Burning Poiints

Recently, I was stuck at an airport for a few hours between returning a Jucy camper van and a flight to Portland, Oregon. I had originally thought about redeeming some points for a free award day and exploring the area. The result? A quote of about $20 for a full-size car on an ostensibly "free" day. I headed to the airline lounge instead and had a quiet lunch and changed to an earlier flight instead.

The potential financial cost of redeeming the "free" rental day to drive around Oakland for a few hours had changed my behavior. The rental cost also put a question into my mind -- how bad are the fees on a free rental day at major airport locations? 

When redeeming awards at neighborhood-based locations, we often see rentals that are just pennies. Award days at my local Hertz are 15 cents per day in fees, yet a credit card is still required to rent! Award days at major airports are a far different story!   

Why do Free Days Matter?

The cost of an award redemption matters for multiple reasons:

  • Loyalty programs such as Avis First, Hertz Gold Plus, and National Emerald Club give customers points/credits towards "free" days to build customer loyalty. While we don't expect the rental day to be truly "free," we believe that redeeming your hard-earned points should make your rental affordable!
  • Even when there's no rental rate, various taxes and fees assessed by states, cities, airports, and rental car companies set an absolute floor for a rental rate. AutoSlash can't find you a rate lower than a "free" day's rate. The worst airport offenders on our list below charge more than $20 in fees on a single free day.

What are the Fees On One-Day Rentals

The fees on one-day award rentals are those that are based upon transactions or rental days. So a free day might still be charged fees related to vehicle licensing, energy surcharges, the rental car facility, and the use of the shuttle to and from the rental car facility. Any of those fixed fees will still be charged. However, on an award, the base rate is discounted to zero, which means that the renters on an award day still avoid (in most cases) percentage-based taxes, which are the majority of taxes.

What Taxes Are Removed On Those One-Day Rental Fees

That's a great question. The fees on award days do not have any taxes or fees that are based upon the cost of the rental -- an award day has a base cost of $0. Those concession recovery fees, sales taxes, and various surcharges one sees that are based upon the base rate of the rental? A free day doesn't have any of those yet, as we'll see below, the rental car companies and airport authorities are still going to insist upon some revenue for an award rental day!   

Our Methodology

We selected a date multiple months in the future, then requested quotes for a free day through National's Emerald Club program for that date at the top 50 airports in the United States per traffic. The vehicle requested was always a midsize, as that car classification allows a customer to select any vehicle in the Emerald Aisle (when an airport has that feature).

National's Emerald Club program is more reliable about quoting taxes on award rentals than some other programs (namely, Hertz). Our findings showed a wide discrepancy in the actual cost one's going to pay on a free award rental day based upon airport!

The Results?

Booking an award day at a major airport in the United States? The median fee -- on an award -- was $7.22 per day, where median means that half of the airports had fees above $7 for a day and half of the airports had a fee below $7 for a day. What was the range? Anywhere from a low of 19 cents for a single award day to a high of $20.14 for a single award day.

California's Been Good to Me. Hope it Don't Fall Into the Sea. -- Tom Petty

Redeeming an award day at an airport in California? Don't expect the award day fees to treat you well. Four of the ten airports where a user can expect to pay more than $10 on an award day are located there.

San Francisco International Airport SFO $20.14
Logan International Airport BOS $20.01
George Bush Intercontinental Airport IAH $12.63
O'Hare International Airport ORD $12.49
Kansas City International Airport MCI $12.44
Los Angeles International Airport LAX $11.11
Oakland International Airport OAK $10.99
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport PHX $10.22
San Diego International Airport SAN $10.11
Philadelphia International Airport PHL $10.00

Where are award rentals almost truly costless? Only two airports in the United States offer award rental days at under $1 per day. Surprisingly, those two airports are associated with Washington, D.C. and New York City!

Washington Dulles International Airport IAD $0.19
LaGuardia Airport LGA $0.60

Want to know the full story and how your frequent destinations rank? Here are the top 50 airports by enplanements and the cost of a free rental day at National Car Rental.

Ranking Name Code Cost
1 Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport ATL $7.45
2 Los Angeles International Airport LAX $11.11
3 O'Hare International Airport ORD $12.49
4 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport DFW $9.53
5 John F. Kennedy International Airport JFK $3.10
6 Denver International Airport DEN $4.43
7 San Francisco International Airport SFO $20.14
8 Charlotte Douglas International Airport CLT $5.35
9 McCarran International Airport LAS $5.93
10 Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport PHX $10.22
11 Miami International Airport MIA $8.14
12 George Bush Intercontinental Airport IAH $12.63
13 Seattle–Tacoma International Airport SEA $6.62
14 Orlando International Airport MCO $5.59
15 Newark Liberty International Airport EWR $8.66
16 Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport MSP $7.17
17 Logan International Airport BOS $20.01
18 Detroit Metropolitan Airport DTW $1.99
19 Philadelphia International Airport PHL $10.00
20 LaGuardia Airport LGA $0.60
21 Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport FLL $7.10
22 Baltimore–Washington International Airport BWI $6.83
23 Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport DCA $3.69
24 Midway International Airport MDW $9.24
25 Salt Lake City International Airport SLC $9.53
26 Washington Dulles International Airport IAD $0.19
27 San Diego International Airport SAN $10.11
28 Honolulu International Airport HNL $8.42
29 Tampa International Airport TPA $9.31
30 Portland International Airport PDX $6.65
31 Dallas Love Field DAL $2.19
32 St. Louis International Airport at Lambert Field STL $2.36
33 William P. Hobby Airport HOU $2.29
34 Austin-Bergstrom International Airport AUS $9.13
35 Nashville International Airport BNA $5.12
36 Oakland International Airport OAK $10.99
37 Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport MSY $9.69
38 Kansas City International Airport MCI $12.44
39 Raleigh-Durham International Airport RDU $6.42
40 John Wayne Airport SNA $1.11
41 Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport SJC $8.61
42 Sacramento International Airport SMF $1.11
43 Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport SJU $4.00
44 Southwest Florida International Airport RSW $2.93
45 San Antonio International Airport SAT $8.04
46 Cleveland Hopkins International Airport CLE $9.15
47 Pittsburgh International Airport PIT $7.27
48 Indianapolis International Airport IND $4.95
49 John Glenn Columbus International Airport CMH $7.29
50 General Mitchell International Airport MKE $1.17

Ready to Book Your Next Award Day?

Well, we can't help there but we want you to benefit from them! Use the app or website of your preferred rental program to burn off the points or credits you possess!

Ready to Book Your Next Paid Rental?

We're happy to help on this front! Request a quote below and we'll find you the best, discounted rates on your upcoming rental! The government agencies and rental car companies will still take their share but our goal is to always find you the cheapest rental car that meets your requirements!


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