Q&A With AutoSlash CEO Jonathan Weinberg, A Car Rental Guru (Part 1)
I had the chance to ask one of the utmost experts, AutoSlash CEO Jonathan Weinberg, some questions about car rentals and the car rental industry. You guys know that I am far from an expert on this subject so I was very excited that he was willing to help out. He is offering up so much knowledge that I had to break it into a two part post (Part 2 Here). I know many readers use AutoSlash regularly and I thought it would be cool to hear from the man behind it.
Which loyalty program do you think is most rewarding in the industry and why?
We’re definitely fans of National’s Emerald Club here at AutoSlash. While there are anecdotes of bad service throughout the entire rental car world, National has the best service in the industry, along with the fastest rental experience, the best vehicle selection, and the most rewarding rewards program.
Hertz has come a long way since the introduction a few years ago of their Ultimate Choice service, which more closely mirrors National’s rental experience, but National is still the class leader. As a National Executive Elite, I routinely see extremely nice vehicles like Mercedes, BMW and higher-end Cadillacs. The selection at Hertz as a President’s Circle member just doesn’t compare unless you are a huge fan of an infinite number Infinitis. Avis’ vehicle selection? Fuggedaboutit!
Hertz also sometimes completely misses the customer service mark. That said, in general, Hertz’s rates tend to come out a bit lower than National’s, although it’s always worth checking both on every rental, as you never know who will have a more lucrative coupon. National’s rewards program also tends to be less rewarding on longer rentals, which can give Hertz the edge in some cases (depending on what kind of rentals you redeem your rewards for).
Among the “big three” rewards programs, Avis trails by a huge margin. Their rewards program is basically not worth paying attention to unless you have other reasons to rent from Avis. Same goes for the offerings from other players, like Dollar, Thrifty, and Enterprise, as well as the express-only programs from Budget and Alamo, which can help you process your rental faster but don’t reward you for renting.
Which company tends to have the newest cars or updates their inventories the most often?
It’s tough to give a definitive answer to this, because it’s really all over the map, and the plural of anecdote isn’t data. I’ve rolled my eyes at “yet another 40,000-mile Hertz rental,” but I’ve also gotten a number of brand-new-plastic-just-off-the-line rentals with Hertz and have had older cars with all of the other agencies, too.
The major rental companies (what we call the “big eight”) tend to keep cars somewhere between 6 months and two years, with the average de-fleeting age of about a year.
In general, you’ll tend to get cars on the younger end of that spectrum at the premium brands—National, Hertz, and Avis—while the older cars might be moved over to the value brands—Enterprise, Alamo, Dollar, Thrifty, and Budget. (Remember that all those brands are really owned by only three companies.) Anecdotally, though, we tend to encounter lower mileage cars with National—another reason we like them.
If you’re renting with the low-end discount companies like Fox, E-Z, Advantage, and (especially) Payless, you’re likely to end up with some heavily-used cars with quite a few miles on the clock. (I once had a car from Fox in Miami that didn’t have a dent-free panel, was missing several interior panels, and lacked a functioning power port, but I couldn’t ignore the dirt-cheap price of the rental.)
Which brands tend to reward loyal customers with the best upgrades?
Again, there’s a reason we like National—especially if you can get to their Executive tier (also included with a number of credit cards). The Executive Selection at most decent-sized airports tends to have a good number of upgraded cars to choose from, whether that’s an SUV (or even a minivan) for extra space or a nicer premium car with a better engine and leather seats. My most recent rental this past weekend at LGA was reserved as a midsize car and I choose a Mercedes GLC350 with 2,500 miles on it (one of two on the lot) over a BMW X3, and a bunch of other fairly nice vehicles.
Hertz, especially for President’s Circle members at Ultimate Choice locations, isn’t that far behind, but behind nonetheless. The rest of the companies are pretty much “meh” when it comes to fleets and free upgrades.
How do you determine where you are going to rent from? Is price the only factor or do you consider other things as well?
Each person values different things. If your company will pay for it, go for a premium brand like National and you’ll generally be in your car and off the lot in seconds and minimize the possibility of hang-ups. If you’re trying to eke out every last dollar and are willing to endure some headache to pursue savings, the discount low-end brands offer that product. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.
Personally, I’m willing to pay a small premium to rent with one of the premium brands, because the ability to select my own (upgraded) car is a fantastic benefit. Sometimes the potential rewards earnings come into play—for example, when National’s running its One-Two-Free promo, that can end up being a significant rebate. I evaluate on a case-by-case basis, though. If the price difference is too high, I’ll pick one of the value brands. It’s much more rare that I end up with one of the low-end discount brands, but it has happened. Regardless, whoever I rent from, I always sign up for their frequent renter program to minimize hassles at the rental counter.
How does AutoSlash help customers save money?
The short answer: 1) we check hundreds of discount and coupon codes so you don’t have to, and 2) we track your reservation for price drops.
A bit more detail:
We’ve got a large database of coupon codes— including everything from Costco and AAA (you can select which programs you’re a member of) to coupons you’d have to spend hours sifting through rental company email newsletters and Twitter feeds to find. It’d take a human countess hours to search through them all for every company. Our magic sauce figures out the best combination of coupons and discounts in just a few minutes. The typical customer saves about 30% off retail rates shown on other sites, though sometimes the discounts come back far higher than that.
These are the same exact companies you’d book elsewhere or directly, and you can even use your loyalty program benefits, so you don’t lose anything by saving money.
We also recently started working with a vendor that has some significantly discounted prepaid rates. Sometimes these rates are so low that you just can’t ignore them. Plus, they’re still flexible (you can cancel for a full refund up to 48 hours before pick-up).
Also, once you have a reservation, you can pop it into our tracking system, and then we’ll keep checking it right up until you pick the car up. If we find a lower rate, we’ll alert you so you can rebook. This may be with the same company you’re currently booked with, or we might find you a similar or better company with an even better deal. The typical customer who tracks a reservation at least a few weeks out ends up rebooking three times and walks away paying usually around half of what they would have booked through other sites.
Wow that was a lot of knowledge spilled in digital ink and I hope you enjoyed it. Be on the lookout for tomorrow’s post talking about renting internationally, the future of the industry, and the “gotchas” of the car rental industry. I simply can’t thank Jonathan enough for putting in the time and effort.
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