rental costs
- Free days start at 700 points
- Unique to Avis, you'll earn 2 points for every dollar spent on accessories (satellite radio, GPS, car seats, and roadside assistance services)
At first glance, Avis's program appears similar to Hertz. Both earn 1 point per dollar spent and have redemption options starting at a few hundred points. The most important distinction is that Hertz doesn't have a 100-point minimum, and so if most of your rentals are less than $50 (i.e. short, cheap weekend rentals), you'll earn points faster in Avis's program than Hertz's.
Hertz also has fixed-point redemptions that vary by the size of car and day of the week but don't vary by price. In other words, they're great for covering those times you need a car but rates are through the roof (peak season in tourist destinations, major conventions or sporting events, etc.). You can also splurge on a top-end vehicle for a (relatively) reasonable number of points—in fact, a one-week rental of a Corvette Stingray at Orlando that goes for $883 would only run you 8,250 points. That sounds like a lot, but it's only 3 times as many points as a basic midsize car goes for.
In contrast, Avis bases the number of points a free day costs on the price of the rental: that 700 point redemption is only good if the base rate is $50 or less. For rentals more than $50 up to $85, the number of points required doubles to 1400, and it goes up from there, ending up at 3500 points required for a base rate up to $225.
Annoyingly, Avis bucks the travel industry rewards idea that points work well for aspirational redemptions. Whereas you can get an international first-class airline seat that costs 15 times as much as a coach fare for around three times the mileage cost, with Avis, your points become less valuable the higher the rate is. While a $125.01-per-day car is only 2.5 times as expensive as a $50 per day car, Avis would require five times as many points (3500 vs. 700) to redeem for that rental. That same Corvette Hertz would give you for a week for 8,250 points? Avis'll want 24,500 points for that.
So Avis points might work out OK if you earn them on business trips and want to offset your cheap compact or midsize leisure rental, but they're not particularly valuable or useful if prices are high or you want to rent something a little roomier or more fun.
Similarly, on the surface, Avis sounds not too different from National. With both companies, seven one-day rentals will earn you enough credits or points for a free day (though the earning potential goes down significantly if you rent for more than one day at a time). But the fact that Avis charges more points for higher base rates when redeeming significantly harms the value of the points. In contrast, a National free day is a free day regardless—whether the rate is a cheap $25 a day weekend rental or an expensive $250 a day peak-season splurge (or even a one-way rental, which National allows you to use free days for—our favorite way to use them!), your base rate is $0. Of course, with National, you're limited to a midsize car or smaller, unless you have elite status with National, so at least Avis gives you the option to reserve that convertible or luxury car or SUV if you want, even if it's a horrible value for the points.
Trying Harder To Give You Benefits?
Avis rewards its more frequent renters with some additional benefits. If you rent at least 12 times in a calendar year or spend at least $5,000, Avis will bump you up to Preferred Plus status. Preferred Plus comes with a couple of notable benefits:
- A 25% bump in points earned (1.25 per dollar on base rate and 2.5 per dollar on accessories)
- A complimentary space-available one-class upgrade
Avis's requirement of 12 rentals (or $5,000 spend) is a little stricter than Hertz's second-tier Five Star status, which only requires 7 rentals (or $1,500 spend). However, Preferred Plus's 25% point bonus is more generous than Five Star's 10% point bonus. Also, the Hertz free space-available vehicle upgrade benefit is only good up to a fullsize car, whereas Avis only restricts Signature Series cars, so theoretically, you can go from a small SUV to a larger SUV or a premium car to a luxury car, though we wouldn't hold our breath that such upgrades will ever be "available." That said, the Five Star selection at Hertz Ultimate Choice locations can be fruitful if you're looking for something a little better than a typical midsize car.
Avis's requirement of 12 rentals is on par with National's requirement for Emerald Club Executive status, though National also allows you to qualify for Executive status with 40 rental days (regardless of the number of rental contracts involved). For those same 12 rentals, though, National gives you a guaranteed one-class upgrade. It works slightly differently than Avis's upgrade (you actually confirm the larger car when reserving and then National bills you for one class smaller, and it doesn't work on a midsize or smaller car), but we find the implementation much more consistent. Plus, Executive status gets you access to the Executive Selection at most mid-size and larger airports, which is often stocked with much nicer vehicles for the price of a midsize. On the other hand, you'll actually earn a free day (even if it's not worth as much) a little faster with Avis, thanks to the 25% point bonus—National's credit-based system works out to effectively only about a 15% bonus for Executive members.
Both Hertz and National have something that Avis lacks, though: higher statuses. If you manage to surpass 25 rentals (or $7,000 spend) in a calendar year, Avis gives you a bigger point bonus of 50% (1.5 points per dollar spent on base rate and 3 points per dollar spent on accessories), but you don't get any extra benefits.
However, saying that Avis doesn't have higher statuses isn't entirely accurate: Avis does have two higher levels, President's Club and Chairman's Club, but the terms and conditions of the program states that they're only available by invitation and don't have any published qualification criteria. On the other hand, Hertz will give you their third-tier President's Circle status for the same 12 rentals (or $4,000 spend) per year, and that comes with a guaranteed upgrade, a 25% point bonus, a guaranteed car even in sold-out situations, and access to the President's Circle selection at Ultimate Choice locations, which works similarly to National's Executive Selection. National's requirements are a little stiffer, but 25 rentals (or 85 rental days) in a year will get you Emerald Club Executive Elite status, which gets you a few nice benefits plus an effective 30% bonus on credits earned per rental.
That said, if you do qualify for President's Club (either by virtue of corporate contracts or an ultra-high-end credit card), you can look forward to a two-class upgrade on any reservations. Chairman's Club (a truly exclusive status available only by corporate contract or memberships out of the reach of mere mortals) comes with a host of extra benefits (best car on the lot on a midsize reservation, a guaranteed car even in oversold situations even if you don't have a reservation, a free ride to the terminal curbside when returning, free delivery of the car within 25 miles of the Avis location, refueling the car at street price, and other high-touch, high-value services), but if you're reading this article, chances aren't high it'll apply to you. (Hertz and National both offer similar invite-only VIP statuses with similar benefits, too.)
In the 2017 J.D. Power and Associates rental car study , Avis lagged behind its chief competitors, Hertz and National, in all seven categories, as well as value brand Alamo (though we wonder how they scored lower than Enterprise in the "Shuttle Bus/Van" category, given Avis is usually on-airport and Enterprise is often off-airport). It did score higher than value brands Budget, Dollar, and Thrifty, which typically offer a less comprehensive experience and also have slightly looser standards on things like shuttle bus frequency and car cleanliness.
We've written about the problems we have with the J.D. Power ratings and have come up with our own ratings scale (subjective but based on real experience from frequent travelers who rent dozens of cars a year).
Regardless, compared to the other premium-market brands, however, it seems that Avis's hardest might not quite be good enough.
If you ever plan on renting from Avis, there's no reason not to join Avis Preferred. The few minutes you'll spend up front getting your account set up could save you many more minutes in line at the counter. And even if you don't plan to rent enough to get a free day, you never know when your situation might change, so there's no downside to earning them just in case.
The question, then, is whether Avis Preferred is worth going out of your way for. Compared to National, with its lucrative free day redemptions and Emerald Aisle access, we don't think so. Avis stacks up slightly better against Hertz, but Hertz's fixed-point redemptions make it easier to maximize the value of your points, and their new Ultimate Choice offering makes it easier to drive a car you'll enjoy driving. Plus, if you plan on renting a few times this year, Hertz makes it easier to get elite status to earn even more points and choose even nicer cars.
The main reason to pursue points and status in Avis's program is if you have another reason to choose Avis, such as working for a company who has a contract with Avis.
Also, if you're a value-conscious leisure traveler, you might find Avis's prices tend to stray on the higher side. On the premium end of the market, we'd recommend Hertz over Avis or, even better, National (with its choose-your-own-car concept), but if price is a concern, we don't find the slightly quicker service worth much of a premium price over some of the value brands.