Pros: The service; Thousands of locations
Cons: Limited car selection; Prices can usually be beaten by one of the budget competitors
Searching for a car rental recently brought me back to a company I hadnt used in a while. My usual car renting partners are Enterprise and Dollar, and I wont normally switch to another company unless a good deal catches my eye or some other compelling reason convinces me to switch. This was the case over Memorial Day weekend when I needed a one- way car rental and quickly discovered that most car rental companies in my area didnt offer them. But one company did and it earned my business. That company is
National Car Rental, a large, well- established business for renting vehicles.
Basic Facts about This Company:
National Car Rental is a well- known business whose headquarters is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has an international presence with offices located in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean region, South America, Asia, Europe, and Australia. Basically, any area that has a population is likely to have a National Car Rental office within a few hours drive. There are presently more than 3,000 locations worldwide.
National Car Rental, like most other car rental companies, can usually be found at airports and if a specific city has an airport, then this is the first place to check to find a location. There are often other office locations, too, especially in larger metropolitan areas.
National Car Rental offers vehicles for rent ranging from subcompact through full size. There are also SUVs and an occasional luxury car but top of the line luxury car rentals are not offered and you cannot always rent any type of vehicle wherever you go. Some of the smaller markets, for instance, do not offer standard luxury cars at all and may only have four or five classes of vehicles to choose from.
Pricing at National Car Rental is reasonable but there is a wide range in price among the different classes of vehicles. For example, lets say I want to rent a car for one week in Chicago. The economy sized vehicle will cost me about $240, a price that works out to only about $33 per day. Upgrade to a full size SUV and the weekly rate jumps to about $525, a price that works out to $75 per day. These prices vary greatly by market. I have seen some weekly deals in less traveled airports that were as low as $125 for a seven day rental on an economy car.
Special Travel Club:
National Car Rental offers its Emerald Club to those who are frequent renters of cars and would like to earn rewards for their business. This club operates like many other frequent renter clubs. Members begin by signing up for the service which sometimes carries a nominal fee (other times it is offered free of charge, if there is a promotion going on). As a member, you enjoy many benefits. Chief among these is the ability to walk past the waiting line, go directly to the lot of cars, select one, and drive off (this feature is available at most but not all locations). Other benefits include the ability to exchange reward credits for free rental days or for frequent flyer miles. There is even an option to have your receipt e-mailed to you after a rental purchase, minimizing your wait time even more.
Reward credits are earned with National Car Rental at the rate of one credit per paid rental or one for every four consecutive paid days. Once you have accumulated seven credits, you can exchange them for one free rental day. Emerald Club Executives (a special reward class, earned by renting higher class vehicles) earn a free rental day with six reward credits.
National Car Rental is a service I have used on and off again for the past fifteen or twenty years. In the old days, I was a frequent user of National Car Rental but my usage slacked when I started to discover the cheaper prices offered at Dollar Rent a Car and the economic advantages of renting from companies like Enterprise and Alamo where I had access to a corporate account with special rates. My attention moved away from National Car Rental for many years and I didnt know when, if ever, I would think about using this company again.
My opportunity to give National Car Rental another chance came over the Memorial Day holiday when I was trying to find a place to rent a car that offered one- way rental. The closest rental company to my house is Enterprise, but they did not offer one- way renting. I dont know if this is the norm with Enterprise, but I do know that one- way deals were not offered at my location. This meant I had to turn elsewhere to rent a car and the place I ended up was National Car Rental. I was relieved to discover that National offered this service and I was anxious to give this company another chance.
Comparing National Car Rental to other companies, I noticed that this business doesnt offer quite as wide of a selection of vehicles. Now, for someone like me, this isnt very important because Im pretty low maintenance when it comes to renting a vehicle. I tend to look at a car rental as a means to get from point A to point B so I dont normally go for the more expensive vehicles (I dont like paying the refueling costs of a larger vehicle either). But for other people, this could be a problem. When renting from a location in a smaller market, those who want a specific size or style of vehicle will quickly discover that National has a limited selection. It may or many not offer the type of vehicle you need. When this happens, there may be no other choice but to turn to the competition.
The rental process at National is good and easy enough to use. I wasnt thrilled when I made my reservation through the web site but I wasnt disappointed either. I got what I needed in a reasonable amount of time and my reservation was set. I am not an Emerald Club member so I couldnt take advantage of the ability to bypass the counter and go directly to the lot. I had to talk to the woman at the Nationals airport location to complete my rental application, get my keys, and pick up my car.
My customer service experience with National was a good one and I was especially impressed by the helpfulness of one specific National staff member. I went to the counter and presented my e-mail confirmation printout to the rep. She looked it over, asked for my drivers license and credit card, and asked what make of car I would like. She then gave me the lot location and sent me on my way. By accident, I walked over to an area where I thought I would find the cars. I could see the green National Car Rental sign and assumed I was headed in the right direction. Once I got there, I realized that this was the wrong place- it was a service area for the rental cars. Before I could turn around and head back, a guy working at this service lot noticed that I looked confused/frustrated and he asked me what I was looking for. I told him and without hesitation he asked me to get into a car so that he could drive me to the actual lot and I could avoid the long walk back. He drove me right up next to the car I was renting, greatly exceeding my expectations for customer service and earning National Car Rental some bonus points- points that could easily convince me to use them again in the future.
Besides service and selection, the other key component to car rentals is the price. And in this area, National Car Rental is good, even though it isnt always the best. Comparing to Dollar Rent a Car (my favorite budget car rental company), National is more expensive on almost all classes of car rental except one: Economy. With an economy rental (subcompact), there is virtually no difference in price between National and Dollar. But as you move up to larger vehicles, the differences get greater and greater. A one- week rental of, say, a large luxury vehicle can easily cost you 30 to 50 percent more with National. Once again, my frugal attitude when it comes to car renting means that differences like these are not that important in making a decision because I usually rent a subcompact to midsize vehicle anyway. But these differences are important for those who like to rent larger vehicles. Consumers should always make comparisons before making any assumptions but If you want to rent a large car, chances are National will not give you the lowest rate.
Overall, my re- acquaintance with National Car Rental has been a positive experience and I will likely keep it on my list of potential car rental companies for use in the future. I was very pleased how National came through for me when I needed a one- way rental and I was very impressed at the customer service I received from the guy in the service lot. Nationals prices are not always the best (they frequently offer coupons, which can help), but they seem to be competitive when it comes to short term rentals and rentals of smaller vehicles. This, coupled with the above average service, makes National Car Rental a company I will continue to do business with in the future.