A couple of weeks ago, we learned that SkyTeam is making an…interesting choice in introducing a new member to their “airline” alliance: Hertz. While I’m hoping this means flying cars become part of their Ultimate Series fleet, I have a feeling that the term “GroundTeam” is a more likely outcome of this unique partnership.
In all seriousness, the details of the program are still pretty vague, and there are, naturally, some questions around the implicit value of rental car status with Hertz.
While I can’t predict details of a program that hasn’t fully formed, I can take some time to break down some of the nuances of Hertz’s loyalty program, given that I’ve probably spent at least 60-70 days in Hertz rental cars this year.
Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with Hertz Gold Plus Rewards® – and particularly their Ultimate Choice upgrade setup. The program itself is a little hairy in some areas (have you seen their list of airline partners?) but I figured it was worth at least providing an overview.
Hertz Airline Partnerships
This partnership may not be quite out of left field as it seems, given how many airline partners Hertz has.
At the moment, they list 64 airline partners on their website, and while I’ll spare you the details of listing them all out, chances are, you can throw a dart and hit one of their airline partners. You’ll find airlines from Aegean to Xiamen, as well as a few that I’ve never heard of before. (The link is above as well as right here, in case you’re looking.)
You can also earn choose to earn points with Priority Club, Marriott Rewards, or Amtrak (which seems a little odd), if you would rather credit your points to a hotel (or rail) program.
Just be aware that if you credit your Hertz rentals to Alaska, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, or United, you will incur a “Frequent Flier Surcharge” for the cost of…wait for it…”up to $1 per day.” Rentals credited toward American’s AAdvantage or Delta’s SkyMiles may incur a surcharge as well, but the cost is so convoluted that I can’t even make heads or tails of it.
Like any other loyalty program, different levels of use will earn you various levels of status, which come with various perks of varying degrees of value. Hertz Gold Plus Rewards is broken into the following tiers:
Just for signing up, you get access to the Gold Plus Rewards area, which means that you can skip the line and go straight to your rental car. You also have the choice to select any vehicle in the “Gold” section when you rent a mid-sized car or higher from an airport with Ultimate Choice lanes. This area typically consists of full-sized cars, a la Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.
Nothing glamorous, but they get you around just fine.
Finally, you have the option of crediting points to an airline partner, or earning Hertz Gold Plus Rewards points at a rate of one point per dollar spent on qualifying Hertz rentals. This includes add-on items, such as car seats and insurance coverage, but does not include taxes and fees.
Five Star members get all the perks that Hertz Gold members receive, as well as the following:
- Access to the Five Star rental area at participating locations, when you rent a midsize car or higher. This typically includes a nicer array of cars to choose from, including the odd selection of minivans and SUVs.
- A one car class upgrade, based on availability – this comes in particularly handy when you’re renting a roller skateToyota Yaris or other car that doesn’t qualify for the Five Star Ultimate Choice area.
- A 10% bonus on Gold Plus Rewards points.
- 675 bonus Gold Plus Rewards points after fifteen qualifying rentals.
- No additional driver fee for spouses when renting in the U.S.
President’s Circle members get all of the same perks as Hertz Gold and Five Star members, as well as the following:
- Confirmed reservations at participating locations (if I rent an SUV, I’ll get an email confirming which Ford Expedition is mine, and what stall to pick it up in)
- Access to the President’s Circle rental area at participating locations, when you rent a midsize car or higher. Depending on the location, this may include minivans, SUVs, or even premium vehicles (more on that below).
- A guaranteed one car class upgrade, which is particularly nice when you’re renting from locations that don’t have an Ultimate Choice area.
- A 25% bonus on Gold Plus Rewards points.
- The same 675 bonus Gold Plus Rewards points after fifteen qualifying rentals.
- No additional driver fee for spouses when renting in the U.S. (same as Five Star status)
How to achieve Hertz status
Like airline status, you can achieve rental car status through spend requirements or a minimum number of rentals, but there are plenty of other ways to get there without ever putting your foot on the ignition.
Just sign up. Really. You can do it here, and it takes all of three minutes (most of which will likely be spent rummaging through your wallet to grab your driver’s license number).
You can achieve Hertz Five Star status through either of the following means:
- Complete 7-19 rentals in a calendar year
- Spend $1,500 to $3,999 on rentals
You can also get Hertz Five Star status if you have one of the following:
- United MileagePlus Premier Gold or Premier Silver status
- Delta Gold Medallion status
- Marriott Platinum Premier status
- An American Express Platinum card
- A Visa Infinite card, and are based in Europe
You will need to link your accounts in order to take advantage of this perk. United members can sign up here, Marriott members can sign up here, Amex Platinum Cardholders can sign up here, and Visa Infinite cardholders can sign up here. Delta requires you to log into your account, but you can access the link and read about the program here.
Just note that the status doesn’t always show up instantly, and may require some additional prompting – my husband linked his Delta account six weeks ago and is still waiting with bated breath for his Hertz status to show up.
You can achieve Hertz President’s Circle status through either of the following means:
- Complete 20 or more rentals in a calendar year
- Spend $4,000 or more on rentals
You can also get Hertz President’s Circle status if you have one of the following:
- United MileagePlus Premier Platinum, 1K or Global Services status
- Delta Platinum or Diamond Medallion status
- Marriott Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador status
You will need to link your accounts in order to take advantage of this perk. United members can sign up here, and Marriott members can sign up here. Delta requires you to log into your account, but you can access the link and read about the program here.
For many of us road warriors, the best part of the program is the ability to choose any car that you want from a select area, particularly when there are premium options available. This is also really nice when you have kids in tow or are driving to a more treacherous area, like a ski resort.
Of course, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so here are a few restrictions to be aware of:
- The program is only available at Ultimate Choice locations. Unsurprisingly, with Hertz being a U.S.-based company, most of these locations are in the U.S. You can view a complete list of locations here.
- In order to be eligible, you need to rent a midsize car or higher car class (more on that below).
- Specialty rentals, like SUVs and pickup trucks, typically do not qualify.
- Rentals through third-party sites, like Priceline and Hotwire, do not qualify.
- You can choose any car in your designated area, and you can also downgrade, but you can’t automatically upgrade. For example, a President’s Circle member can choose a car from the Gold area, but not the other way around.
As far as those restrictions go, I’ve found that rentals through third party agencies are pretty much out of luck regardless of where you rent from. That said, some airports might be more generous in letting you pick from the Ultimate Choice area regardless of which rental car you’ve booked. In other words, I’ve still occasionally gotten access to the President’s Circle area when booking an economy car.
Anecdotally, I’ve found SFO to be the most generous by far (shoutout to Herb at the Gold Rewards desk if you’re reading this!), while D.C. area airports have historically been the strictest, in my experience. I’ve had moderate luck with Salt Lake City and Orlando, for what it’s worth.
All that said, if you want to pick your car, best to stick with the rules lest you accidentally end up in this behemoth:
Overall, the quality (and choice) varies pretty significantly by airport.
At worst, you’ll probably end up with a decent selection of newer full-size vehicles. But I’ve seen plenty of upgraded cars in the President’s Circle row, including Chrysler 300s, Chevy Camaros, and even Infiniti Q50s.
So far, my best luck has been an Infiniti Q70 – again, at SFO – for a three-week rental. Honestly, I’m happy as long as I can work the radio and figure out how to open the gas cap, but it is really nice getting the rental car equivalent of a lie-flat seat. 😉
Earning and redeeming points
This is, perhaps, the real “Ultimate Choice” of Hertz – do you credit the points to your Hertz account or to a select airline?
Generally, if I’m booking directly through the Hertz website, I like to credit directly to my Gold Plus Rewards account. Hertz pegs their points at a value of 2.5 to 5 cents per point if you’re looking to apply points toward a discount, which is a pretty decent return on spend in and of itself.
However, you may be able to do even better with free weekend rental days starting at 550 points, and free weekly rentals starting at 2,750 points.
That said, Hertz points are earned at a rate of one point per dollar spent (excluding taxes and fees), whereas airline points are earned at a fixed rate, with bonus tiers depending on airline status. So you may still do better crediting the points to your airline of choice.
Obviously, your mileage will vary (pun intended, in this case), but you may want to do some quick math to see which program will offer the better return. Personally, I do like having some Hertz points at my disposal for vacation car rentals.
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But earning miles is only half the equation. I’ll often forego the Hertz points by booking directly through Delta. I’ve found rates to sometimes quote at 50-60% less than the price listed on hertz.com, and I still earn SkyMiles and receive President’s Circle access.
So in this case, I’ll take the SkyMiles, ~$84 discount, and vehicle upgrade over the Hertz points. As long as I can get away with the “Premium” tag on my expense report.
Now, we could run similar scenarios with each of the 64+ airline partners, but we would probably be here until Christmas. I do, however, want to reiterate that it’s worth taking a second look if Hertz partners with your preferred airline (guess what, they do), and weighing out both the points bonus and the potential cash savings.
And who knows what additional factors we will be considering once the SkyTeam partnership goes live.
Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with Hertz’s program, and I do like the creativity of adding a rental car partner to an airline alliance. Hopefully this is an indication of additional partnerships to come and not an opportunity to water down benefits, but in the meantime, I’m remaining optimistic. And I have to give credit for the creative interpretation of the “SkyTeam” alliance.
In the meantime, be sure to take advantage of the benefits available, especially if you are eligible for status and haven’t already linked your accounts.
And don’t worry, I’ll gladly leave you the large SUV upgrades 😉
Do you rent from Hertz? What do you think of their loyalty program?