Renting a car is typically the last thing most of us do when booking a trip and typically a 2 door compact from Budget is basically the same if not identical car you will get from National. The cost of a rental can vary between the larger brands, so how do you decide who to rent from? I typically base it on price and convenience, if you rent from an off airport location it’s typically less expensive, but the extra logistics isn’t always worth the cost savings. If you aren’t concerned with brand and are flexible you can get great rates through hotwire.com or priceline.com, but you won’t know the company name until after you pay. You can also use kayak.com to compare rates between the major players as well. Most companies have some sort of discount code at any given time (do a quick google search), check with your big box club (Sam’s/Costco), and check with your employer as most have great discount codes as well.
Below is a list of the well known rental car companies, their loyalty programs, and why you should join even for just occasional travel. These loyalty programs offer varying levels of benefits like express checkout, upgrades, discounts, and the ability to earn credits toward free rentals, but most importantly most of them will save you time. Even if you rent a car just once having a loyalty program membership will speed up your pick up process significantly.
A subsidiary of Enterprise, Alamo Rent A Car targets family and leisure travelers with locations to popular travel destinations throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia. Alamo offers an “Alamo Insider” club (free) and customers receive a guaranteed member discount of five percent off the retail rate. In addition, they offer a “QuickRent” option that allows you to check in online and enter all of your information before you arrive, this allows you to skip the rental counter with more than 171 self-serve kiosks at 63 U.S. locations. In addition Alamo is the official rental car company of Walt Disney World® Resort and Disneyland® Resort.
With over 10,000 rental locations in over 170 countries around the world Avis/Budget is one of the largest car rental companies (possibly tied with Enterprise Holdings). They have locations at most airports throughout North America, Europe and Australia. They are typically very competitive on pricing, Budget is often less than Avis with the same level of service and reliable cars. You can sign up for Avis Preferred or Budget Fastbreak service for free. You create a profile and enter in all of your information like drivers licence, credit card info, and car preferences which are then saved. Why do this? Because you skip the lines! You just waited while the place taxied to the gate, for everyone to get off the place, you wait for your luggage….just to wait in the long rental car line. As a Avis Preferred or Fastbreak customer you typically get to the rental car lot, locate your name on a board and then go directly to your car. No waiting, no sales person trying to up sell you a car, gps, or additional insurance (all your preferences are already noted in your account).
A subsidiary of Hertz, Dollar/Thrifty has more than 1,000 locations in 77 countries and caters to cost-conscious business and leisure travelers. You can sign up for Dollar Express or Thrifty Blue Chip to get express service at the rental counter. Typically your rental agreement is ready at the counter and there is a dedicated line with limited or no waiting (this can vary based on season) and you can earn rewards toward free rentals as well.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car is the largest car rental brand in North America with more than 7,000 neighborhood and airport locations throughout North America and Europe. They are well known for having great customer service and multiple neighborhood locations (including picking up local car rental customers at no extra cost). My personal experience is that Enterprise is usually one of the higher cost options (especially at the airport), they mostly target business travelers, corporate rental programs, and insurance replacement rentals. They do offer Enterprise Plus, which is an expedited loyalty program with different levels of status based on rental history. I typically have only used Enterprise for local or luxury rentals, when at the airport I have always found better rates with Budget or Thrifty.
Hertz is one of the largest worldwide airport car rental companies with more than 1,700 airport locations in the U.S. and more than 1,300 airport locations internationally. Preferred by business travelers but also a good option for families as well with good customer service. With Hertz Gold Rewards (free membership) you receive expedited pick up and return, in most locations you find your name on the board, walk to your space, and drive away!
Another large and well recognized brand (also a subsidiary of Enterprise) with locations in most airports throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia. National was the first to launch the frequent-renter program and Emerald Club members can skip the rental counter as well as National’s “Emerald Aisle,” an exclusive section of the lot where members can select any vehicle as long as they reserve a mid-sized car. You can also sign up to receive EmeraldAlerts – emailed communications that include Arrival and Return Alerts along with eReceipts. My personal experience is that National has great customer service by a little higher overall rental cost.
So when renting a car, remember that the biggest variance is price and service, my preference typically leans to Budget and Hertz. You can have a bad experience with any rental car company at least once, but Budget and Hertz have been consistently good for me.