Should You Earn Rental Credits or Frequent Flyer Miles for National Car Rentals?

I’m a big fan of National Car Rental’s Emerald Aisle program. I’ve been a member for 20 years now (Ugh, Really? 20 years?)  For all that time and for all those rentals, I’ve never earned a single rental credit with National. I’ve earned frequent flyer miles for my rentals instead. For my travels, I just don’t rent cars often enough so it would take me forever to earn a free rental day.

National gives you 1 rental credit for each rental. If you rent a car for more than a week, you can earn extra credits. Here’s a breakdown of the earning for longer rentals since this information isn’t easily found on National’s website. It took some digging and I’m not surprised they want to keep this a secret:

  • If your rental is 1 – 7 calendar days, you will be rewarded 1 credit
  • If your rental is 8 or more days, National rewards you even further by dividing your total rental days by 4.
  • This means:
    • At 8 rental days you earn 2 credits
    • At 12 rental days you earn 3 credits

You need 5-7 credits for a free rental day, depending on what status you have with National. This system rewards business travelers, who usually make frequent, short duration rentals, more than leisure travelers, who typically might rent a car for a week.

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That’s the same face I make when I find out I’m only getting 1 rental credit for a 7 day rental.

I have a reservation with National coming up and I wanted to know my options for where to credit the rental. I considered earning National credits because of the ongoing “One, Two, Free” promotion. Between the points I’d get from the rental and the bonuses I could earn, I’d have enough to earn a free rental day.

The thing that stopped me from going this route was the free day had to be used by June 28, 2018. I just don’t know my travel plans for next year and I’m not sure if I’m even going to need to rent a car for those trips. So I’m going for the airline miles in the hand instead of the free car rental day in the bush.

There are a bunch of airlines to choose from since National has several domestic and international airline partners. Here’s the breakdown of how many miles you earn with them. National does charge a fee when you earn airline miles and I’ve included that as well. As you’ll see, it can make a big difference in the value you’re getting:

  • Alaska – 50 miles/day ($0.75 per rental day)
  • American – 50 miles/day (fee $0.0725 per rental day)
  • Delta – 500 miles/rental ($0.075 per rental day)
  • Hawaiian – 50 miles/day ($0.75 per rental)
  • Southwest – 600 points/rental ($1.00 per day, max $5.00 per rental)

For a 7 day rental, I’d earn the most points with Delta or Southwest. However I’d be paying a $5.00 fee if I choose to get Southwest points and only $0.52 if I get Delta SkyMiles.

I decided to earn some extra Delta miles with this rental. They’ll go along with the miles I earn for Hilton Hotel stays and for eating in restaurants.

Final Thoughts

Should you earn rental credits or frequent flyer miles for National car rentals? There’s no simple answer to this question. There are several variables to consider, such as the length of rental, how frequently you rent from National and how much you value airline miles over free rental days. I chose to get Delta SkyMiles for my rental but it might not be the best choice for you. As always, Your Mileage May Vary.

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