Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Chase UR for Rental Cars

I've talked in the past about some tricks we use to get the best rate for rental cars. Our favorite is using Autoslash as it often saves us a lot of money for a very minimal amount of work on our part.

Another key tactic is to search on Travel Reward portals including Citi Thank You and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Oddly enough, their search engines can sometimes find significantly cheaper prices for the same exact rental at the same exact company.

Back in July, my father started locking in plans for our upcoming October trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since the city doesn't have great public transportation, we definitely needed to rent a car. After doing our standard searches, we found our best deal using the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel site.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel
To access this site, you just log into your Ultimate Rewards portal as if you were going to redeem/transfer points. Just hovering your mouse over "Travel" will show you a link for "Flights, Hotels, & Car Rentals".

As you can see from the photo, it looks just like Expedia or Travelocity's search page. You just type in the dates, locations and any other preferences, and you'll be shown a few different options.

The only difference is that instead of just showing cash prices, it will also show you the price in UR points.

Interestingly enough, the same car rental companies were showing much higher prices on Expedia and their own websites. So booking through Chase was a no-brainer. The only difference was that a Chase UR booking was pre-paid, though refundable as long as you cancelled a few days before the pick-up date.

In our case, the best deal was for an Economy Car from Avis for just 7,787 Chase UR points. Using UR points through this portal fixes the redemption at exactly 1.25 cents/pt, so we could have actually paid $97 in cash for this reservation. But since we were flush with Chase UR points, we decided a "sub-optimal" redemption was fine this time.

Chase UR vs. Autoslash
However, my father is never satisfied if he has the time to get an even better deal. He wanted to use Autoslash (it's a free option, right?) to see if they'd come up with a better price later on. But Autoslash can only check reservations made directly with the rental car companies. So he made a second Avis booking for the exact same dates, times and car type. That price came out to $206 - more than double!

So clearly, we were going to keep the Chase booking unless Autoslash could do their magic to drive down the cash rental. If Autoslash found something better, we'd just cancel the Chase UR portal booking. Otherwise, we'd cancel the cash booking. Unlike airfare, car rental bookings can be 100% refundable as long as you do it during the no-penalty window.

As it turned out, Autoslash wasn't able to come up with anything after months of searching, so we just cancelled the cash booking.

Attaching Our Avis First Loyalty Number
Now that we were committed to the Chase UR booking, we needed to make sure my father's Avis First number was added to the reservation so we'd get the perks (no stopping at the counter, free upgrade, etc).

How did my father get top-tier Avis First status? Well, credit cards of course. At the time, if you had a World Elite Mastercard, you could register online for Avis First. Subsequently, they changed it to just Avis Preferred status, but you can still register online here.

But, because he booked it using a third party reservation system (Chase UR), Avis corporate couldn't make any changes to the booking, including adding his Avis First number.

Of course, my relentless father didn't give up. First, he hung up and called back the following day in case he just met an incompetent Avis phone agent. But the second agent also told him the same thing.

Then he decided to skip the Avis 1-800 corporate number and to call the Avis Albuquerque office directly. Since he was speaking with the actual office agent, they were able to change the booking and add his Avis First number.

Now our reservation was all set and guaranteed to be upgraded to a better car than the entry level economy car (Hyundai Accent) that we paid for.


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