Triple-dipping to get the most car hire benefits ↦If you take enough holidays there is all likelihood that at some point you'll need to hire a car. For some travellers it will be more frequent than others. Even those needing frequent use of cars for travel will be wondering about the best loyalty strategy for making the most out of car hire.
Firstly we will start with the car rental companies own loyalty programs. The simple upshot is many programs are difficult to evaluate and unless you are a heavy user of rental cars, the basic outcome is that you should choose based on price and location first, regardless of the company providing the cars. This is best demonstrated by Avis Preferred program. Avis says you'll earn one point per dollar spent. Notably, this excludes a number of charges such as insurance. So far, so good. However when it comes to redeeming, the pricing system is dynamic. In other words, you won't know how much a redemption will cost until you try to redeem the points for a specific award. Your reward for loyalty is unknown, hence why it is better to go for price and frequent flyer points across all car rental companies and not be loyal.
Your first step is to find the best price for car hire. This is where a site like Expedia.com.au can come in handy for planning purposes. If you are wanting to make use of the Expedia points program, this can add some benefit. In this case, you'll earn two Expedia points per dollar spent on car hire which values the rewards at around 1.42cents per dollar spent (Expedia points are worth 0.71cents when you redeem them for vouchers). Unless Expedia is the cheapest option, this is a comparatively poor outcome in terms of value for loyalty benefits on Expedia. Also, not all car rentals earn points and there are some other pitfalls with the program, as we discussed in the guide Is the Expedia rewards program worth joining?. There are also plenty of car hire comparison sites out there, so these can help find the best car hire option.
Next up, check the rates on the major Australian airline sites or Qantas and Virgin. Both can show cheap rates and both have offers with their partners. For the latest offers at Virgin, see here or for Qantas see here
Once you find the cheapest car hire option, the next step is to extract loyalty points and benefits from the rental. This can be frequent flyer points or cash back rewards. Depending on what you prefer, you can also get a mix of both. It is important that you properly value any rewards you may earn. There is not much point paying more for care hire, if the rewards you earn are less than the amount extra you are paying. A handy guide is to value frequent flyer points at 1 cent each.
For Australians, Virgin has deals with Thrifty, Europcar and Hertz. Qantas has Avis, Budget, Hertz and Thrifty. However, only Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty earn 3 virgin frequent flyer points and over at Qantas, Avis and Budget are the exclusive points earners at 4 points per dollar. Hertz and Thrifty are the odd ones here. You can book through Qantas and get access to price offers, but Qantas is not an airline partner, therefore no points. For Australians, Virgin is the next best option for Hertz and Thrifty, but they earn only 3 points per dollar. Be aware that international car hire may earn points at a flat rate, which gives you an advantage if the car rental is very short, but disadvantages you for longer periods.
In addition, points are calculated on 'time and kilometres', so extra charges are not counted towards earning points. This may shave down the earn rate down from 4 points per dollar spent via Qantas to 3.5 points per total dollars spent and 2.5 for Virgin. The exact earn rate will vary slightly, depending on your specific car hire booking. For the ease of calculations, we will assume you are earning the full 4 (Qantas) or 3 (Virgin) points per dollar.
The triple-dip: option 1
For car hire in Australia, there are two ways you can triple-dip. The first is Qantas Business Rewards (QBR). To join this program you need an ABN. Plus you can only transfer once your QBR points balance reaches 3,000. On car rental you'll earn 4 Qantas points per dollar spent at QBR. This is on top of the 4 points per dollar you earn at the normal Qantas site. For Australian car hire, this brings the haul to 8 points per dollar. If the Qantas car rental price is the same price as elsewhere, it will bring a decent windfall of points as a bonus. One thing you'll need to watch is that the QBR bonus only applies to Budget and Avis. Thrifty and Hertz do not qualify. The third part of the dip is to use a points earning credit card, so now you have QBR, Qantas points and credit card points.
The triple-dip: option 2
Using Cashrewards is especially useful if booking directly on the car rental site is the cheapest option. Both Avis and Budget allow you to earn four Qantas frequent flyer points per dollar when booking directly with them (but you won't receive QBR points doing it this way).
With Cashrewards, you'll get 5-6% cash back. An important caveat is that the base rate is used for cashback, and excludes extra charges, tax, kilometre charge and the like. This result in the effective cash back per dollar spent closer to 4%. In total, this will earn 4 points per dollar spent and 4% cash back.
Cashrewards is a site where they earn commission on sales directed through their site. The advantage for using them is they share some of that commission back with you. The prices you pay at car hire site are still the same if you go through by clicking Cashrewards. Simply log into Cashrewards before going to the rental site, or signup here to gain a free $5 credit , and search for your preferred car hire company. Hertz is not as generous and the cashback is around half Avis or Budget. When booking at Budget or Avis after clicking through Cashrewards, keep an eye out for the section where you enter your frequent flyer number.
As mentioned in the section above, a credit card that earns reward points will complete the triple-dip.
There are a lot of options to consider. To simplify, this table will let you see the best loyalty offers side-by-side, which you'll need to compare to the prices offered on the various sites. To keep it easy, we are using a total car hire fee of $100 within Australia and assume all sites are showing the same price (which is unlikely). The effective rate is calculated on the assumption that frequent flyer points are valued at one cent, 0.7cents for Expedia, and that you can earn enough points to eventually obtain a reward. QBR is Qantas Business Rewards. The table is ranked from worst to best and none of the rates include the extra points you'll receive from using a rewards-earning credit card. Nor do the points account for fact they will be slightly less due to some variable charges not eligible to earn points.