Car rental companies are a bit of a red-headed stepchild of the loyalty program world, in part because the programs run by those companies tend to be pretty miserable. Also miserable is the 50 miles often offered by car rental companies if you want to credit the rental to your favorite airline frequent flyer program.
But there are some better options out there, and I thought it was worth pointing those out.
HERTZ: Each rental earns 1,000 miles (1,100 miles if you’re a #1 Club Gold member) on Virgin Atlantic. Why would you credit miles to Virgin Atlantic? Primarily if you are planning a trip to Hawaii, as they only require 6,000 miles for a inter-island round trip on Hawaiian. Also, if you rent a few times a year, you may find yourself with the 40,000 miles necessary for a roundtrip ticket to London (plus annoying fuel surcharges, of course). If that holds no appeal to you whatsoever, feel free to credit the rental to Southwest Rapid Rewards, where you’ll earn 600 points per rental, roughly equal to $10 in airfare. Rent for 3+ days and you’ll get double points (details here).
AVIS: If you rent for 3 days or more, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better deal than the 3,000 bonus miles you’ll earn when you credit the rental to US Airways (details here). For shorter rentals, again that 600 points from Southwest Airlines (details here) is a good deal.
For rentals through December 31st, Carlson Hotels (that’s Radisson, Country Inn & Suites, Park Inn and others), is offering 5,000 points for a 2-day rental and 9,000 points for a 3+ day rental (details here). 9,000 points gets you a free night at a low-level hotel.
BUDGET: Ah, Southwest. 600 Rapid Rewards points for 1-2 day rentals, 1200 for 3-4 day, and 1800 points for 5+ day rentals. Details here. 1800 points is worth roughly $30 in airfare.
Through December 31st, Carlson is offering the same deal as they have with Avis: a 2-day rental gets you 5,000 points and 3-day rental gets you 9,000 points. Details here.
NATIONAL: Through December 31st, get 1,000 bonus miles with Continental/United when you book a 3-day rental (details here).
DOLLAR/THRIFTY: 600 Rapid Rewards points for a 1-2 day rental. Through December 15th, get double points for a 3+ day rental (details here). If you really don’t like Southwest, a 3-day rental will get you 1,000 bonus miles with Continental/United (details here).
Any I’ve missed?