For many of us, the only time in the whole year when we may find ourselves looking to hire a car is on holiday.
If you are spending your own money on car hire, you shouldn’t be blinded by the miles opportunities. There are plenty of low-cost consolidators like easyCar who are used by the big car hire groups to shift their spare capacity without having to publicly lower their prices.
However, if location is important (eg you want a supplier who is definitely in your airport rather than a long shuttle bus away) then you need to book direct. Direct booking also lets you book flexible rates, makes it easier to guarantees extras like baby seats and may even be cheaper, especially when factoring in the value of the miles. Always look at TopCashback before booking a car, as pretty much everyone – big names and consolidators – offers rebates through them.
The best mileage rates
Avis is the official partner of BAEC, and even has its own website at avisba.com. The rate is 3 Avios per £1 spent, with a minimum of 500. If you rent for three days, the minimum goes up to 700 Avios.
BAEC members also get a free second driver, which can be a valuable benefit, and there are a further 250 Avios to be had if you pay with the British Airways American Express credit card. If you do four rentals in a year, you also get a further 750 Avios. Avis is the only official BA and avios.com car earning partner.
There are also earning options via Iberia Plus with the opportunity to move your Iberia Avios to BAEC via ‘Combine My Avios’ subject to the usual conditions.
The Iberia earning structure is based on PER DAY earnings, which can make it more attractive than BAEC for rentals of two days or more. Iberia partners with Europcar, Hertz, Sixt and Avis. It is also now a partner with Budget although it does not appear on the main menu page – see here for details.
Avis earns 300 per day outside Spain (270+ in Spain) and there is a double Avios promotion running during August 2014. Via Iberia, Europcar, Enterprise and Hertz offer 300+ per day based on car size. Standard rates with Sixt are 150-400 Avios per day with a maximum of four days.
As you can see, Iberia offers the only way to earn Avios from Hertz, Sixt, Budget or Europcar and may be a better deal on Avis than British Airways Executive Club for longer or relatively cheap rentals.
Other airmiles car rental options
Outside of Avios, pretty much every major airline has some sort of car rental tie-up. It is worth doing a quick scout around before each rental to see if there are any generous promotions available.
Virgin partners with Avis, Alamo, Hertz and Sixt (see here) – the Hertz deal is particularly attractive at 1,100 miles per rental, with Avis and Alamo offering 1,000 miles.
Miles & More also has a large list of partners (see here) – Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt.
In all cases, be aware that you can usually separate out:
The discount code you are entitled to use as a member of that frequent flyer scheme, and
The miles you can earn as a member of that frequent flyer scheme
In theory, nothing stops you booking a car using (for eg) the Virgin Atlantic discount code for Avis and then crediting the stay to a BAEC account, should that prove to be the most attractive option.
Don’t forget hotel chain promotions
It is not only the airlines that offer bonus points for booking a car via their partners. The hotel loyalty programmes have also got in on the act. In general the points earned aren’t worth as much as the equivalent airline miles, but do check.
Club Carlson – Avis, Alamo, National, Budget, Enterprise, Sixt
(Club Carlson is running a very aggressive promotion with Budget for 3+ day rentals until the end of 2014 – see here)
Hyatt Gold Passport – Avis
Marriott Rewards – Hertz
Hilton HHonors – Alamo, Avis, Budget, Europcar, National, Sixt, Thrifty
Starwood – Avis, Sixt
IHG Rewards Club – Avis, Budget, Hertz
And don’t forget Hertz Gold Plus Rewards
Hertz also has its own reward programme, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, which I reviewed here. The key thing to note now, though, is that you can usually earn points in Hertz Gold Plus Rewards even if the corporate rate or discount code you are using is not eligible for airline miles.
As well as the usual free rental days, Hertz points can also be redeemed for IHG Rewards Club and Marriott Rewards points, as well as miles with some North American airlines.