Are Car Rental Bonuses A Good Value?

There’s an old saying that goes something like “Never leave points and miles on the table”. Well, maybe I just made that up, but it’s important nonetheless. Anytime you spend money or book travel, you should always look to maximize your points and miles accrual. One area where I really struggle is renting cars. An experience last week left me wondering: Are car rental bonuses a good value?

Background: Car Rental Bonuses

Typically a car rental bonus is an opportunity to earns extra points or miles to your favorite airline while renting your car. Most major car rental companies offer some sort of incentive. A good source to see all of these is over at Frequent Flyer Bonuses. A standard deal would be something like earning quadruple American Airlines miles for renting a car at Alamo. Essentially if you spent $100 you could earn 400 AAdvantage miles. It’s not a lot, but better than nothing, right?

Car rentals are usually the last piece to putting a trip together. It’s not something I like to spend a lot of time on like a hotel or flight. This is especially true when I’m booking work travel. Anyway, the last few work trips I decided I’d shoot for a good rental car bonus. I knew that each rental would be over $100, so I could potentially earn a decent amount of miles.

Rental bonuses often have you paying for the extra airline miles. Photo: Heather Charles / Chicago Tribune

Where I’m Having Problems

Earning bonus points and miles is great, but not if I’ve got to pay extra for them. For each rental bonus I went after, the price was easily 10-20% higher than if I’d rented the same car through an OTA like Kayak. It’s not really a bonus if I’ve got to pay for it. Furthermore, many rental bonuses appear to be limited to airport locations which can be problematic for some people.

I tend to view car rentals as a commodity. I usually don’t care what company the car comes from. If it’s the right size and the right price, then I’m in. It doesn’t make sense to me to pay a lot more just to stay loyal to one brand. I know some business travelers have company mandated agencies they need to use. In those cases I suppose the bonuses can come into play. But it just hasn’t worked out for me as a business owner or vacation traveler.

Bottom Line

Maximizing points and miles is important, but so is my time. Unless there’s a can’t miss bonus opportunity, I think I’m done digging around for car rental deals. I’m finding them to be more expensive than OTA’s and a real time drain to put together. What about you, do you typically earn bonuses on car rentals, or prefer to just book the cheapest car available?

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