Car Rental Grace Periods Can Save You Money

I rented a car to visit FT University in Washington, DC, last weekend. Public transit was just too much of an ordeal to the host hotel, and a taxi would have cost the same. (Actually driving there from DCA was a nightmare, but I blame Google Maps for that.)

My two preferred rental agencies are National and Hertz. National doesn’t have the best rewards program in my opinion, but I do love the Emerald Aisle, which lets you elites pick their own vehicle. Hertz seems to make it a little harder for me to bypass the counter but offers generous points-based rewards.

When arriving and departing at about the same time, like on most trips, I can book a car for multiples of 24 hours and pay a daily rate. However, a same-day change with United moved my arrival time four hours earlier, and there was no way I could return the car in time without missing some of the afternoon sessions.

It’s times like that when I am really glad most car rental reservations allow you to cancel without charge. Plus, rates fluctuate enough that I am always checking and rebooking if necessary.

As much as I like the convenience of renting from National, they don’t offer a grace period if you need to return the rental a little late. After each 24-hour period, you are charged an hourly rate, which is half the daily rate. A rental of 49 hours will be billed for 2.5 days. A rental of 50 to 72 hours will be billed for 3 days (assuming you booked it that way and don’t just show up late).

So in this case I switched to Hertz. With my Amex Business Platinum Card, I get a special rate code (CDP 211762) that includes up to a 20% discount as well as a 4-hour grace period. These and other American Express Platinum travel benefits are summarized on a protected page, but I’ve copied them here.

Hertz-Platinum Avis-Platinum National-Platinum

My daily rate after switching from National to Hertz was about the same. I don’t often shop based on price as long as the rates are comparable and it’s a company I like. Renting a car can be such a hassle that I care more about being able to avoid the rental counter and save some time — my primary reason for avoiding discount companies.

But I just could not stomach paying a full extra day for a few hours more. That car is unlikely to be going anywhere, especially over a weekend. Platinum cardholders get benefits with Avis, Hertz, and National — the big three — but only Hertz offers an extended grace period, which may lead to more bookings with them in the future.

Quick Summary of Grace Periods

Avis matches National by charging a half-day rate for each additional hour. Alamo charges a slightly lower hourly rate of one-third the daily rate, and Enterprise charges one-quarter the daily rate. Hertz actually has a 29-minute grace period for all rentals, as does Budget. Payless and Fox offer 59-minute grace periods but are among the more serious discounters; I sometimes only find them at off-airport locations.

You can learn more at Best Car Rental Tips, which also has a great list of current discount codes and online coupons.

Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • http://www.facebook.com/mattsteg Matt Stegmeir

    What’s the typical earn/burn for hertz? With national I tend to accrue free rentals faster than I have time to use them, which is a bit of a bummer given they expire. I typically use my free days for luxury/specialty vehicles and one-way rentals. The upper car classes are EE only, but the one-way ability is a big plus.

    • Scottrick

      Hertz awards 1 point per dolar, and free weekend days start at 500 points (almost always what I’m booking). Awarding points per dollar roughly tracks the number of days.

      National awards credits based on the number of rentals, not the number of days, sort of like a hole punch system at a coffee shop.

      While each program may work out about the same depending on your rental habits, I find it frustrating when I have a weeklong rental at an expensive location and get one… lousy… credit…

    • vortix

      National is my first choice for the simple fact that I can use award days for one-way rentals, and I usually only pay for low-cost 2-3 day weekend rentals. When I have a longer and/or more expensive rental, I will switch over to Hertz to earn the extra points.