How to Find the Best Credit Card Reward Program for Free Car Rentals

This week I had a question from a new Help Me Travel Cheap reader.  It was a question I hadn’t seriously researched, so it was time to fire up my slick Mac and get to work.

Wait!  Before I get too far, I guess I should let you know what the question was.

Craig, do you know of any ways to use credit card rewards to get free car rentals?

Now, I did know the answer, but I hadn’t researched the value that each option offered.

Credit Card Rewards Programs with Car Rental Options

Instinctively, I knew two best options were using either Ultimate Rewards points or ThankYou points.

In a previous post, I compared the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi ThankYou Premier card.  I found that if I had to choose one, I would choose the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  I still agree with that post because there are a lot more ways to get Ultimate Rewards points (like also getting the Ink Bold business card for another 50,000 points) and a lot more ways to use Ultimate Rewards points.

Thus, in the context of car rentals, the two primary questions are:

  1. Which program offers the better value for car rentals?
  2. Does it make more sense renting a car with cash or points?  In other words, are car rentals a good value?

My Car Rental and Credit Card Rewards Program Experiment

I acted like I was going to rent a car from the Manchester airport (MHT).  I would rent a fullsize car from May 19th – May 26th.

CarRentals.com Results

Recently, when I’ve been renting cars I’ve found it hard to beat the rates at CarRentals.com.  I surfed over to their site and found that I could rent a full size vehicle (Dodge Charger or similar) for $213.23.  Budget (Ford Taurus or similar) would be $222.47.  Enterprise $246.22.

So that’s our point of comparison. The best price we could find for cash is $213.23.

Ultimate Rewards Results

Now let’s keep moving along and jump over to the Ultimate Rewards booking center.

Here, Budget had the lowest price of $222.47 (22,247 points).  That’s the exact same price as the CarRentals.com site.  However, what’s unfortunately missing is the opportunity to rent from Thrifty, which is a few dollars cheaper.

Interestingly, the Enterprise rates were also the same.

ThankYou Points Results

From there, I zipped (as much as my slow Internet zips) over to the ThankYou Rewards booking center.

Same information.  Different results.

The ThankYou Reward center listed Alamo as the company with the lowest price.  The cost is 28,798 points.  This translates to $287.98.

Here’s what’s interesting.  The full size car at Budget would cost $331.20 (33,120 points).  This means that the Ultimate Rewards booking center found the exact same car for $108.37 less.  That’s a big difference.

Best Price Results:

  1. CarRentals.com = $213.23
  2. Ultimate Rewards = $222.47 (22,247 points)
  3. ThankYou Points = $287.98 (28,798 points)

When I compared the price of flights, I found that all the sites had a similar price.  However, ThankYou points lagged when it came to hotels.  Apparently, they lag when it comes to car rentals as well.

Remember, this was an experiment with only one trip search, so the results may not be accurate in every rental context.  However, if I were trying to collect points to use for renting a car, I would definitely try to collect Ultimate Rewards. 

Why Collect Ultimate Rewards?

  1. Ultimate Rewards found lower rental rates.
  2. Ultimate Rewards also found lower hotel rates.
  3. Ultimate Rewards also offers better earning opportunities (as compared to ThankYou Rewards).  An example is the 7% annual bonus.
  4. Ultimate Rewards gives you the option to transfer points to different programs if that turned out to be the best use of their points.  Quite simply, you can do more with Ultimate Rewards.

If you want to start collecting Ultimate Rewards points today, I suggest you seriously consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred because you can get a 50,000 point sign up bonus after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days.  To learn more, click here.

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