Winner: National's Emerald Club
When it comes to travel rewards programs, the frequent-renter schemes of the major car rental companies are 97-pound weaklings compared to the massive, robust loyalty programs of the airlines, or even the more modest frequent-stay programs of the hotels.
That's for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that car rentals account for a much smaller piece of the travel-expense pie than do airline flights or hotel stays.
But for travelers whose focus is on faster service, car choice, discounts, free rentals, or airline miles, there is value to be found in frequent-renter programs, one or more of which feature one or more of those perks.
No program has everything, and some of them have very little at all.
Our Editors' Choice, National's Emerald Club program, has most of the features most likely to be most important to most travelers: free rentals (a free day after seven rentals), elite perks (upgrades, faster free rentals), and expedited rentals (counter bypass at around 56 locations). In addition, and sealing the deal, when renting a mid-sized car, program members have access to the so-called Emerald Club Aisle, a designated area where they may choose any available vehicle.
With Hertz, you'd have to pay a $60 annual fee to join its Hertz #1 Club Gold to receive comparable benefits—but still have no choice of cars.
The Avis Preferred program matches Hertz's, feature for feature, but doesn't charge a membership fee.
Alamo, which is owned by the same company that owns National, also features both expedited rentals and renter's choice as benefits of its Alamo Insiders program, but offers neither free rentals nor elite perks. The program does, however, promise a 10 percent discount over published rates, making this a solid choice for infrequent renters whose focus is more on price than perks.
Budget's Rent More, Save More features counter bypass but, as the name suggests, is otherwise more about discounts than recognition or rewards.
And Dollar's Express Renter Rewards offers members a free day after every 16 paid days, but little else.
For frequent renters who want a full suite of benefits and rewards, National's Emerald Club is the smarter choice.
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