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How to rent a car with points and miles

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Many people are now very excited to travel again after the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have been lifted. However, renting a car has been a frustrating experience since the pandemic began.

The rental car industry suffered a significant blow in 2020 due to reduced travel. Companies such as Hertz were compelled to declare bankruptcy (although they have since recovered), while others had to dispose of numerous vehicles from their fleets. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a decline in car rental availability and an increase in prices for travelers.

I typically do not advise using rewards for rental car bookings since you can usually find a rental car deal through websites like AutoSlash, Hotwire, Kayak, or Priceline, even if you are not particular about the rental company. However, if these deals are not available, here is some information you should be aware of when booking a car rental using miles or points.

How to book a car rental with miles or points

Airline miles and points

Most airlines offer a frequent flyer program that allows you to use your accumulated points or miles to book rental cars. However, the value of these miles, when redeemed for rental car bookings, is usually not as good as when you use them to book flights. Nevertheless, it’s still an option to consider, especially if you have more miles than you can use for flights through a co-branded airline credit card.

Flexible credit card rewards

If you possess a flexible credit card rewards program, such as American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can reserve a rental car through the travel portal. Similar to booking a hotel or flight, the cost of the rental will determine the redemption value. However, it may differ based on the rewards redemption value of your specific card.

Car rental loyalty programs

If you often rent cars from major car rental companies such as Hertz, Avis, or National, it’s advisable to participate in the rental company’s loyalty program to earn rewards. These loyalty programs are similar to airline or hotel loyalty programs and are free to join. By enrolling in the Avis Preferred program, for instance, you’ll earn 1 point per dollar spent on rentals (with a minimum of 100 points per booking), which you can later redeem for free rental days starting at 700 points.

Do you have car rental rewards? Now is a great time to use them. Don’t have a loyalty account? It’s a good idea to join because you can earn rewards if you pay for a car rental.

When should you rent a car with points or miles?

For rewards collectors who aim for the highest value when redeeming rewards, car rental redemptions may not be the best option. This is because rental redemption rates are typically tied to rental prices, so if the prices are high, the amount of rewards required will also be high.

However, it’s important to note that value isn’t always determined solely by the numerical value. In situations where you urgently need a car rental but can’t afford to pay the high rental rates, using points or miles for a car rental can still be a wise decision and provide good value for you.

Tips for booking a car rental with points and miles

To ensure you book a car for your upcoming travels without any hassle, it’s best to make your reservations early. If you decide to rent a car, you’ll likely not have to pay a deposit, and many rental companies have flexible cancellation policies in place.

It is a good idea to book a paid reservation well in advance and later make changes or cancel it once you have your flights and accommodation confirmed. However, if you are booking with points or miles, be aware of the rules of your rewards program, as some of them may not reinstate your rewards if you need to cancel your rental.

If you plan to use rental car coverage offered by your credit card, make sure to review the rules to see if it provides primary or secondary coverage. Keep in mind that most cards only offer this insurance if you pay for the rental using that specific credit card. It’s a good idea to research your credit card benefits beforehand.

The bottom line

If the price of renting a car is high, you should think about making the booking with your accumulated points or miles. Even though using credit card rewards is not the most advantageous way to redeem your points and miles, it can be beneficial if it helps you pay for your rental and allows you to go on your trip.

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