Spend enough years as a travel rewards geek, and you can almost book free flights and hotel stays in your sleep. But especially in 2021, rental cars can be one of the largest expenses that you’ll have to worry about on your next vacation. That’s because during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rental car industry spent 2020 selling off their cars while attempting to avoid bankruptcy. And prices are surging as rental-car services haven’t been able to replace their cars quickly enough to meet the growing post-pandemic demand.
Thankfully, there are a few tricks that I’ve learned for redeeming my credit rewards for car rentals.
Use Credit Cards That Offer Travel Statement Credits
The easiest way to use points and miles to pay for your rental car is to use a credit card that offers statement credits towards travel purchases. The leading card in this field is the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. The Venture Card offers double miles on all purchases, and its miles are worth one cent each as statement credits towards a variety of travel purchases, including rental cars.
The current offer for this credit card allows you to earn 100,000 bonus miles, worth a minimum of $1,000, when you spend $20,000 within the first 12 months of account opening. Or, you can still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. Other benefits of the Venture Card include a $100 credit towards the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, and the ability to transfer rewards to airline miles or hotel points. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card.
Another card with a similar offer is the Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card, which offers 1.5 points per dollar spent on all purchases. Points are worth one cent each as statement credits towards travel and dining purchases, including rental cars. New applicants can earn 25,000 bonus points, worth $250, after spending $1,000 in purchases within 90 days of account opening. But unlike the Venture, there’s no annual fee for this credit card.
Similarly, the Discover it Miles card offers 1.5 Miles per dollar spent on all purchases and will match the miles you earn during your account’s first year. Miles can be redeemed for travel statement credits, cash back or other options. There’s no annual fee for this credit card either.
Consider Credit Cards That Let You Directly Book Rental Cars With Your Rewards
Another way to pay for your rental car with credit card rewards is to use a card that allows you to redeem your points directly for travel.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card lets you book rental cars through the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center, which is powered by Expedia. The rates are fairly low, and you get 1.25 cents in value per point redeemed.
Chase Ink Business Preferred® cardholders can do the same. And if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, then you’ll receive 1.5 cents in value per point redeemed towards rental cars and other travel reservations. So if your rental car, or other travel reservation costs $150, then you’d only need to redeem 10,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points from your Sapphire Reserve account, or 12,000 points from your Sapphire Preferred or Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card.
Save Money on Rental Cars By Using Loyalty Programs
You always want to join the rental car company’s loyalty program and earn rewards that you can redeem later to help pay for a rental. Of all the rental car loyalty programs, my favorites are National and Hertz.
National is great because it offers points based on the number of times you rent a car. So this is ideal for those who rent often for shorter periods of time, rather than those who occasionally rent vehicles for many days at a time. It also makes sense for those who just rent a midsize or other inexpensive cars.
Another value National offers is its One Two Free promotion that it has done every fall for many years. This promotion gives you a free rental day for every two cars you rent.
Similarly, Hertz has a decent loyalty program that rewards you based on the amount you spend. So it’s often a better program than National for those who rent expensive vehicles and for those who rent for longer durations.
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Additionally, there are two other ways that you can earn Hertz points. The first is by taking eRewards surveys, which is time consuming, but earns rewards that can be redeemed for Hertz points. You can redeem eRewards points for other things, but the Hertz option appears to be the most valuable.
Also, you can occasionally find Hertz points sold during the US Travel Association’s Daily Getaways online promotion. And while this can be an excellent value, these points sell fast, and this event wasn’t even held in 2020. However, there’s been some indication that the Daily Getaways promotion might return in 2021, so keep your eyes out for it. Also note that Hertz significantly devalued their program within the last two years, but I feel it’s still a program worth using.
Some people have called 2021 the year of the rental-car apocalypse and for good reason. With many rentals selling for two to three times what we used to pay, now is the best time to look for ways to redeem your points and miles instead of spending your cash. By examining all of these ways to use credit card rewards and other points to pay for your car rentals, you might be able to get the wheels you need without feeling like you’re being taken for a ride.