Bonuses Make Summer Car Rentals a Mileage Bonanza

Over the past few years, earning frequent flyer miles for renting cars has sunk to the bottom of most frequent travelers' priority lists. Compared to the mileage payoff for flying, hotel stays, or retail shopping, the miles earned for car rentals just don't move the needle very much.

In American's AAdvantage program, which is typical, renters earn a paltry 50 miles per day from Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, National, and Thrifty, or one mile for every dollar spent at Hertz. Frequent flyer program participants know they can earn that much for a modest lunch through most programs' dining-for-miles features.

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But while the normal earning rates for rentals are discouragingly meager, there are often better bonuses offered on a promotional basis. And this summer, with the recession still weighing heavily on travel, such special offers are particularly plentiful and generous.

Most of American's rental car partners, for example, are offering AAdvantage members double or triple miles, often in conjunction with discounts.

Elsewhere, Delta SkyMiles members can pick and choose among 10 different rental car promotions, including an opportunity to earn 5,000 miles for Avis rentals of two or more days, through July 31.

And members of Southwest's Rapid Rewards program can earn double or triple credits for multi-day rentals from its rental car partners.

It pays to shop and compare, because the offers differ among programs, even from the same rental company. While it offers 5,000 miles for a two-day rental in Delta's program, as mentioned above, Avis is only offering American AAdvantage members 500 bonus miles, and that's for rentals of three or more days. But the AAdvantage miles come bundled with a discount, and the Delta offer is miles-only.

Bonus miles, discounts, or both—whichever direction they choose, summer travelers are in the driver's seat.

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