National’s New Mobile App Will Let You Choose a Specific Car — and Join Me for a Travel Tech Chat Next Week

I’m hosting a Google Hangout event on Tuesday, August 13th at 7:30pm Eastern to discuss technology and travel, what devices and innovations were important in the past, what the state of the art is now, and what’s missing.

It’s organized by National Car Rental, since they’ve announced their new mobile app (can you believe they really didn’t have one before?) and they think it is pretty cutting edge travel technology. There’s one piece of it, being implemented next month, that could be.

Now, there are only two real innovations in the rental car space that I’ve been able to think of over the past couple of decades. One is the loyalty program profile where your credit card is on file, no need to stop at the rental counter. National, like all of the other major brands, does this. The second is National’s “pick your own car” Emerald Aisle feature.

They haven’t taken the app in new revolutionary directions, but it’s fucntional and begins to take customizing your rental one step further by letting you pick a specific vehicle minutes before arriving at the lot.

I Was Initially Far More Interested in the New National Mobile App than the Chat

When National was first emailing about the online discussion of the evolution of travel technology, I wasn’t that interested, I actually emailed back saying I’m a whole lot more interested in the app!. I realize discussions like this are supposed to help generate interest around their mobile app, but it’s the app itself that interests me.

I’ve been renting quite a bit from National. I’m an Executive Elite with them, but that’s not really much better than ‘Executive’ status which comes with an American Express Platinum card and which last year was also included as part of Milepoint Premium status.

Joining Emerald Club gets you access to pick your own car from the ‘Emerald Aisle’ at participating (most airport) locations. Executive status lets you pick a car from the Executive Aisle, usually better and newer cars.

Though I suppose my Executive Elite level has been a bit helpful in requesting specific cars though without really flashing status in a ‘do you know who I am’ sort of way I haven’t had too much difficulty getting airport staff to send me off in Infinitis and the like (renting in Miami a couple of months ago there was a sea of minivans and SUVs in the Executive aisle).

The one piece of a trip I’m likely to forget is to reserve the car, so I’d like to have an app on my phone so I can worst case manage it on the way out of the jetway when I realize that I need the car and don’t have one. And dealing with an app is going to be a bit faster and more seamless than a mobile website. I’ve felt like something was missing with National not having an app — though rental car apps I’ve used like Avis’ have been clunky to date, to say the least.

Good Topics, a New Technology, and Mostly Great Fellow Panelists Should Make the Chat Interesting

I was initially reluctant because I didn’t even know what a ‘Google Hangout’ was. But I decided to overcome my fear of having to figure out technology when they let me know other folks they were approaching for the event included JohnnyJet, Chris McGinnis and also Scott from Hack My Trip. The fourth person I admit I do not know, Rachel Wolery of ‘Zip Set Go’.

Also joining the Hangout will be Rob Connors, Assistant Vice President of Enterprise.

National’s Mobile App Looks Pretty Good

I downloaded it for my Android phone several days ago (there’s an iPhone version as well). But it’s only just been announced today.

I’ve had a bit of opportunity to play with it, but not to pick up a car yet since loading it up, though that’ll happen before next week’s chat (I don’t stay ground for long but haven’t been in the air this month yet).

The one feature that goes beyond expected is the ‘virtual aisle’ — the ability to pick your car as you head to the lot.

The “Virtual Aisle” – Members familiar with National’s “Emerald Aisle” will have access to a mobile “Virtual Aisle” that will let them choose their exact rental vehicle before arriving at the rental facility. Using the app, Emerald Club members can see the real-time inventory available at airport locations with non-secured lots, then choose and reserve the specific car they wish to drive. The Virtual Aisle will be piloted in Tulsa, Richmond, and Omaha beginning next month, with a rollout in select locations nationwide expected soon after.

I haven’t used it yet, it rolls out next month and only in 3 locations initially. But the concept is a good one if it only saves me from schlepping up and down the aisle until I settle on my car!

The app is supposed to reserve a specific car for 15 minutes, giving you time to pick it up.

They put together a video to walk you through the app, but honestly you can just download it (and there’s a built-in tutorial but – let’s face it – it’s an app and isn’t that hard).

Join the Chat, and More to Come

I hope you’ll join me for the Google Hangout event on Tuesday, August 13th at 7:30pm Eastern — both because it should be interesting and also because I don’t want to be all alone trying out this new Google Event thing that I’m totally unfamiliar with.

I understand National is going to be giving me a gift card of some kind for hosting the event, and if that’s right you’ll likely see a gift card giveaway coming on the blog.

    You can join the 30,000+ people who see these deals and analysis every day — sign up to receive posts by email (just one e-mail per day) or subscribe to the RSS feed. It’s free. Don’t miss out!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Just downloaded the iPhone app. looks nice. I’ve been waiting, too!! Also nice to be reminded that my AmEx Plat gives me Executive status, since I wont ‘eran’ it this year unlike last. Just had a brand new 2014 Impala for road trip to Iowa. Great folks at Washington DC Union Station location (WASC08)my neighborhood rental source!

  2. Hertz has had something similar for a while now. The offer ‘Carfirmations’ where they email or text their Gold members with the vehicle make/model/color/class and space number, so you can head directly there upon arrival. Previously you had to go look on the board to find your name and space number.

    The nice thing is that they now offer a URL that you can click on to change your car if you’d prefer something else (a.k.a. Gold Choice). In all honesty, it’s far less comprehensive than the Emeerald Aisle/Executive Aisle, but it does exist FWIW.

    Happy to see National taking it to the next level here.

  3. Not sure how beneficial it would be to see the cars in the lot in advance and pick the one you want. The only time to do that would be between the time the plane lands and it gets to the gate since after that I would be walking on my way to the rental car and not playing with my phone to see their inventory. Also, by the time you get there other cars may be available so I usually do a quick run at the Executive Aisle and get the car I want. Will the app allow you to see the details of the car i.e mileage? Sometimes for me it is more important to get a nice car with low mileage rather than a fancy one that has lots of miles on it. Last time I rented a car in MCO I could get a Volvo XC60 with 15k+ miles or a Chevy Tahoe with 18 miles on it. I got the new Tahoe but that is just my preference.

  4. A few comments on important details people are missing:

    Executive Elite has great value if you choose rental credits and redeem them. The other benefits are not much.

    This is for unsecured lots. I.e. counter service.

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