How To Get Free Rental Car Upgrades

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Just like we strive for premium cabin redemptions and upgrades when flying or staying in hotels, when renting a car it’s always nice to score an upgrade to a better model or class of car. But asking for that upgrade can be an intimidating experience if you don’t have elite status to back up your request. Thankfully, achieving elite status via a credit card or status match is one of the least painful exercises in award travel. Numerous credit cards offer complimentary car rental elite status, in addition to formalized status matches from some of the most prominent car rental agencies in the U.S. Below we’ve listed five of our favorite methods to score free car rental upgrades.

Join the Loyalty Programs for Each Car Rental Agency

All major car rental agencies offer frequent renter programs that reward members with loyalty points and elite status. Frequent renter programs include:

  • National Car Rental
  • Hertz Gold Plus Rewards
  • Avis Preferred
  • Sixt Rent a Car
  • Budget FastBreak Program
  • Enterprise Plus®
  • Alamo The Premium Club

While simply signing up to a loyalty program isn’t going to qualify you for free upgrades, having all your details on file with the rental agency will get you (in most cases) priority treatment when picking up your rental car. Book in advance and your vehicle will typically be waiting for you ready to go. You can also use the express pickup line without waiting at the service desk with other customers. Rental agencies will always prioritize loyalty program members over customers that are not members, and you’ll be first in line for an upgraded car if you're unhappy with the vehicle assigned to you.

Receive Complimentary Elite Status as a Credit Card Benefit

If you’re looking for more than the just the occasional upgrade as a member, you’ll need to try and achieve elite status with one of the frequent renter programs above. There are three ways of gaining elite status:

  • Receive as a complimentary credit card benefit
  • Status match from an existing elite status
  • Between 10/15 paid rentals with the same rental agency

The traditional path to elite status, paid rentals, is expensive and time-consuming, and you won’t receive elite status benefits on rentals while trying to achieve status. The reality is, if you’ve been in the points and miles world for any length of time, it’s likely you already have status or access to elite benefits, and you may not even know it! We’ve dedicated an entire post to rewards cards that offer complimentary car-rental elite status benefits, and some of the cards included may come as a surprise.

World Elite Mastercard® cardholders receive complimentary Sixt Platinum status, National Emerald benefits, complimentary Budget Fastbreak membership, and discounts with Enterprise and Alamo just for holding the card. This includes some of our favorite cards:

You also receive status and benefits from Avis, Hertz, and National if you hold The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN. This includes free National Rental Car® Emerald Club Executive Membership which lets you choose your car, offers guaranteed upgrades, 20% off your rentals, and more. Check out our post on complimentary status and benefits received via credit card for more details.

Status Match Between Frequent Renter Programs

Once you have status, it’s relatively easy to status match and receive elite benefits in one of the other loyalty programs. Both National and Hertz offer a formalized status match process, which allows you to match status earned via your credit card to those provided by rival rental companies. National will match status in over 40 different loyalty programs.

You’ll find an extensive list of available status match opportunities if you visit StatusMatcher.com. The website displays the programs that will match each other, including opportunities to match from hotel and airline elite status to car rental status.

National-Emerald-Status-Match

Check If You Have Access to a Corporate Code

It’s common for enterprise-size companies to have agreements with car rental agencies, hotels, and airlines. The agreements provide elite benefits such as discounts and free upgrades to employees and contractors, so check with your travel department to see if you have access to better rates and vehicles. The benefits received depend on the corporate code used, with perks often matching the highest elite status levels at car rental agencies.

Use a Free Upgrade Coupon

A quick Google search can typically turn-up a free upgrade coupon for major rental companies, for example, Alamo, which has one pinned to the Premium Club homepage. Upgrade coupons are a great option if you haven’t managed to wrangle some form of complimentary elite status prior to picking up your rental.

Alamo-Voucher

Final Thoughts

Bagging a free car rental upgrade can make a big difference to your travel experience. If you hold complimentary elite status from one of the many credit cards that offer it, you can leverage that status into elite benefits with multiple rental agencies, giving yourself the best chance of getting a free rental car upgrade.

Regardless of how you get your upgrades, if you can, we'd recommend you do any rental bookings through AutoSlash.com and then have them track your booking. If the price drops on your rental they'll shoot you an email with a link to rebook at a lower rate! The cost for their service to you: Nothing.

Have any tips on receiving complimentary upgrades? Let us know in the comments below.

How To Get Free Rental Car Upgrades
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Comments

  • The_Bouncer says:

    Although I’m heavily into airline and hotel programs, I’ve not got into car rental programs yet, as I’ve only recently started having the time for road trips. Going forward I anticipate an average of about 30-40 days rentals each year, split between several countries (the main ones being USA and South Africa). I guess Hertz is a good place to start?

  • Just checked out out status matcher now. Lots of data, could be easier to read but useful site. Thanks.

  • In my experience, if you want a free upgrade, you can find a coupon as noted…even if not an elite.

  • I also find national to be very good. At least with car rentals credit card perks are exponentially better and much easier to use

  • an excellent way to status match . @ Bouncer AVIS is also good in SA . I found the rates competitive to the others .

  • Through my credit cards I do have status with several rental companies. However, unlike on planes or hotels, I DON’T like to get car upgrades. All I need is to get from place to place. Why do I want a car with a larger gas tank that will be more expensive to fill before I turn it in?

  • After Hertz moved our car reservation from Rock Springs, WY to Ogden, UT (250 miles away) without telling us we really don’t feel good about any car rental companies.

  • Jacqueline says:

    National are also my favourite and in my experience the most reliable.

  • I do Avis, but I think service/quality is often location (not brand) dependent.

  • Im only Elite at Hertz – but having rented a Car in Germany, they gave me…nothing except exactly the car I had ordered…Not what i hoped for.

    Did i do anything wrong with booking?

  • I normally rent intermediate size cars from Avis. I will not turn down a free upgrade to a full size sedan, however I have turned down complimentary upgrades to a full size SUV’s, especially in CA where has prices are high.

  • personally I’m not a big fan of rental car upgrades as I prefer smaller cars, haha.

  • I somehow get lucky and often get offered a free upgrade…

  • I just rented a car…tried to look up all this info before but was on a time crunch, thank you for putting it all in one place! I used an AMEX card which gave me a free upgrade and 5% off, meh not great but not bad….need to delve into this deeper. Thank you for the inspiration.

  • Alice Chen says:

    I never knew about these hacks! Awesome!

  • Good info. I am always bouncing between vendors. I have used AAA which often has the upgrade coupon codes

  • Autoslash works great and is very helpful!

  • I often don’t really want an upgrade.. it depends but sometimes I just need a small car and don’t need the extra fuel usage if s big one.

  • I love using dollar due to their generous points earning with some airlines!

  • As someone who prefers to drive a small car – particularly for ease of parking in the city – I hate it when I get upgraded to a bigger car!

  • Hertz us really good with upgrades if you have platinum status. You just have to book a mid size and they will give you the best all the way up to a luxury car if available.

  • The CSR Includes National Executive Status, and up to 25% off rentals. CSR holders also enjoy up to 30% off Avis rentals, but I don’t believe here is any program status offered.

  • I used my Hertz Gold in Italy recently. Worked great, got a brand new AUDI for the same price I of a FIAT…

  • Great tips! Thanks.

  • I’m hesitant to join rental cars programs due to a rise of rideshare and other alternatives.

  • American cars are already big enough and guzzle enough gas for my liking. So a larger car doesn’t do it for me – I want the one I booked.

    Now, if you could complimentary upgrade to convertibles in summer or SUVs in the wintertime… 🙂

  • Usually I find the lowest pricing through Costco.

  • I generally take the cheapest company. Upgrades are more important to my wife. This may be a good way to satisfy both of us. Thanks for the tip.

  • Adam Parsons says:

    I’m also liking the fact that with Hertz gold you can earn reward points to transfer to various airlines or hotels schemes!

  • Exactly. If you choose a small car because you want to save on gas, there is nothing more annoying than being upgraded to a big truck because they have handed out the car that you ordered! It’s happened so many times with Avis, that I stopped using them.

  • This works. I have had myself status matched on National and on Hertz. Try it. You will like it and it was easy.

  • Jacqueline says:

    Theres a Fine line between the best value providers or opting for a more expensive option to get an upgrade.

  • I have Avis Elite status because of my United Presidents Club card, but only use Avis when there is a coupon to get extra miles. I never accumulate car rental points anymore after Hertz expired my points without notice and only credit rentals to airlines.

  • The_Bouncer says:

    Howie, thanks for the tip (can’t reply directly to your comment for some reason). I’ll take a look at National.

  • Does Alamo provide a worse service compared to others? Their prices are usually much cheaper.

  • I recently rented at Alamo in MIA and LGA and both times I received exceptional service. I would definitely recommend them.

    My other favorite is enterprise which I often use in LGA.

    I book thru Costco travel I seem to get great rates through there site.

  • Nice list. Upgrades can come in handy!

  • Great post and information. I often focus on airline and hotel perks and skip over rental cars. Thanks for reminding me that travel includes rental cars often.

  • Alamo has been good to me. But, even though Alamo and National are under the same ownership, Alamo will not add your National Emerald Club number to the Alamo rental.

  • The_Bouncer says:

    Alamo was absolutely fine in Canada. I got a decent SUV last time I used them.

  • Good list. Thanks for the reminder.

  • I never think about car rental companies. Good reminder! I do not rent cars that often so I think that AAA is best for me.
    I hate driving anyway. I’ll always defer to someone else driving mrs daisy ;o)

  • Is it easy to do status match?

  • I tend to prefer the cheapest cars over the upgrades even though I know most people don’t

  • Car rentals are still a necessity at times so it’s good to know how to score an upgrade.

  • Abe Treiger says:

    I tried this and it worked great!

  • @Lee Ann says: “Usually I find the lowest pricing through Costco.”
    @Isaac says: “I book thru Costco travel I seem to get great rates through there site.”

    Thanks for the reminder to check them as well when renting. Always looking for ways to leverage my membership fee there, of course!

  • Great info ! Thanks as always!

  • If you are a registered Hertz Gold member and pick up your car at an airport with “Gold choice” you can just pick any car from the Gold sector at the parking garage.
    Look carefully because sometimes they park higher categories’ cars on the gold choice sector by mistake (or intentionally, not sure).
    Last February I reserved a class C (toyota corolla or similar) and found a class G (chevrolet impala or similar) in the gold section so I took that one.
    I was charged the rate that I had in the reservation (class C, mid-size) but the car was bigger, more comfortable and equiped with integrated GPS navigation and satellite radio.
    There was even a 4×4 Jeep on the gold section that day. I could have taken that one and still pay the class C rate but it didn’t fit my needs.

  • Last week, I rented from Alamo at JFK and in addition to fantastic service (including our choice of whatever vehicle we wanted), got a free upgrade from the lowest priced vehicle to a RAV4.* Also, I added a spouse as an additional driver free of charge, and using military/government status added two more additional drivers, also free of charge. NOTE: I booked the vehicle using Ultimate Rewards points via Chase Travel (which is actually Expedia), which service does not honor loyalty programs nor elite status, but the Alamo manager courteously honored my Alamo membership and military/government status, anyway.

    *To those pooh-poohing upgrades: the smallest cars are not necessarily the safest in case of accidents, nor do they always yield significantly better gas mileage than some upgrades. Moreover, free upgrades to larger vehicles come in handy when – as in our case – there’s a driver and 3-4 adult passengers, in addition to luggage, and one’s using the rental car for long-distance drives.

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