How Much Does It Cost to Earn Frequent Flyer Miles & Points with Car Rentals?

The Sunday before last, TravelWhimsy and I decided to take her mom, a friend, and the doggies to hike to Mary Jane Falls up in Mount Charleston (only ~40 miles away from the Las Vegas strip).

 

Rather than put the 100+ miles on our own car, I booked a car with AVIS for the day to take advantage of the 3,000 bonus AAdvantage miles promotion. This was my first time renting from AVIS, and I was surprised to discover the $4.05 frequent flyer (“FF”) surcharge on my final receipt.

I am in no way complaining about earning 3,050 AAdvantage miles for a grand total of $26.01, but the $4.05 FF charge got me started on researching exactly how major rental car companies would charge us for earning miles and points.

As I mentioned in the “Miles & Points 101” series, you can generally earn a minimum of 50 airline miles per day. Rental car companies usually charge $0.75 or $1 a day for those miles. That means you are paying 1.5 or 2 cents per mile, which is certainly not cheap. If there is no other more lucrative mileage earning offer/option or if you don’t need to earn any miles to extend the expiration date of your miles, you might even want to skip earning miles for your car rentals altogether.

As a general rule of thumb, the surcharges usually only apply if you are crediting your rentals to US-based airlines and some hotel programs. Therefore, the FF charges could be avoided if you have a favorite non-US program to credit your car rentals to (for example, AVIS rentals can be credited to British Airways).

The table below details what I have found for major rental car companies (as of this writing). If you happen to read this post on a future date, please let me know if any of the content needs to be updated.

FF Surcharges
Fee-Applicable Programs Exceptions

Hertz

(Air, Hotel, Rail Partners)

  • Up to $1 / day, up to max of $5.25 / rental (Official T&C)
  • Aeroplan
  • AirTran
  • Alaska
  • Frontier
  • Hawaiian
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest
  • Spirit
  • Sun Country
  • United
  • US Airways
  • Virgin America
  • American & Delta: FF surcharge based on 7.5% Federal Excise Tax expense incurred by Hertz for buying miles (no estimate given)
AVIS(All Partners)
  • $0.75 / day ($1 / day for Southwest & US Airways) (Official T&C)
  • Alaska
  • Frontier
  • Hawaiian
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest
  • United
  • US Airways
  • Virgin America
  • Choice Hotels
  • American & Delta: FF surcharge based on 7.5% Federal Excise Tax expense incurred by AVIS for buying miles (approximately $0.06 per rental day), except in Arizona, California, Missouri, Oregon & Wyoming
Budget(Owned by AVIS)

(Air, Hotel, Rail, Other Partners)

  • $0.75 / day ($1 / day for Southwest & US Airways) (Official T&C)
  • Alaska
  • Hawaiian
  • Southwest
  • United
  • US Airways
  • Choice Hotels
  • American & Delta: FF surcharge based on 7.5% Federal Excise Tax expense incurred by Budget for buying miles (approximately $0.06 per rental day), except in Arizona, California, Missouri, Oregon & Wyoming
National(Owned by Enterprise)

(All Partners)

  • $0.75 / day ($1  / day for Southwest, max $5)
  • Official T&C seems outdated; check partner list on the left for more up-to-date surcharge info
  • Alaska
  • Club Carlson
  • Frontier
  • Hawaiian
  • Hilton
  • Southwest
  • United
  • US Airways
  • Wyndham
  • American & Delta: FF surcharge based on 7.5% Federal Excise Tax expense incurred by National for buying miles (approximately $0.06 per rental day)

Alamo

(Owned by Enterprise)

(All Partners)

  • $0.75 / day ($1.50 / day for Southwest, max $7.50)
  • Official T&C seems outdated; check partner list on the left for more up-to-date surcharge info


  • Alaska
  • Club Carlson
  • Frontier
  • Hawaiian
  • Hilton
  • Southwest
  • United
  • US Airways
  • Wyndham


  • American & Delta: FF surcharge based on 7.5% Federal Excise Tax expense incurred by Alamo for buying miles (approximately $0.06 per rental day)


Thrifty

(To Be Owned by Hertz)

(All Partners)

  • FF surcharge varies per program (see the columns on the right for detail)
  • Alaska ($0.95 / day)
  • Hawaiian ($0.95 / day)
  • Southwest ($1.50 / day, up to $8 max)
  • United ($0.75 / day)
  • US Airways ($0.95 / day)
  • American: subject to a $0.06 per rental day frequent flyer tax recovery surcharge collected at time of rental (Delta not a Thrifty partner)
Dollar(To Be Owned by Hertz)

(All Partners)  

  • FF surcharge varies per program (see the columns on the right for detail)
  • Alaska ($0.95 / day)
  • Hawaiian ($0.95 / day)
  • Southwest ($1.50 / day, up to $8 max)
  • United ($0.75 / day)
  • US Airways ($0.95 / day)


  • American: subject to a $0.06 per rental day frequent flyer tax recovery surcharge collected at time of rental (Delta not a Dollar partner)

 

List of Select Rental Car Companies That Don’t Have FF Surcharges

List of Select Rental Car Companies That Don’t Have Miles & Points Partners

  • Advantage (currently owned by Hertz, but to be sold to Franchise Services of North America and Macquarie Capital)
  • ACE
  • Payless
  • FOX
  • Royal
  • U-SAVE

Conclusion

Without any mega car rental promotions, I am going to stick with Hertz for its usually unbeatable AAA rates and continue to earn 600 Southwest points for 1- or 2-day rentals ($10 value or $20 for Southwest Companion Pass holders).

As for finding closure for the $4.05 AVIS surcharge for those 3,050 AAdvantage miles, I am still a bit puzzled. If I assume that the $0.06/day surcharge is for 50 miles, then (3,050/50)*$0.06 gets me $3.66. Does AVIS add another 10% fee on top of the FF surcharge?

Let me know what you think! I respond to all comments.

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  • Laurent Roux

    How abt earning and maximizing hotel points instead, while minimizing overall final costs for the car rental, i.e. using some of the promo codes/links provided by the likes of IHG, Carlson, Marriott, SPG, Hilton and Hyatt? By experience I find that they tend to return higher rates than using some of the other discount codes found on http://www.carrentalsavers.com for example.

    • http://www.travelbypoints.com/ Jimmy @TravelByPoints

      Laurent, choosing a program for the best return (or the best fit for your individual needs) really depends on how you value airline miles versus hotel points (or other reward points). Thanks for sharing the very useful car rental coupon site!

  • http://www.rapidtravelchai.com Rapid Travel Chai

    Thansk for doing the hard work on this, a topic I have been meaning to research but like most rental matters, is confusing and obfuscated by the agencies.

    • http://www.travelbypoints.com/ Jimmy @TravelByPoints

      Thanks, Mr. RTC! I am just trying to convert you from National to Hertz :D.

  • FEV7

    Thank you for this post.  I had no idea about the surcharge.  Great information! 

    • http://www.travelbypoints.com/ Jimmy @TravelByPoints

      FEV7, glad to hear that this post is helpful to you. Thank you for your continued support of our blogs!

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  • Ludmila

    Jimmy, which airport did you rent from ? and do they add airport facility fees? I had close to $19 in taxes and fees all combined added to the daily rate .

    • http://www.travelbypoints.com/ Jimmy @TravelByPoints

      Ludmila, airport facilities fees vary and are quoted in your rental car reservations already, but FF charges usually not. My home airport is LAS, but I rent wherever our domestic trips take us.

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  • Imre Balla

    yaa.. its not so expensive….

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