When Avis originally launched its motto "We try harder" in 1962, what it really meant was that it tried harder than Hertz, its rival and market leader. Today Avis has ditched the tagline and dropped a peg to the third largest rental car company in the industry. Avis offers a full suite of services primarily aimed at the frequent business traveler.
Avis's loyalty program, Avis Preferred, has two parts: an express rental program that lets you bypass the rental counter and a rewards program to earn free days. It's free to sign up for Avis Preferred, so there's no reason not to.
Having said that, the program is not generous enough on its own to compel you to rent from Avis unless you're getting a great rate. And if you're a value-conscious leisure traveler, you might find that Avis's prices tend to stray on the higher side.
The Pros and Cons of Avis Preferred
The primary benefit of this program is its express service. Once you've signed up for Avis Preferred, you simply find your name on the board and proceed to your car in its assigned parking spot. Drive to the exit gate, flash your license, and you're on the road. In many ways, Avis Preferred works similarly to Hertz Gold Plus Rewards. There are no signatures, credit card swipes, or sales spiels. Some locations will even have a van drop you off right in front of your car.
At smaller locations, the process involves stopping at a rental counter to show your license and retrieve your keys. Depending on the size of the branch, there will either be a dedicated Preferred counter or priority Preferred lines, so waits are rarely too long.
On the downside, unlike Hertz Ultimate Choice and National Emerald Club, Avis Preferred hasn't yet truly embraced the "choose your own car" concept. In contrast, Avis's meager Preferred Select and Go allows you to exchange your assigned midsize-or-larger car for a limited selection of other midsize cars.
Meanwhile, Avis recently revamped and improved its rewards program. Until recently, base members didn't qualify for any rewards, and elite members could only earn certificates towards weekend rentals. Now earning rewards is relatively simple and not unlike some of the other loyalty programs out there:
- You earn one point per dollar spent
- You earn a minimum of 100 points, regardless of how much your rental costs
- Free days start at 700 points
- You earn two points for every dollar spent on optional accessories (satellite radio, GPS, car seats, and roadside assistance services)
- Points are forfeited if the account has no activity in 12 months. Otherwise, points are valid for sixty (60) months from when they were earned.
If you are a frequent renter with Avis, you can snag 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. This lets you earn points faster, since you get a 25-percent bump in points earned (1.25 per dollar on base rate and 2.5 per dollar on accessories). You also are entitled to a complimentary one-class upgrade, when a car is available.
Avis Preferred vs. Hertz Gold Plus Rewards
At first glance, Avis's program appears similar to Hertz Gold Plus Rewards. With both programs, you earn one point per dollar spent and can start redeeming 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 short, cheap weekends that cost less than $50, you'll earn points faster with Avis than with Hertz.
Hertz offers fixed-point redemptions that vary by the size of car and day of the week but do not vary by price. It's great for those times when you need a car but rates are through the roof, such as peak season in tourist destinations, major conventions or sporting events. You can land a top-end vehicle for a relatively reasonable number of points. For example, 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 for a basic midsize car.
In contrast, Avis bases the number of points a free day costs on the price of the rental, so that 700 point redemption is only good if the base rate is $50 or less. For rentals more than $50 up to $85, the required points doubles to 1400, and it goes up from there, topping up at 3,500 points required for a base rate up to $225.
In other words, with Avis, your points become less valuable the higher the rental rate. Avis points might work well for you you earn them on business trips and want to offset your cheap compact or midsize leisure rental, but they're not particularly useful when rates are high or you want to rent something a little roomier or more fun.
It's a little harder to get to Avis Preferred Plus status compared to Hertz's second-tier Five Star status, which only requires seven rentals (or $1,500 spend). However, the 25-percent point bonus you get with Avis Preferred Plus is more generous than Five Star's 10-percent point bonus.
Avis Preferred vs. National Emerald Club
On the surface, Avis Preferred also seems similar to Emerald Club. With both programs, seven one-day rentals would earn you enough credits or points for a free day—although the earning potential goes down significantly if you rent for more than one day at a time. But Avis redemptions require more points for higher base rates, which devalues those points.
In contrast, a free day with National's Emerald Club is a free day, regardless of whether it's a $25-a-day weekend rental or a $250-a-day peak-season splurge. National even allows you to use free days for one-way rentals, which is a great way to use them.
Of course, unless you have elite status with National, you're limited to a midsize car or smaller. 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.
The ease of getting to Avis Preferred Plus is about on par with attaining Emerald Club Executive status, although you can alternatively qualify for Executive status with 40 rental days regardless of the number of rental contracts. For those same 12 rentals, though, National gives you a guaranteed one-class upgrade. Plus, Executive status gives 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 a little faster with Avis Preferred Plus, thanks to the 25-percent point bonus. National's credit-based system works out to effectively only about a 15-percent bonus for Executive members.