Cars are now embedded enough in our daily lives that the prospect of spending a week without them can quickly become a nightmare. This applies to the occasional breakdown or maintenance repairs as much as to the frequent traveler, which is probably why car rental businesses are such a big deal.
No matter if you chose to rent as part of your leisure time or if circumstances left you with little choice, the process of renting a car should not become an additional headache. It’s easy to sympathize with car rental companies on an abstract level. They are about to let you walk with several thousand dollars of machinery, with little more than your billing information and the general promise to return said investment at an agreed-upon time. This is why we all accept that some paperwork will be necessary, but once the time arrives to be standing in line, waiting for the keys, we all appreciate and celebrate promptness and efficiency.
Beyond speed, there are a variety of other details that can determine whether your company will be a friendly ally or a migraine inducer. Courtesy and service quality are determined by the location and the people, but only up to a point; corporate policies can easily sour even the friendliest of agents. In addition, billing habits, transparency, and flexibility can all transform a car accident into a test-ride opportunity.
The results offered by each car rental company are ever-changing, as their administrators choose to prioritize certain aspects. However, polls are finally in for the last year, so we are now able to offer an up-to-date picture of the industry below.
The following 8 car rental companies have earned the highest satisfaction ratings for the past 12 months.
- Where to find them: in 1,600 locations across the United States
- Their specialty: Travelers of all kinds, both family vacationers and business agents
Hertz is one of the best-established car rental companies in the United States, not just due to their history (they date back to 1918, which makes them one of the oldest players in the car rental business) but because of their wide array of services and the quality of their coverage. What began as a quirky venture for a dozen spare Model-T Fords is now one of the largest and strongest automotive service providers in the world.
A big part of the Hertz brand is built around offering comfort and convenience for travelers, and they continue to earn the highest ratings among this category. Many of their special offers have also been designed with vacationers in mind.
They offer over 10 different vehicle categories, which range from “green” compact vehicles to full-sized minivans and trucks. This makes them a great option if you are just venturing out on your own to a new city but also ensures they’re available if you are bringing the entire family for the ride. They also offer a special category for luxury “dream cars,” which are meant to make special trips extra memorable.
The inclusion of their “Never Lost” Program, which adds efficient GPS trackers, an online trip planner, real-time recommendations for nearby attractions, and even a concierge service for planning assistance shows their eagerness to make your trips easier. Getting a car with Hertz is now even easier, thanks to their short waiting times and convenient locations; they have ensured to have an outlet near or inside every airport and have perfected their drop-off logistics to ensure no traveler is left behind.
- Where to find them: in almost 6,000 locations, either corporate-owned or franchises
- Their specialty: Transparent pricing practices
The Enterprise Group, formerly known as the Executive Leasing Company, is not just one of the most recognizable brands in St Louis, Missouri; they are also one of the largest car rental groups in the world. Their huge network and vehicle availability give them a definite competitive advantage when setting up their pricing policies. Not only are they able to offer a wider variety of available models (each with their corresponding price) but they are also able to risk lowering many of the “hidden fees” that are typical in this business.
Even when they appear to offer more expensive vehicles than their local competitors, Enterprise has built its reputation by telling you exactly what they are going to charge you and why. Many of the services than often double the price in other companies (from collision insurance to second-driver or young driver supplements) are consistently lower at Enterprise, which can very easily translate in a smaller final bill.
Furthermore, thanks to their history as a Business-to-business oriented leaser, Enterprise is always willing to negotiate special prices for frequent clients. These perks can be accessed directly at the store and offer significant savings for anyone who is relocating for one to six months due to work or for people who travel on business at least once a month. The introduction of their CarShare program has increased the number of benefits offered to their regulars as well as allowing them to downsize their carbon footprint significantly and to contribute to less traffic around the cities in which it operates.
- Where to find them: in all major cities across the US and over 250 locations on each coast
- Their specialty: Road trippers and teachers
Below-average daily rates and flexible driving options have made Alamo synonymous with exploration and adventure, especially with the “under 35” market segment. Although they still don’t have as large a network of location as some of the bigger companies, they have managed to occupy strategic points along some of the most picturesque parts of the country and can also be easily found across Western Europe and Canada.
One of Alamo’s strongest selling points is the low fees they charge to register an additional driver. This is partly what makes them a favorite for a road trip. It won’t cost you much to ensure somebody else can split the responsibility with you while you enjoy a well-deserved nap. Their catalog is also fun to look at as it includes compact vehicles, super-modern hybrids, exotic sports cars, and convertibles in almost all sizes.
When collecting customer ratings, two different qualities would constantly earn them special congratulations and shout-outs. First, they consistently offer a hassle-free and courteous return process, even at their airport locations. It seems like their long experience offering automated processes (they were among the first companies to offer online check-in, back in 2005) has certainly paid off.
Their eagerness to reward frequent clients and teachers has paid off in people’s minds: their Alamo Insider offers guaranteed discounts on their off-the-rack price, and they have a special “fifth day for free” offer for any members of the National Education Association.
- Where to find them: In any of their 337 locations in the US or the 1,500 ones across the world
- Their specialty: Vehicle variety, fast reservation processes
National has taken a great leap forward since its recent merger with Alamo and Enterprise. As they are now imbued with an extra sense of security, thanks to their massive group, they have been able to access strategic partnerships that have catapulted its satisfaction ratings. This has been accomplished without any sacrifice to their deeply-entrenched customer service philosophy, which seeks to offer an “All-American” smile to every person who comes through their door.
The congratulatory messages devoted to their Emerald Club program are worth their own section. This service is reserved for their frequent renters but goes above-and-beyond the classic discounts and occasional free fridge magnet. Emerald Club Members are able to enjoy faster reservation processes, reserved fast-checkout lanes, and the ability to reserve large vehicles even during peak travel times, paying only a mid-size rate.
They also reward their renters with Rental Credits, which can be accumulated across trips and used to redeem free rental days. Once this is combined with the opportunity to redeem miles from a wide variety of frequent flyer programs (such as AAdvantage or SkyMiles), the resulting final prices are significantly lower than they first appear when looking at their off-the-rack averages.
National also runs a separate division for corporate clients, which is aimed at simplifying the rental process for the company’s employees. This is a great option for anyone managing a sales team or who needs to organize frequent last-minute excursions.
- Where to find them: 5,500 locations across all five continents
- Their specialty: Surprise discounts and corporate leases
The “premium” half of the Avis Budget group dates back to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where the company was originally founded in 1946. Nowadays, they are one of the most popular car rental businesses, especially for travelers. They have counters and drop-off offices around major international airports all over the world, but they have kept loyal to their American roots; most of their fleet is comprised of General Motors’ creations. These models range the full gamut between the budget-friendly Chevrolet Spark to race-worthy Cadillacs. They also keep a constant stream of flexible rates for their luxury car, SUVs, and truck categories.
Avis consistently offers good customer service and options for quick reservations. Their flexible proprietary software allows them to price and deliver vehicles for complicated schedules, including one-way trips, long-term corporate leases, and frequent flash sales. In addition, they keep a close partnership with Amazon and the AARP, which allows Prime members and AARP affiliates to access further discounts, or to buy gift cards for special occasions.
Finally, Avis has devoted a lot of energy and knowhow over the past 3 years in simplifying their procedures. They have launched a proprietary new app meant to allow users to browse and reserve cars while traveling, check the availability of their favorite model, and even report any mishaps during their trip. This emphasis on client comfort and convenience has revitalized the brand and allowed them to boost their satisfaction ratings over the last year.
- Where to find them: Over 300 locations around the U.S. and Canada
- Their specialty: Seamless online check-ins
As part of The Hertz Group, Thrifty is not just a brand name; it represents a philosophy and market niche. This company is meant to serve the myriad budget travelers that make up the largest share of adventurers around the country. This is why they let go of some of the perks and niceties that you’d expect from some of its higher-end cousins and focus on provider convenience and low prices.
They know that most of their clients are new in town and are likely to remain in one place for a very short while. This is why they have placed extra emphasis on their online check-in process, which is currently regarded as the most efficient in the country. Their app also allows you to search for location-based discounts and sales, which can be significant during long weekends or when affiliated with local festivals and events. In addition, they also offer one of the cheapest available minivan rentals in the country. Outside of peak periods, it is easy to rent a room for seven people for less than $80.
Finally, they are used to dealing with travelers who have kept things on the cheap side throughout the trip, including discount air tickets with long lines and no luggage allowance. This is why they won’t exactly offer you tea and cookies while returning your vehicle but will instead focusing on ensuring you have an A/C station where you won’t have to spend any more than it’s strictly necessary.
- Where to find them: 840 company-owned locations and 1,500 franchise locations
- Their specialty: Rewards and long-term benefits
A sister company to the more extreme Hertz and Thrifty, Dollar Rent a Car dates back to 1965 when it was founded by Henry Caruso during one of California’s glitziest periods. They had close ties with Chrysler from the very beginning and were one of the first rent-a-car companies to popularize their models. After several decades of operating on their own, they were absorbed by the Hertz Group but have been able to keep their own identity and marketing strategy.
So, what makes Dollar special? Rather than focusing on luxury or extreme savings, Dollar Rent a Car is a family-oriented company that seeks to cultivate long-term clients and offer them the best possible deals. This is a two-pronged strategy that requires patience, superb service, and the ability to track each client’s progress across different years and locations. This has served as the fuel to design its proprietary rewards program.
This is one of the most comprehensive customer loyalty models currently found in the United States. Rather than deep discounts, their focus is placed on allowing frequent riders to access ever-deeper benefits or to have certain fees waived. In addition, they have established many local partnerships to ensure their clients can see overall gains throughout their trip. This can range from extra drinks at local diners to quadruple AAdvantage miles for weekend rentals.
- Where to find them: Over 600 corporate locations
- Their specialty: Cash payments and reservations
No comprehensive list of car rental businesses would be complete without Budget Car Rental, the low-priced half of the Avis Budget Group. Where its business partner rolls out the red carpet for sports models, Budget makes convenience and affordability the name of its game.
Just because they offer low prices doesn’t mean they lack in variety, though; their category catalog includes economy city cars, green hybrids, vans, and Premium SUVs, and almost all of them can be reserved at much lower prices than the national average.
In addition, where most budget companies prefer to bill you automatically upon returning the car back to its base, Budget keeps your ability to plan simple. They continue to offer deep discounts and special advantages for pre-paid cars. This makes them a favorite of price-conscious travelers and anyone dealing with an inopportune malfunction. If your car insurance includes a rebate for a replacement car, Budget will probably be their go-to company.
Naturally, they often make up for their discounts by charging a bit extra for unusual services, such as one-way trips (where you drop off the car at a different destination than pick up), extra gas, or young drivers. However, if you are keeping it simple, they will help you stay in the blue.