Best Credit Cards for Rental Car Rewards

January 14, 2011

The best credit cards for car rentals combine some or all the travel perks of car rental deals, rental rewards, and rental car coverage.  The infamous rental car insurance episode on Seinfeld wouldn’t be so funny in real life – so here are some things to consider when searching for the best rental car credit card for your trip.

Car Rental Deals

Saving money is always important when you’re traveling so one thing to look for in a credit card is whether it can score you any car rental discounts.  For example, the Blue Savings Program from American Express offers deals when you use your Blue CashBlue Sky, or AmEx Blue card to rent a car:

  • 5% off on an Enterprise rental
  • $20 credit after $200 in Enterprise rentals
  • Up to 25% off Alamo rental

Other credit cards may send you periodic car rental coupons for certain companies like Alamo and Avis – my Bank of America Visa offers a regular discount at Hertz.

Rental Car Coupons

If you’ll be hauling around a bunch of people or stuff and need a bigger car you can also save money on upgrades.  Another example in the Blue Savings program, you get a rental car coupon code for a free upgrade at Hertz or with Alamo.

Car Rental Rewards

In addition to discounts, you might also be able to earn rewards points or use them to help pay for your rental car.

Earning Points

The Marriott Rewards card gives you 2 points for each dollar you spend on rental car purchases – and with Hilton HHonors cards you earn 250 Hilton Honors points with each car rental at one of their partners (Alamo, Avis, Budget, National, Sixt, & Thrifty).

Rental Car Credit Cards

If you use an American Express card that participates in the Membership Rewards program, such as the American Express Gold Card or ZYNC from American Express you can earn double Membership Rewards Points when you book through the AmEx travel site.

You can also earn rewards points (or Starpoints) on the Starwood Preferred Guest card when you get your rental car from Avis.  If you’re a preferred guest member and you use the Avis Worldwide Discount (AWD) code of K817200, you’ll also get a $50 discount on the car rental.

Redeeming Points

Some rewards credit cards let you use your points when you’re renting a car to help you get a discounted or free car rental.  If you don’t want to go through your credit card company to book your travel, another alternative is to turn in your rewards for gift cards.

Rental Car Credit Cards

If you use any of the Citibank cards in the ThankYou Rewards program, like Citi ThankYou Premier or Citi Forward, you can redeem ThankYou points for gift cards at car rental companies.

Discover also lets you turn in your rewards for gift cards at Alamo, Enterprise, and National.  If you use the Discover card and redeem your cashback earnings for a gift card, Discover will give you double the value of your rewards on the gift card.

Rental Car Insurance

Rental Car Insurance

The terms and conditions of credit card rental insurance vary based on the card you use so make sure you understand exactly what’s covered.

The Collision Damage Waiver offered by rental car companies can be pretty pricey – if you have primary coverage through your auto insurance company and secondary coverage through your credit card then you can probably avoid that charge.

When you’re renting a car, make sure you ask about any “loss-of-use” fees or “administrative processing” fees the rental company might charge if you have an accident. Be clear on what is covered by your credit card plan and your primary insurance before declining rental car insurance from the company.

Cash Back Rewards

We’ve looked so far at how you can save with car rental deals and earn/redeem rewards points.  Another possibility is to take advantage of cash back rewards when you make certain purchases at rental car companies.

There are some cards that feature rotating cash back categories where you can earn 5% on those categories of purchases.  If you can earn 5% cashback on car rentals when you’re traveling then it would be a good time to use a card with that feature.

Of course, if you’re not traveling during those months then the 5% cash back won’t do you much good. If that’s the case then you might want to look at cards like TrueEarnings from American Express, where you always earn a fixed cash back amount on travel expenses.

As I said at the start, choosing the best car rental credit card means looking at a combination of the deals you can get, rewards you can earn, and coverage you’ll have on your rental car.  Hopefully this review of different credit card options will help you choose the best one for you.

Last updated by .

Miranda

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Miranda
Miranda writes about personal finance almost every day. An experienced freelance writer, she's covered your money online and in print from every angle and is always looking for new ones.

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Comments

5 Responses to Best Credit Cards for Rental Car Rewards

  • Jerry

    I never saw that Seinfeld episode about the insurance but I will have to check it out sometime. Hey, if it leads to less headache at the car rental counter, I’m all for it.

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