In the last couple weeks, I posted a series of approaches to booking cars inexpensively and separately a post about the sort of decisions that point values help with. Today brought the two together in the best possible way, while also giving me a chance to test changing a Capital One car reservation, so let’s get practical…
Paying extra for the points in Nashville
We booked our first Southwest Companion Pass ticket and we needed a car in Nashville. I took a look at rates and a compact via the Capital One method was a bit cheaper at $75.96 however a paid rental also earns points and wasn’t much more at just $81.41 for the same class. The question then becomes, are the rewards I’ll earn on the rental worth the difference of $5.45? This is exactly one of the questions I raised in my post on why we value points…
But first, how did I arrive at the $81.41 rate. First, I go to a general car booking site to get a sense of pricing. Kayak.com’s probably not a bad choice here since they pull quite a few agencies. Once I identify a short-list of the least expensive agencies, I then check out the car rental section at http://www.frequentflyerbonuses.com/ for agency specific promotions. They occasionally don’t have all the latest Southwest promotions and I find that Southwest is often the best option so I also check this page. In this case, I found that Budget was competitive with a cancellable rate and a double Southwest miles on 3+ day rentals.
So, back to whether it’s worth it. I’d earn nothing by renting via Capital One but by renting directly with Budget, I can earn 1200 Southwest miles which I value at $.018 each and 3% cash back via http://www.eBates.com (check http://www.evreward.com). It breaks down like this:
$81.41 : Out of pocket cost.
-$2.44 : 3% cash back via eBates.
=$78.97 : Ultimate out of pocket cost.
-$21.80 : 1200 Southwest points earned @ $.018 each.
= $57.17 : Net cost after deducting Southwest point rebate.
$57.17 which is a lot better than the $75.96 offered by Capital One. In this case, it’s clearly better to pay a little bit more to get the miles.
For what it’s worth, I almost always find myself crediting cars to Airtran or Southwest, particularly since car rentals tend to credit .5 Airtran credits (which is approximately equal to 600 Southwest points) or 600 Southwest points on a one-day rental versus a typical base of 150 miles with most programs. With such short rentals, it’s hard to overcome the value of the Southwest/Airtran points on 1-2 day rentals so it’s a pretty safe default choice, particularly given that I almost always find a double credit/points promotion.
Choosing the cheap rate in Milwaukee (and changing a Capital One reservation)
As I mentioned in the linked posts above, we were facing rates of $446 for a 3-day weekend in Milwaukee. Rates peaked at over $500 but have started falling. With 24 hours to go, they’re down but not enough at $233.
2 weeks ago, I’d settled on a Capital One VentureOne Reward booking of a Compact car at $136.77. Not a great rate for 3 days but a far cry from the $446. That said, you may remember that one nice thing about the Capital One technique is that you do have some limited ability to change it. Here are the terms and conditions:
It’s the first time I’ve used this so I first checked rates at Capital One and saw that it’d fallen, quite a bit actually! Take a look:
Wow… what started as a $446 rental was now down to $72.40. Given all the savings and that we’ll be driving a bit, we actually decided to splurge (ha!) and chose the Intermediate at $79.97. I guess I’m contradicting myself since I could save $14 on a compact but I digress. To rebook, we called Capital One, transferred to the rewards department (serviced by Travelocity I believe) and the made the change…well, actually Mrs. Points called so I couldn’t press with the detailed questions however the approach that appears to have been taken is that they 1) made a new reservation at the $79.97 rate using our BOA Virgin Atlantic Amex and 2) Cancelled the original reservation and refunded the full cost to the same card. I don’t know if we could do this again since, as you can see in the terms and conditions, it says just one change. That said, the fact that we have a new reservation number sure makes me think we could.
I still haven’t figured out how to get cars for free consistently but I’m keeping the costs reasonable at least. I don’t focus on maintaining status in any car programs… I had some via an Amex Platinum card in the past and they were nice but I’m all about lowest cost reasonably possible on cars since we rent so many and I rarely found myself taking advantage of upgrades at premium agencies like Avis due to the higher rates.
One of these days, I’ll take a deep look at the Hertz points program. I have a few and know they’re valuable in a pinch but I’m still not sure if I should be building those up.
Anyway, practical suggestions:
- Always check if you can rebook cars.
- Check for bonuses on paid rentals, including online mall options. But if you don’t have the time, default to Southwest as a rewards program.
- Get a Capital One VentureOne card at some point or step a Capital One card down to it. This card has no annual fee and gets us access to the excellent Capital One car booking engine.
Thanks for reading!