Car Rental Hacking National Rental Car
So this is a story all about how I used every tool, trick and some very simple outside of the box thinking to save a significant amount on my rental car this week. This tale includes one-way rentals, fancy cars, elite status and most importantly saving money. There are a lot of layers here, so let’s get into it!
Let’s start by breaking down a little background about these particular rental(s). (Hint!)
- We head down to Southern California for about a week before our flight from LAX
- We spend four days at Disneyland in an area where we are within walking distance to the parks and just about anything else
- Since it’s Los Angeles not having a car isn’t an option, so driving down is the best option
- We don’t want to take our car since we probably won’t fly back into LAX on the way home
There is one big tricky part of this rental scenario. It’s the pesky and often expensive one-way rental! That one-way fee almost always hurts and despite my best trickery and good shopping around skills the best I could find for one week solid was about $350 including taxes. Not terrible for a one-way, but I’m not paying that!
Split The Rentals
Immediately I thought about splitting the rentals and was absolutely delighted to see a National Rental Car in the Disneyland area. National is important because I have Executive Elite status with them. Believe it or not I earned that top-tier status last year with my reselling business, but you should just match to it like I have done in the past!
Rental Car Hacking – Rental “One”
As I mentioned, I rented a lot of vehicles from National last year and they are my preferred rental agency. On the surface they can be expensive, but if you learn the ropes of their program and various discounts, you can get them in line with everyone else. But what isn’t in line with everyone else is how they treat their elites. Let’s just say I rent the cheapest car to get Executive Aisle access and generally walk out with huge SUVs or whatever else I want within reason.
But none of that helps me with the one-way rental charge. Or does it? You see, National gives you one credit for each rental of 1-7 days. If you earn 5 credits then you get a free day. Since I often had a lot of 1-2 day rentals I earned a number of free days. I have used a lot, but still had a couple left.
Booking Rental “One”
The plan for rental one was to just book for one day. It only takes us about 3 1/2 hours to drive down there, so we can rent in the morning and return in the evening or early the next morning. The best part though is that when using the free day, I am not paying a drop charge.
Pretty good savings right? What I haven’t told you yet is the best part of these free nights and Executive Elite status. If you are a regular member and receive free nights then you can only use them on a car through a midsize class. Each tier higher gets better cars, but Executive Elite pretty much doesn’t have any restrictions. For example, I have rented $300-$400+ Escalades one-way a few times including when I turned my vacation into a profit machine.
With rental one done, I moved on to rental two. We are going to be a Disneyland and only really need the car for Sunday and Monday before our flight. So, I searched for a two day rental from Anaheim to LAX. Luckily there was no one-way charge and I was able to use a free night certificate from the One Two Free promo. Those certs are capped at a full size, but that’s alright.
More to Know
I feel like there is so much to explain here, so I’ll break down a few points I really want everyone to take away in an effort to keep this post from getting too long.
- Rental One uses National’s normal free nights earned through rentals. Those are uncapped for Executive Elite. Rental Two is using a capped One Two Free night from a special promo which is more restrictive.
- The idea for the one-way to California is to get the best car possible for the “road trip”. We don’t have a lot of luggage so I’ll try to get something sporty and luxurious. The site wouldn’t let me book higher than the Luxury category, but I am eligible for higher and will ask when I get there.
- Yes, this strategy required using free nights since I have them, but if you plan properly you could to if you ever rent a car. If I had paid the cheapest cash rates for just the 3 nights, then I could have taken my $350 weekly rental down to $150. But of course I’m only paying $47 and should get much better cars.
- National in Anaheim is right across the street from our hotel so dropping and picking up will be incredibly easy. Uber would make this somewhat easy for anyone in a further hotel, but just factor that into your costs.
I have to admit it took me years to really start focusing on rental cars and how to maximize my return on what I am already spending. Even if you only rent cars occasionally though, there are SO MANY techniques and tricks you can use to save. This is one example, but there are so many. Open your eyes to rental car “travel hacking” and you could be surprised. It’s the less sexy sibling of free flights and hotel rooms, but it has its place nonetheless.