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Spend enough years as a travel rewards geek, and you can almost book free flights and hotel stays in your sleep. But these days, rental cars can be one of the largest expenses 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 cars while attempting to avoid bankruptcy. And prices are surging as rental-car services still haven’t been able to replace their cars quickly enough to meet the growing post-pandemic demand.

Thankfully, I've learned a few tricks along the way. Here's how to get discounted or free rental cars, including by redeeming credit rewards and finding special discounts.

Rental Car Discount Tips How to Get Free or Discounted Car Rentals

If you know where to look, you'll never pay full price again

  1. 1

    Book Through a Travel or Airline Portal

    A great travel card will often let you book a rental car right in your favorite travel or airline portal with your rewards points.

  2. 2

    Get a Credit Card With Travel Statement Credits

    Statement credits can be a super easy way to pay for a car rental. If you've already got miles or points racked up on an existing card, even easier.

  3. 3

    Sign Up for a Loyalty Program

    If you've got a favorite rental car company (or could become a fan with the right incentive) sign up for its rewards program to earn rewards toward discounted or free rental cars.

  4. 4

    Use Corporate or Alumni Codes

    Check with your employer or college to see what perks are at your disposal—car rental promo codes could be among them.

  5. 5

    Take Advantage of AAA Discounts

    AAA members have access to several car rental discounts at popular companies like Hertz.

  6. 6

    Check Out Car-Sharing Services

    Car-sharing services let you book a vehicle online directly from a car owner based on your needs—like the dates you're traveling and type of car you want.

  7. 7

    Look for Military Discounts

    Current and former members of the military can find discounts on lots of products, and rental cars are no exception.

1. Book Through a Travel or Airline Portal

One easy 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.

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.49% - 28.49% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95
  • 60,000 60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,380 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the gold standards for earning travel rewards. It has a generous sign-up bonus and you can earn points on travel and dining expenses. The card does have an annual fee, but you can continue earning points through bonus categories and an anniversary points boost.


The Chase Sapphire Preferred is pretty flexible as it lets you transfer rewards points into miles or points several airlines and hotel programs. You can take advantage of strong transfer partners such as United, Southwest, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Hyatt. Similarly, you can book any reservation you want through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. Although the card might not be ideal for the most frequent travelers, it has a built-in upgrade path, so when it’s time to level up your travel rewards game, you won’t have to start from scratch.


  • Points are easily transferable to airlines and hotel partners
  • Accelerated earnings on dining, travel & household purchases
  • Excellent travel and purchase protections
  • No foreign transaction fees


  • Not ideal for the highest spenders
  • $95 annual fee

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.

Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 4.5/5 How our ratings work Read the review
  • APR21.24% - 26.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95
  • 100,000 100,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 in the first three months Dollar Equivalent: $2,300 (100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * 0.023 base)

Those with travel and advertising expenses will like the high earning rates in these categories, plus cardholders can eke out even more value with fully transferable rewards through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. One drawback is the modest annual fee, though many can offset this with the card’s earning potential.


This card offers a whopping 100,000 bonus points after you spend $8,000 in the first three months — with the card’s 25% bonus on travel booked through Chase, that’s worth $1,250. But you could potentially get more through one of the bank’s transfer partners. The rewards you earn from the Ink Business Preferred Card can be transferred to 10 different airline partners including United, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore and British Airways, as well as hotel partners Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott.

Unlike the other two Ink Business cards, you can use this card to transfer your rewards directly to airline miles and hotel points. Travelers may also like this card’s cellphone protection policy that will cover up to $600 per claim.


  • 3x points on 5 different categories (up to $150,000)
  • Robust travel, purchase and cellphone protections
  • Ability to earn transferable points to use on travel partners
  • No additional charge for extra cards for additional authorized users


  • $95 annual fee
  • Businesses that don't spend on the category bonuses won't benefit

Chase Ink Business Preferred® cardholders can do the same. And if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you’ll receive 1.5 cents in value per point redeemed toward rental cars and other travel reservations. So if your rental car or other travel reservation costs $150, 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.

2. Get a Credit Card With Travel Statement Credits

Another great way to use points and miles to pay for your rental car is to use a travel credit card, including one that offers statement credits toward travel purchases. The leading card in this field is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. This card offers double miles on all purchases, and its miles are worth 1 cent each as statement credits toward a variety of travel purchases, including rental cars. What's more, you can earn 5 miles per dollar on all rental car and hotel purchases that you make with the card through Capital One Travel.

Other benefits of the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card include a $100 credit toward 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.

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.

3. Sign Up for a Loyalty Program

You may want to join a rental car company’s loyalty program to earn rewards 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 in my experience because it offers points based on the number of times you rent a car. 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 rent a midsize or other inexpensive cars.

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.

You can also occasionally find Hertz points sold during the U.S. Travel Association’s Daily Getaways online promotion. And while this can be an excellent value, these points sell fast. The program was on hiatus during the height of the pandemic but is returning in 2023, so it's worth checking out if it will be offering Hertz points again. Also note that Hertz significantly devalued their program within the last few years, but I feel it’s still a program worth using.

4. Use Corporate or Alumni Codes

Depending on your situation, you may be able to take advantage of a discount code through your job or college. Many employers, especially at larger companies, offer discounts to staff on services like car rentals, phone plans and more. Check your discount portal to see if there are any offers or ask your human resources team if you’re not sure. Some government employees and private sector staff are also eligible for discounts or free rental cars if they’re on official business for their jobs.

Quick Tip

Many schools offer alumni discounts and other perks, and car rentals are often among them. Contact your college or university or search its website to find out if you can snag a deal.

5. Take Advantage of AAA Discounts

If you’re a member of AAA, you may have some lucrative discounts at your fingertips already. The auto club offers deals with multiple rental car companies. For example, AAA members get a percent off car rentals at Hertz, Thrifty and Dollar Car Rental. You could potentially save up to 20% on a rental through AAA.

6. Check Out Car-Sharing Services

A rise in car-sharing services have made renting a vehicle cheaper in some situations. Turo, for example, is a little bit like Airbnb, but for cars. This peer-to-peer car-sharing service pairs automobile owners with drivers looking for short-term use of a car. Hosts can list their vehicles, and drivers can search based on their dates and other needs to find and rent the right car. In many cases, Turo is cheaper than traditional rental car companies, and it boasts free cancellations up to 24 hours before your reservation, so if you find a cheaper option, you’re not out any money.

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7. Look for Military Discounts

If you’re a member of other organizations, look into any perks or promo codes they offer. For example, military service people can sign up on to access a range of deals, including discounts on rental cars through Hertz, Enterprise and others. You may also be able to get a discount directly through some of the big car rental companies by letting them know you are an active member of the military. Check with their customer service and shop around before you reserve a car so you can find the best deal for your situation.

Bottom Line

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—or get a discount—instead of paying full price. By examining all of your options, you might be able to get the wheels you need without feeling like you’re being taken for a ride.


Jason Steele

Jason Steele is a journalist who specializes in covering credit cards, award travel and other areas of personal finance. As one of the nation’s leading experts in the credit card industry, Jason’s work has been featured at mainstream outlets such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money and Business Insider.