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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:
- Barclaycard Arrival® Plus World Elite Mastercard® (see terms)
- Citi Prestige® Card
- Citi® ThankYou® Premier Card
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® (also includes the Platinum, Platinum Business, and Gold World Elite versions of this card)
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.
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.
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.
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