Q&A With AutoSlash CEO Jonathan Weinberg, A Car Rental Guru (Part 1)

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Questions With AutoSlash CEO Part 1

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.

Questions With AutoSlash CEO Part 1

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.)

Questions With AutoSlash CEO Part 1
Thanks National!

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.

Questions With AutoSlash CEO Part 1

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by any advertiser or bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser. It is not any advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

4 COMMENTS

  1. In 3 yrs of using Autoslash regularly, there has only been 1 instance I’ve found a better rate elsewhere. I recently have even stopped shopping around as a basis for comparison (out of curiosity) they have been so consistent. They most definitely rock – thx for the scoop, Mark. I check ALL the discount boxes whether I have, or not (BJs?!) & has never been verified at the rental counter.

    What I want to know is why can’t I add a FFA# to a res until I get to the rental site? And with all the info Jonathan provided on rental car programs, do they provide more value by adding them (over an airline) to a res?

    I don’t like that when I select a quote it takes me directly to the Priceline website, so that I can only get cashback with Ebates or BeFrugal (Chrome add-ons that pop up automatically on that site). Other cashback sites often offer better cashback with Priceline, but I can’t book thru them with an AutoSlash quote.

    Tracking feature is a hassle to implement now, but has proven well worth the extra effort on many rentals. I cannot believe everyone doesn’t use AutoSlash for rentals, amazing & valuable technology.

    • As you know Pam I don’t know much about car rentals. I am not sure if Jonathan will be checking the comments on the two posts or not but hopefully he does and can answer your questions…or maybe someone else can chime in.

    • > What I want to know is why can’t I add a FFA# to a res until I get to the rental site? And with all the info Jonathan provided on rental car programs, do they provide more value by adding them (over an airline) to a res?

      We are strong believers in using frequent renter programs every time. I once had a reservation with Thrifty at MIA. I got off the tram and saw a line at the Thrifty counter so long I can’t even begin to describe it–it filled their stanchions and spilled out to about the middle of the rental car center’s lobby. I’m sure that line was at least a couple of hours long.

      Being a Blue Chip member, I walked straight to the parking lot, saw my name on the monitor, walked to my car, and drove to the exit gate–total time, about 3 minutes (not counting the five minutes I spent taking pictures of the Thrifty line!).

      Most frequent renter programs let you sign up to get the express rental service benefit but then still choose to credit your rentals to an airline frequent flyer program instead of the rental company’s own rewards program, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t sign up and use that benefit.

      That said, we do recommend taking a look at what it costs you to earn those airline miles before thinking it’s a great deal. If you’re just sticking your United Mileage Plus number into your three-day rental with Dollar, it probably isn’t worth it. You’ll earn 150 miles (50 per day), but you’ll also pay a $2.25 (75 cents per day) “frequent flyer surcharge.” Given that The Points Guy values a United mile at about 1.4 cents (https://thepointsguy.com/guide/monthly-valuations/ — I do personally mostly agree with those valuations), it really doesn’t make sense to effectively buy United miles from Dollar at 1.5 cents each.

      Of course, there are other mileage-earning options that are more lucrative–most non-US-based programs don’t incur those frequent flyer surcharges, for example, and sometimes you can apply a promotional coupon that gives a decent bonus of a few hundred or even few thousand airline miles. But note that applying one of those promo coupons usually means not being able to apply a promotional coupon that takes real, hard money off your rental. Does it make sense to earn 1,000 bonus miles or save $25 off your rental? If 1,000 bonus miles are worth ~$15, then you’d be stepping over dollars to pick up dimes.

      Unless you _very rarely_ rent cars and spread those rentals among lots of different companies (to the point you’d never earn enough points/credits to redeem), there’s usually much better value in the rental company programs. For example, if you’re a National Emerald Club Executive Elite member, you can get a free rental day in as few as five one-day rentals on cheap $20 Enterprise rates and then redeem for a super-expensive one-way rental that retails for $250. That’s a greater-than-100% return on investment! Obviously, that’s a best-case scenario, but even if you don’t game the system and just earn and redeem organically, our math says it’s a better ROI than crediting to other programs.

      > I don’t like that when I select a quote it takes me directly to the Priceline website, so that I can only get cashback with Ebates or BeFrugal (Chrome add-ons that pop up automatically on that site). Other cashback sites often offer better cashback with Priceline, but I can’t book thru them with an AutoSlash quote.

      We do provide our service completely for free and invest heavily in providing excellent, competent, super-responsive customer service (email us anytime and you’ll see!) without charging anything for our service. In order to put bread in our kids’ mouths and pay our server bills, we do rely on a small affiliate spiff from our partner booking agencies. I applaud you for seeking out cashback for all your purchases (it baffles me when people ignore cashback when shopping online–it’s like free money!), but we would appreciate it if you’d consider the tiny bit of cashback you’d normally get when booking a rental car on your own to be fair compensation for the work we did to help you get a great rate. 🙂

      >Tracking feature is a hassle to implement now, but has proven well worth the extra effort on many rentals. I cannot believe everyone doesn’t use AutoSlash for rentals, amazing & valuable technology.

      We just recently brought a top-notch user interface/user experience designer onto our team and so we’re looking forward to ironing out a lot of those wrinkles so no one ever feels compelled to use the word “hassle” with AutoSlash. 🙂

      • Thanks for the follow up comment – much appreciated. And Pam probably more than any other reader will appreciate it as well 🙂

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