One relatively little known use of frequent flyer miles is to book hotels and cars. This is available to Delta Gold, Platinum, and Diamond medallion members or those who hold a Delta branded American Express. It seems ridiculous to me that silver medallions are excluded.
In general I tend not to use my miles for this however there are occasionally exceptions. Given how many Delta miles we tend to generate (our main airline is Delta), I’ve spent the most time looking into Skymiles for car rentals and occasionally found it very useful. As with many things, this is best illustrated with an example. The one below demonstrates over $.04/skymile (NOT a typo) in value which is excellent. It’s also very helpful since, if you’re like me, you have lots of frequent flyer miles, some hotel points, but few means to consistently get cheap car rentals.
It took me about 5 searches to find a good example for this post. In my experience this approach is only worthwhile perhaps 10% to 20% of the time so that’s no surprise. Nonetheless, it’s a good trick to have in your bag. For car rentals, you want as many tricks in your bag as possible.
In my example, I looked for a single day car rental at MSP starting at 5pm on 7/23/12 and returning at 5pm the following day. Let’s benchmark it via Expedia first. As you can see below, even the discount brands Ace and Payless start at $91.96 all-in.
To use skymiles for car rentals on Delta.com, do the following. Log in. Find the Use Miles page. Choose SkyMiles Marketplace. Choose Book a Hotel/Rent a Car. Using the same criteria as above, I found the following:
Notice that it presents an Economy car at Budget for only 6805 miles. If we stopped here, we’d be getting $.0135/skymile. Quite a few people would find that very acceptable! We shouldn’t stop there though. Let’s pick that car and move to the next screen.
Notice the slider. It defaults to being entirely to the right side of the screen where we pay 6805 miles + $0.00. In the screen above, I slid it to the minimum number of miles (1000) and maximum cash which in this case is $46.44. Now let’s take a look at the math… My benchmark was $91.96 above and I’m now paying $46.44, thus saving $45.52. I used 1000 skymiles though so my redemption value on those miles is $.04552 which is fantastic. The key here is that Delta determines a cash price for the rental but only values each mile over 1000 at $.008. Since I value my skymiles at more than $.008, it makes sense for me to always use just 1000 skymiles as a sort of entry fee in order to get access to the phenomenal cash price.
Things You NEED to Know
There are some additional important things you need to know before using this.
- The default time for searching is 12:00 am (midnight) but if the car rental location(s) is closed, no results will be found. Be aware of this as you do searching.
- There’s some ambiguity on whether these reservations can be changed at all in the terms and conditions. Best to assume they cannot. At best, they are but “a set fee of $35 USD plus any supplier change fees may apply.”
- “Rates may not include all taxes, service charges or other additional fees.” In my experience, it’s pretty complete but local fees/charges that vary substantially from airport to airport. I seem to recall being dinged on this in Denver a while back and I don’t think we were even using this means to book. Could happen via any source, in my experience, but always worth highlighting.
- “Car renters must be 25 years of age and have a valid driver’s license, major credit card and good driving record.”
- I don’t trust my expertise in international rental insurance so I’m going to put a caution sign out, erring conservatively – my understanding of many credit card insurance policies is that they only cover the rental if you put the whole rental on the card. Paying with even 1000 skymiles could compromise this. Based on my lack of knowledge, despite finding a great deal in South Africa, I choose to do a paid rental with Amex Premium Rental Protection. We currently only use this technique on domestic rentals where I know our personal auto coverage covers it (with the usual limitations).
- You don’t earn rewards of any sort on the rental, at least in my experience.
- I can’t tell you whether any brand will recognize your Avis Presidents Club, Hertz #1 Gold Status, or what have you. Unless you know otherwise, assume you get what you paid for which was, after all, half the price.
- After all the bad news above, it’s worth noting that you CAN book for someone else.
How/When Should You Use This
I probably wouldn’t actually book the scenario above because as I’m writing this, I still have about 5 weeks to go and rental rates vary so much. I’d probably work to find something that’s a bit closer in price but which could be cancelled and then monitor the rate. I’d also hunt for discount codes or lucrative bonus opportunities. If all else failed or I wasn’t willing to invest additional time though, this technique can occasionally be very effective as you can see. Most of the time, to be frank, I don’t even look for it but if I was hitting economy car rates over $50/day all-in, I’d probably take a look and I’d be a lot more likely to lock it in if I was less than 7 days away.
One other quick comment… remember how I said you can do this and book for someone else? Well, if you find yourself with some orphan Delta accounts that are otherwise not useful, this is a great, great use of 1000+ Skymiles.
Put this trick in your bag.