Baby Steps Towards Elite Recognition at Avis

I usually think of car rentals in four categories.

There’s Avis and Hertz at the high end, then the Budget/Thrify/Dollar/etc in the middle. I don’t really count the Foxes and Paylesses of the world, though they’d be a category of discount off-airport agencies. And there’s the ubiquitous Enterprise, who I’ll do anything to avoid, if only because I hate to do the mandatory “walk-around” and hear the speech about how they’ll hold me responsible for every last scratch and how I really need to buy their collision damage waiver even though I’m renting with a Diners Club card.

Frankly I like the service of Avis and Hertz, a car already ready with printed contract most of the time at airport locations and they both tend to be a bit less persnickety with normal wear and tear — every little scratch or pebble doesn’t prompt a half hour exercise at return.

The knock on Avis from really frequent renters is twofold: no real elite level with benefits, and limited rewards. Hertz offers points towards free rentals. Avis offers only miles for individual rentals, and in most cases the mileage options are limited (who cares about 50 miles a day anyway, except to credit to an otherwise unused account to keep that account active?).

As a side note, I always credit my Avis rentals to Virgin’s frequent flyer program — 1000 miles per rental. I used to get my 1000 miles as a British Airways Gold, but recently I’ve only been netting 250 miles when using any kind of discount code. So BA isn’t an option. Virgin gives the full 1000 miles regardless of discount used. I know several people that have redeemed for air travel using points earned solely with car rentals.

Instead of offering real rewards to most travelers, though, Avis has focused on kickbacks to companies signed up on corporate contracts. Anyone can sign up for a Corporate Awards account, by the way, and earn a free rental day for every 15 days credited to the account…

Avis beginning to address their lack of elite levels.

Historically, what they’ve offered is:

  • Preferred. Anyone can sign up for this, you go straight to your vehicle with contract in it. A useful service, of course, but not an elite level.

  • Preferred Select. This is the elite level you earn as a frequent rental (or anyone with an American Express Platinum card can request it). You get a one car class upgrade and a free Wall Street Journal. There’s been no higher level you could generally earn as a frequent customer.

  • Presidents Club. A certain number of these memberships come with high volume corporate contracts, and anyone with an American Express Centurion (black) card gets this. Two car class upgrade and guaranteed availability. There are some reports of high volume renters requesting it, but it’s not a part of a formal structure to offer it.

  • Chairmans Club. This is the true VIP level, think Fortune 500 CEOs. MarquisJet owners also receive this level. Rent a mid-size car and get the best car on the lot (though recently Volvos and Hummers have been excluded from the upgrade benefit though some locations will still offer them up on request). Return valet service, you don’t ride the bus back to the terminal. Guaranteed availability. Car delivery within 25 miles. Some reports are automatic market rate charged on gas fillup, so no need to fill up yourself prior to return (I haven’t tried this benefit). Meet-and-greet service, a manager will usually personally meet you at the car and assist with your luggage.

Apparently Chairmans Club is being extended, and Avis is sending out invitations to join to high volume renters (though curiously they’re charging $250 for the first year and $350 thereafter for the privilege). Criteria isn’t clear, but it looks like 60+ rental days a year, plus perhaps an association with a corporate contract.

This is a good step by Avis to finally recognize its high value business with elite perks. On the other hand, those of us that have already been enjoying Chairmans status will likely see a dimunition of benefits — first, because the high-end service has to in part be because Avis employees see the status as rare and thus the customer as very important. That has to change as it becomes more common to see Chairmans members. Second because more renters at this level means more competition for upgrade vehicles.

An interesting move by Avis.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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