The experience of renting a car can range from the excitement of a big road trip to hours spent in a hot, overcrowded room with toddlers screaming all around. Regardless of your feelings about a rental car, everyone is trying to get on the road.
A speedy way to get out of the rental agency, and get some rewards to boot, is by signing up for a rental car rewards program. Most rental car companies have reward programs, from discount-focused to earn-as-you-spend, and most include a skip-the-line option allowing you to get the paperwork out of the way in advance. If you’re a member, just flash your driver’s license, jot down your signature, and you’re ready to hit the road.
At first glance, the programs may seem similar. But, they do vary in the rewards they offer, how you earn points are earned, and their partners.
Another key factor in deciding which company to rent with is the credit card that you have. With that in mind, here’s a guide to the top rental car company rewards programs and the cards you should bring with you.
National Emerald Club
National has arguably the best ads, best name, best website, and, in this writer’s opinion, the best rewards program. The program has three levels, the most basic called the Emerald Club, followed by their Executive, and Executive Elite classes.
On top of bonuses like the ability to skip the line and add a free additional driver, the program gives you one free rental day for every 7 bookings you make. It’s difficult to reach the higher echelons of their program – you need to rent for forty days in one calendar year to reach their executive level and 85 to reach elite status, but free upgrades and faster rewards await you if you do.
Our picks for the best credit card matches:
National is also partnered with BMO. If you’re renting with National, the no-fee BMO CashfBack Mastercard is the best way to go since it’ll get you 25% off the base rate at select locations if you make a booking 24 hours in advance. Though, it’s worth noting the BMO CashBack Mastercard doesn’t come with complimentary credit card rental car insurance. That might be fine if you own a car and have your own auto insurance policy (since your personal policy will also cover you for rentals). But, if you don’t, it means you’ll have to buy additional insurance from the agency.
- Cash Bonus offer
BMO CashBack® MasterCard®*
Welcome offer: Get up to 5% cash back in your first 3 months. Plus, a $50 cash back bonus - that's up to $175 in cash back in your first year!
- No annual fee
- Welcome Offer: 5% cash back on all purchases (up to $100) for first 3 months, plus a $50 cash back bonus (when you spend $6,000) in your first year
- 1% cash back thereafter
- 1.99% introductory rate on balance transfers for first 9 months
- Terms and conditions apply
If you don’t have your own car insurance policy, the BMO World Elite Mastercard is another option to consider since this card will earn you 2X the BMO Rewards points on National rental cars and also comes with rental car insurance (saving you from having to buy additional coverage).
Hertz Gold Plus
As a Hertz Gold member, you earn one point for every dollar you spend. It takes a while for the points to start adding up – you need 550 points to before you can redeem. However, Hertz does have the most robust list of Canadian partners including airlines like Porter and Air Transat. Plus, if you book between 12 and 19 rental during a 12-month period, you can also achieve Five Star status, which opens up the door to even more benefits, including 25% when redeeming Gold Plus Rewards points on select rentals.
The Alamo Insiders program is rare because it’s not a rewards program per se, rather it’s a discount program that allows you to take 5% off any rental when you join. Pair it with their QuickRent program you’ll be able to skip the line and get an easy discount.
Alamo also has a number of partners including CAA, which allows you to get discounted accessories and a free additional driver. If you have an Air Miles credit card, you can earn a bonus of 5 miles per rental day (up to a maximum of 50 miles). Though the most rewarding partner may be BMO. With the BMO CashBack Mastercard, you’ll get 25% off the base rate of your rental on reservations made 24 hours in advance. Meanwhile, the BMO World Elite Mastercard will earn you 2X the BMO Reward points on Alamo rentals and comes with complimentary car rental theft and damage insurance.
The Fastbreak program’s main focus is helping you skip the line, rather than earning you rewards. Make sure to be on the lookout for promotions and discounts as Budget has run campaigns in the past that get you a $25 coupon for every 2 rentals you make. As car rental rewards programs go this is fairly generous and the offer ran for all of last year so it is fair to say that the program may be around for a while, but is important to remember that the focus is to get you in your rental car as quickly as possible, not as cheaply.
Our picks for the best credit card matches:
The best cards to use if your booking a Budget car are the CIBC Aerogold Visa Card or the Scotiabank Scene Visa Card, which both can save you up to 25% off base rates.
Scotiabank® Scene+™ Visa* Card
earn 5,000 bonus Scene+ points within your first year. Must apply by February 29, 2024.
- Annual Fee: $0
- Welcome Offer: Get 2,500 bonus points (2 free movies) with your first $500 in everyday purchases over the first 3 months (offer ends November 21, 2021)
- Earn 5 Scene points for every $1 spent at Cineplex Theatres
- 19.99% annual interest rate
Enterprise Plus, like Hertz and many of the other reward programs out there, offers one point for every dollar spent. The nice thing about Enterprise is that as long as you rent a car from them once every three years your points never expire. There are no blackout dates, meaning your points can be redeemed as soon as you meet their minimum.
Enterprise doesn’t have a partnership with any of the major Canadian credit cards, but they do have benefits for CAA members, scoring them special discounts and bonus points. If you’re a CAA member then the National Bank CAA Rewards Mastercard would also be a great option for an Enterprise booking.
If you haven’t seen a trend, well, surprise, surprise – you earn one point per dollar spent at Avis. But you can earn twice the points for the dollars you spend on accessories like a GPS or Sirius XM radio.
Avis has a tiered system allowing you to earn more points after 11 rentals. But, regardless of your standing, you will need a minimum of 700 points to get a free rental day. Their 100-point sign-up bonus will help you get there, but it is still the highest minimum points option out of all the rewards programs listed here.
Our pick for the best credit card match:
The best cards to use if you’re booking a car with Avis include either the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite or the TD Aeroplan Visa Card. TD has a special agreement with Avis that gets you 10% off the lowest available base rates in Canada and the US and 5% off internationally.
TD First Class Travel® Visa Infinite* Card
Earn up to $1,100 in value, including up to 135,000 TD Rewards Points and no annual fee for the first year. Conditions apply. Account must be approved by March 4, 2024.
- Annual fee: $120 (waived for the first year)
- Earn up to 100,000 TD Points† plus, first year no Annual Fee for the Primary and Additional Cardholders1 (a value of up to $670†). Conditions Apply. Must apply by December 5, 2021
- Get up to 65,000 TD Points ($325 travel value)
- Earn 9 TD Points per $1 on travel through ExpediaforTD
- Earn 3 TD Points per $1 on everything else
Thrifty Blue-Chip Rewards
Another shocker for you. One dollar gets you… wait for it… one point, but the Blue-Chip program is better than its competitors in a few ways. A free weekday rental starts at the low 500 points, and by being a member you got a whole basket of fun stuff like a free additional driver and quicker reservations. If you’re feeling thrifty then make sure to bring along your RBC Avion Visa Infinite card as you’ll earn two additional RBC Rewards points for every dollar you spend on a car or truck rental.
[Infographic] The Best Rental Car Rewards Programs
The bottom line
The best car rental loyalty program for you depends on how often you rent, how long you rent for, and the credit card that you have in your wallet. When in doubt, the Alamo Insider 5% discount may be the easiest route to take, but make sure to do the extra research, and leverage the partnerships that your credit card provider has with car rental companies. By being savvy about how you rent, you can easily save much more than 5%.
*This blog is for educational purposes only. Check your credit card policy and rental car agency terms for offer details.