This is the final part of our ‘Holiday Tips’ series which I have updated and re-run this week in preparation for the Summer season.
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 or Holiday Autos 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.
How to earn Avios from car rentals
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.
Until the end of 2014, you had substantially more partner opportunities with Iberia Plus. That is now over. They have dropped their partnerhips with Europcar, Hertz and Sixt. The only remaining earning options via Iberia Plus are with Avis and their sister company Budget. This is your only option to earn Avios from Budget.
The earning rate at Avis has been brought into line with the BA offer. Iberia was previously more generous for longer rentals as you got 300 Avios per day.
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.
Miles & More also has a large list of partners (see here) – Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt.
Etihad Guest has a number of partners including a double miles promotion with Hertz, worth at least 1,000 miles per rental, until the end of August.
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.
Remember that crediting a rental to a hotel scheme may help delay the expiry of your hotel points.
Club Carlson – Avis, Alamo, National, Budget, Enterprise, Sixt
(Club Carlson is running a very aggressive promotion with Avis for 3+ day rentals until the end of 2015 – see here. This offer may be more attractive than taking Avios depending on the length and cost of your rental.)
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.
Finally …. a word on car hire insurance
Car hire insurance is generally more expensive than the basic cost of the rental itself. Separating the insurance from the rental can often lead to significant savings.
American Express Platinum comes with full car hire insurance coverage and, for a regular renter, is an attractive deal. You do not need to pay for your car hire on your Amex card and there is no small print. You can decline all insurance options safe in the knowledge that American Express will pay if necessary.
There are also various independent companies selling car hire insurance, of which insurance4carhire is probably the best known. This is likely to be substantially cheaper.
One issue you have, when you have arranged separate insurance, is getting your rental to price without any coverage. The rental company websites often add coverage by default. One possible way around this is to book from the US website of a major rental group – the US ‘norm’ is to show base prices with minimal coverage, which is exactly what you need in this scenario.
One word of warning. If you do use Amex Platinum or a third party such as insurance4carhire.com, be prepared to be asked for a substantial credit card authorisation to be taken when you collect the car. It is impossible for the rental company to verify your insurance cover, whatever paperwork you show them, so you may be asked for an authorisation (NOT a charge, just an authorisation) of a few thousand pounds on your card.