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March 19, 2006

Getting the best deal and most miles out of a rental car

I don't often rent a car, but I'm going to Palm Springs, CA for a fast weekend and will need one. I'm flying JetBlue into Ontario, CA. A little comparative shopping worked wonders.

The Entertainment Book has many discount car rental offers, so I have finally gotten to put the book I bought primarily for the Goldpoints to use. Several companies offer a free weekend day on a three day rental; my rental was slightly under three days (2 days 14 hours or some such) but National Rent A Car would still accept the coupon at booking. A compact car was $17.90 per day - total cost of rental with the discount and fees - $49.

Since rental car companies allow cancellations without penalty, it makes sense to book whatever fee you see that's acceptable and shop again later on. I looked again this week; the same reservation came to $44 with the Entertainment Book discount, or I could have chosen a Northwest Airlines promotion that would get me triple miles and a full size car for $61. I'm one person and one suitcase so I think a compact should be fine.

Most car rental companies partner with several travel providers to offer miles or points. Which one to take? Because of the small amount of miles earned, my first thought would be to earn miles in the programs where I have fewer miles and infrequent earnings rather than in my strongest programs. For most U.S. and many international programs, earning the miles stops the clock on mileage expiration for 36 months. Check each program for their specific rules. My hotel stay will also earn 250 miles; I'm opting to put them into Aeroplan for this reason. I have some British Airways miles that will expire this year; I'm not using any of their partners so I will extend those miles by having a meal at a restaurant in the Executive Club Dining program.

I'm opting to earn miles for the car rental on Northwest because of the specials they are running. Their base earnings are nothing special, the standard 50 miles per day that most rental companies offer. However, NWA is having a 100,000 mile Dash offer where completing even the minimal offer such as one car rental will earn you 500 miles. It takes completing a few more offers to get the next level of benefits, so I won't bother.

On top of that, NWA is partnering with National and Westin Resorts for a Fairway Flyaway Sweepstakes. National Rentals through April get 1,000 bonus miles.

On top of that, National Car rental is waiving their membership fee in the Emerald Club for a limited time.

1,650 miles, free Emerald Club membership and a car for the weekend for $44. Can't beat it with a stick.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at March 19, 2006 9:13 PM

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