This is so simple I’m almost embarrassed to lead with it, but it’s really important: Join a rental car company’s frequent renter program.
I’m not going to tell you that it will get you Porsches or Lamborghinis. It will get you out of the lot faster. And it will help ensure you actually have a vehicle.
- You won’t have paperwork to do
- There will likely be a car pre-assigned to you, certainly ahead of those that aren’t part of the program
I’m so spoiled by this, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to rent without a frequent renter number attached.
I’ve rented mostly from Avis for years, and more recently from National. That means getting in a car and driving away, stopping only to verify your license (or, frustratingly with National, your credit card each time at the booth too).
Anyone can join these programs. National used to charge, but at least it’s now free. At the base level I like National the best because you pick your own car from their ’emerald aisle’. Just get in the car of your choice that’s in that space.
National is also the easiest to elite status, American Express Platinum cardholders get ‘Executive status’ and for the past two years Milepoint.com premium members have as well. That lets you pick your car from the ‘executive’ aisle (usually better cars). You also earn free rentals a little faster. (I’m currently ‘executive elite’ with National, so I can rent premium vehicles on my free rental days but it’s otherwise very similar to straight-up executive status.)
Years ago I had status — ostensibly lasting many, many years — from Sixt. For a long time they gave away status for free. But I’ve let that lapse.
Fast-forward to the following check-in experience in Miami, where for the same price as a mid-size at National, Sixt was offering a Mercedes. Seemed worthwhile to give them a try.
The bright red check-in desk should have been a sign.
- There was no car available at the reserved pickup time. An upgrade to a better class Mercedes was available for $30 a day, or it was expected to be a 25 minute wait while ‘the car was cleaned’.
- After 25 minutes it turns out that they make you wait for the same person who helped you originally to get free. “Only the person that helped before can print your ticket.” Wait. “It is being processed.”
- Turns out “the car still isn’t ready”
- They don’t have any Mercedes after all. Not even the better one they offered for an upgrade fee.
- “A car should be available soon.”
Cancelled reservation, booked with National, done.
Always rent from a company whose frequent renter program you are a member of. Always be a member of the frequent renter program of the rental agency you’re picking up a vehicle from. Never wait in line. Never fill out paperwork. As Lucky says, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Incidentally the second most important tip for a hassle-free experience is not to rent from Enterprise (and yes I know that they own National now). I simply won’t do the “walk around the vehicle of shame” and hard sell of the collision damage waiver.